mac’s inspiring new exhibition explores art made by taking a walk

Taking a walk as an artistic act is explored in a new exhibition which is full of varied works from the last few decades.
Exhibitions can be like buses – you wait ages for something then two come along at once. Walk On at the mac in Birmingham is billed as the first exhibition to “examine the astonishingly varied ways in which artists since the 1960s have undertaken a seemingly universal act – that of taking a walk – as their means to create new types of art”. The current exhibition at the Mead at the Warwick Arts Centre in Coventry is described as the most comprehensive exhibition of British land art ever. In truth, there’s a lot of pieces which could fit in either exhibition, but the good thing is it means there’s a chance to really immersive yourself in artworks created from this outdoors perspective.
The mac exhibition fills the upstairs gallery, and pieces are dotted around downstairs, with some on TVs easy to miss in the entrance area.


Downstairs, highlights for me included some works by Hamish Fulton including a Tibetan national flag, banned in Tibet, but which had been carried secretly up mountains there.
Dan Holdsworth’s Blackout 10 is a large negative image of Iceland, the landscape looking as remote as the moon. Ingrid Pollard’s Worldsworth Heritage is a film challenging ideas.
Atul Bhalla’s Yamuna Walk is entrancing, a constantly-moving display of digital images of a walk alongside the river through New Delhi, showing astonishingly varied scenes, including people fishing, farming, washing clothes, growing crops, plus awful pollution and a dead animal.
Also downstairs in the Arena Gallery is The Dark River, a separate exhibition by David Rowan, but one that very much ties in. He has travelled along the course of the River Rea through Birmingham, and the result is a series of short statically-shot films of various places en route. All seem to be taken on sunny days which helps, but it shows the city from a different and interesting perspective. In one film young children wade across the river at a small weir, and in others it flows through man-made surfaces with views up to bridges and walkways, often covered in graffiti, although one is so rural it is hardly believable as Birmingham.
Upstairs, the Walk On exhibition continues with many different types of work. A number of artists, including two who work as plan b, and Jeremy Wood, have used GPS technology to plot routes, the latter creating a 3d model of White Horse Hill in Oxfordshire. Tim Knowles used a device to follow wind directions and then plotted the route on the wall with GPS.
Julian Opie’s Summer from 2012, shows an unreal-looking landscape on film, made in France, but with the colours so large-scale it could be many places.
Brendan Stuart Burns has made small but heavily-encrusted paintings to depict rockpools seen on a walk through Pembrokeshire, while Marina Abramovic’s epic walk along the Great Wall of China in 1988, to meet her collaborator in the middle, is represented by just six photographs and drawings. They planned to marry there but instead parted!
There are several works by Richard Long, including a photograph of a line through grass very similar to one on show at the Mead. A Line in the Himalayas is a photograph of a line of rocks in a very different landscape.
Carey Young’s photograph of a woman walking along a line of rubble shows the towerblocks of Dubai in the background; Sophie Calle’s Venetian Suite is disturbing in a different way, as in her walk she followed a man from Paris to Venice and stalks him in text and photographs.
Tracy Hanna’s Hill Walker is possibly the most thought-provoking; in a darkened room, on a pile of plaster on the floor, a person is projected climbing up it in the space of a minute, only to disappear, then start again at the bottom. It shows the effort involved in doing something like climbing a hill, and also the relative pointlessness of it.
It’s a great and exhibition with everything linked together through a central theme, and worth seeing as well as the Mead’s to gain a knowledge of the wide variety of land/walking art out there.

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