It so happened that over the past eight days I saw Hamish Fulton‘s work in four different places, which means I have to write about it. (The places were the land art park La Marrana in Montemarcello; the Museo Transfrontaliero del Monte Bianco in Courmayeur; the Centre Saint-Bénin in Aosta; and the Castello di Rivoli near Turin.)
Fulton is a walking artist. Walking is an integral part of many artists’ practice; two I have recently encountered are Regina José Galindo, also at Rivoli (with her bloodstained footprints around Guatemala City to protest against the presidential candidacy of former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt) and Francis Alÿs, who has a major retrospective at Tate Modern in London until September 5th (and who has been known for pushing a suitcase-sized block of ice through the streets of Mexico City until it melted, and walking along an armistice border line in Jerusalem carrying a leaky can of green paint). Landmarks such as the Great Wall of China have attracted their fair share of artists walking its length, from Marina Abramovic to Ma Liuming.
Unlike most of these artists, however, Hamish Fulton does not construe walking as a protest act. It is an artistic act, without apparent political meaning; and his walks are rarely documented on video, but survive mostly through the scant evidence of a few photographs, a watercolor or two, some lines of text painted on a wall or carved on a bench after returning from the walk. His walks do not imply solitude (he will gladly follow sherpas, a Buddhist nun, or any local guide, really) and do not require heroism (the use of oxygen at high altitudes is freely acknowledged). He simply walks.
Here is what Fulton has to say through one of his less verbally restrained pieces:
I am a contemporary artist, not a mountaineer. I have no knowledge of Alpine-style climbing and, I see no reason why I should paint a ‘good likeness’ of any mountain. I employ words but I’m not a writer. I am a ‘walking artist’ and I record all my walks in word form. I do not ‘provide the relief of wordless art’. My art starts with an experience, not a material, I’m not a ‘land artist’. I transform ideas into experienced realities. At sea level, I had the idea to join a commercial expedition and climb mount everest, Chomolungma. In 2009 I stood still on the summit at 8850 metres. Ascending by the Southeast ridge is what true alpinists call: ‘high altitude trekking’. I go to the mountains as an artist.