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Caminata Riaño, Hamish Fulton, Fundacion Cerezales FCAYC, 2016. Fotografía: Jean Marc Manson
Hamish Fulton: Walking On and Off the Path

On April 9th 2017, Fundación Cerezales Antonino y Cinia opened its new building with the exhibition Walking On and Off the Path, a show of new works of Hamish Fulton resulting from the experience of a walk around the west side of Picos de Europa in October 2016. Often mistakenly associated with Land Art, the British artist adopted the walk as his art form in the seventies — an activity he combines with photography, the writing of travel notes, and exhibitions — and has remained committed to it ever since. The following conversation took place at the Fundación on April 8th, the day on which the opening programme of the exhibition began with a call to a group walk guided by the artist.

Esperanza Collado: Why don’t we start off this interview by talking about your formation? Your art form seems to be rooted in the subversion of art-world assumptions and art-as-commodity. I wonder if these ideas or this position formed during your years in college?

Hamish Fulton: Thank you, I appreciate the wording. In October 1973 I decided that my art practice would be exclusively focused on the experience of making particular walks. I then entered a kind of world through a way of working that couldn’t include a whole range of different possibilities — and, especially at that time, I couldn’t think of all the possibilities that I might think of now. What I mean is, if you focus on making art just about walking, you can’t make a huge abstract painting, for instance. You can’t make a huge sculpture, because you’re steering the whole ship in a different direction. So, it is absolutely true that even when I was young, I kind of suspected that, by subscribing to a commitment to making art about walking, my economic potential would be reduced. The mid-sixties was an extremely unpractical time. If you had an idea and you wanted to do something, you just did it. You didn’t have the whole strategy about the economics. I’m not contradicting what I just said: you just preferred the idea and the excitement. There were social changes at that time too, and reactions to the sort of conventional behaviour-thinking and conventional politics that felt very strong and heavy when I was a student. And then, at some point, I realised actually I could just try to do this. Before that I thought a very strong dogmatic repressive force could prevent me from it, but at a certain point the general frame of mind seemed to change. All of these issues form the context of making art about walking. At that time there wasn’t a way to know how to be a walking artist, whereas if you were an abstract painter there were many years in Western art of abstract history, in different parts of the world. If you go back to Malevich, or if you go back to the beginning of the 20th century, you’ve got 60 years of abstract painting history. But with making art about walking, the way wasn’t — specifically in career terms — clear at all.

EC: You studied in some renowned, important schools in London: Hammersmith, Central St. Martins and the Royal College of Art. What kind of education did you receive in these places? I wonder if there was a sense during those years and in those contexts of the dematerialisation of the art object, or what has been known as ultra-conceptual art — art as idea and art as action. Does your decision to adopt the walk as your art-form come from similar premises?

HF: First I was at Hammersmith, then at St Martins and then at the Royal College. The ones at the beginning and the end were more modern-art oriented. There was nothing radical in either of the two. But St. Martins was much more free. One very important, life-changing experience at Hammersmith was going to an event called the Beat Poetry Festival in June 1965. As the English say, I was “changed overnight” by this event. Literature was always a burden for me, like when you’re in school, it got boring and incomprehensible. So, going to the Beat Poetry Festival — which of course was something you didn’t get to see online, you had to queue up with hundreds of other people, with a lot of students from Hammersmith, and maybe there were seats available but maybe there weren’t — even at the beginning there was some sort of chance element, but before you went in you didn’t know how you’d be affected. The poetry was incredible, although it was all male poets, there were no female poets. In any case, the poets read their own poetry and they said it very powerfully. What they said affected young people, students. They weren’t academic, there was no issue of Lord Byron, so to speak… it wasn’t like that. It was street talk. There is this book by Allen Ginsberg, Howl. That was the kind of spirit. He was standing with the microphones and you were amazed at the energy and the power of the words. Before that, I thought only a huge Italian Renaissance painting by a genius could produce this kind of experience — you’re told that this is a masterpiece by a genius but actually it means nothing to me. In fact, if I never see it ever again I’m happy. Whereas these kinds of words from these poets went straight in. We walked around London all night, we couldn’t sleep after that. I was changed overnight. It’s fantastic.

I remember Ginsberg said something, he used a swearword on the microphone, considered at that time ‘bad language’. And a man stood up and he was wearing a suit and a tie — which, when you’re studying becomes immediately suspicious: tie, three piece suit…— and he stood up in the Royal Albert Hall in London, and said “This is a disgrace! This is an outrage!” and all the students were “woah!”, like so good that he was offended. So this is how a student thinks. This kind of person was offended, and this gives more power to the students. But these are, of course children, still young. Nevertheless, it’s how your mind is moved and activated.

EC: Speaking of literature, I wonder if it has had any special significance to you as a walking artist? Different walking artists may approach the walk from different viewpoints: for instance, the Lettrist or Situationist dérive investigated the psychic effects of the urban context on the individual… But generally, walking is often assumed to be like a narrative, in the sense that walkers inscribe their presence and meanings on space. Perhaps this event, the Beat Poetry Festival, may have influenced you this way?

HF: I think Kerouac had a sentence, “the rucksack revolution” or “the rucksack generation”, some phrase like this. There was a little bit of a connection, but no, because I think what your question implies is a sort of education, a sort of knowing about what other people were doing, what other people had done, the flaneur and all these issues… But, you know, I never heard of the flaneur. There was no influence really coming from history. My practice is more related to a sense of freedom from society to break down what art is supposed to be. Even in modern art, as a student you’d go to an exhibition and you would see art by young artists like David Hockney (who was very famous by then). You’d want to support a brother artist so you couldn’t possibly speak out saying “I don’t like this, it doesn’t interest me”, but inside my head this is what I felt. It doesn’t interest me. So there was always a quest for freedom, and at St. Martins there was a teacher called Peter Atkins [1], and he did ask the question of whether or not you make art about things you’re interested in which is very revolutionary really. It seems very simple but it means that I don’t do what other people are doing. I think the implication in this question is “don’t make art about those things you think you should make”. What, in the privacy of the student mind, really interests you? What do you really want to make as opposed to what you think you should make? So the walking sort of floats in along all these questions. It’s not a matter of someone doing walking art before, or having read Thoreau. It’s a sort of floating in to wanting to do something like that.

EC: From 1964 to 1969 you were studying, I believe. And in 1969, when you finished your studies, you had your first solo show at Galerie Konrad Fisher in Düsseldorf. This is quite surprising. How did that happen?

HF: Yes, that’s right. I think the true story is that Konrad Fisher came to St. Martins, he saw the work of Richard Long and then Richard Long recommended my work to Konrad Fisher and also Gilbert and George’s. He might have recommended somebody else. It came from this sort of dialogue.

EC: I see. What did you do for this show?

HF: Well, I was a student, actually at the Royal College when I was doing this — a modern art school and a dull environment as I mentioned before. No challenges, just people very obsessed in carving and things like that. So I went to Germany, I went to East Berlin as a tourist. It was a very amazing moment to go from West Germany into East Berlin. At the time, with the Wall, everything was very different, with huge empty spaces, no cars, just two or three people on bicycles in the streets. It was a very unusual experience, and so I made art about that experience. I went from Berlin to Düsseldorf and then spent two weeks living with Konrad Fisher and his family in their apartment. You always stayed there, you didn’t stay distantly. You know, they had this very original idea about how to organize exhibitions, giving accommodation to artists in their own home. People got to really know each other that way. For the exhibition I only had these negatives, photographs from East Berlin. I didn’t arrive with a truck from England with a whole half-a-tonne of artworks. I only had little strips of negatives from East Berlin. So, not really accidentally but not extremely consciously either, this became a sort of a really interesting experience for me. But in terms of what it was like for Konrad Fisher, it was probably useless for him (laughs)!

EC: Did the photographs result from a walk?

HF: Yes, the photographs were made while I was wandering in East Berlin. There was a big intersection of what must have been very expensive apartments and on all the walls there were bullet holes, where all the guns hit the walls, I guess from when the Soviets went into Berlin. So in the intersections there were holes everywhere. I found that very impressive, so I took some photographs and that was what I had in the exhibition. Probably extremely boring for everybody else.

EC. You still hadn’t adopted the walk as your art form.

HF: That was in process. Until then I made artworks as any other student. The decision to focus exclusively on art made by walking evolved slowly from 1967 to October 1973. So, it was a six year evolution. One thing I’d mention, as it was important to me, is Native American people. When I returned from the show with Konrad Fisher to London and the Royal College, they said “You must go and see the dean”. I went to see the dean and then they kicked me out. They said “because of lack of attendance you have been dismissed: you go, finished, end”. So, I should have had two more years in college but they kicked me out and then I was no more a student. Then I went with a friend to the western United States, to all these Native American sites that I had read about years before. There are these kinds of connections with how people relate to the land, like Native American people. The places that we went to were Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation and Wounded Knee, where the Lakota were massacred in 1890, and then to the battle of the Little Bighorn site where the massed bands of the indigenous people beat the United States government momentarily. The Badlands where Crazy Horse was buried. Now I don’t know if you read about this — the Lakota people were trying to stop a pipeline coming either through their land or near their land at Standing Rock in North Dakota last summer and this winter, and thousands of people joined them to protest against it, thousands. And it’s the same story, the same story from wanting to control the Black Hills whether there’s gold or something else that needs to be mined. So their mining for me has to do with Land Art. It’s all a bit of a story, too big and too long to go into details. But it’s important to mention my being influenced by the Native Americans.

EC: I understand it’s important to you not to alter the landscape, like Land Art often does. You made that clear in your statement “leave only footsteps, take only photographs”.

HF: Absolutely. For a land artist this statement may be a sign of weakness. Because land artists desire to alter, to remodel the particles of nature.

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Caminata Riaño, Hamish Fulton, Fundacion Cerezales FCAYC, 2016. Fotografía: Jean Marc Manson

EC: Let’s talk about your understanding of a walk. How do you conceive of the walk, as a sign, as an action, as a form? Is the shape of the walk on the map important to you? And, how much planning does the walk involve?

HF: Well, they’re all different, so I never have just one way to make all of the walks. Some works may have a very definite plan where everything is very clear and all you have to do is just to complete the plan. You know exactly where you’re going, how long it’s going to take you, everything. Certain people involved in outdoor pursuits would say, well if you know everything why bother to do it? This is different with art. Even though I know a lot about the conditions and the place and the time and the length and the map and everything, still I have not completed this walk. This is one of the differences, I think, between walking art and outdoor pursuit. So the walks may be quite different, and they have a different rationale, a different logic. And then you have to acquire the ability or the skill to know how to do this. Because you can’t know how to do something straight off. You have to gradually become acquainted.

EC: Do you normally decide on the places to start and finish or not always?

HF: Well, the start yeah (laughs). But if I make a walk and this is the start and this is where I want to go, I may not know how long it’s going to take to go there. I don’t know the number of days it will take but for another kind of walk I decide in advance the number of days to be walked. So that’s quite different, and I think fixing the number of days to be walked in advance is a little bit more of an art idea as opposed to an expedition that can take ten days or months or… you don’t know how long.

EC. Speaking of scales and measurements, I noticed in your exhibition here at Fundación Cerezales some works show a preoccupation with issues relating to measuring distances, ways of approaching or demarcating space, the scales and the distances walked or to be walked. Do maps have an aesthetic significance for you?

HF. My relationship to the map is determined by a particular walk that I have made in the past. If I look at a map I want to walk but I haven’t made that walk yet, then this map will appear to me as every other map. I still haven’t activated the lines on the map, so to speak. If I make a walk and it shows on the map, then I have a relationship with it because my walk shows up on it. One example that comes to mind is my first coast to coast walk. The idea was to have land on one side and sea on the other, so as I walked along I would come to a point where I had to stop because there was water. I had this idea in 1971 and I walked across a really narrow part of England which, depending on how you’d go, is 70 or 71 miles. After making that walk, I could draw it onto a map and I thought it really interesting: my walk would show up on a map of the country where I lived as opposed to a walk being so small that you actually can’t see it on a certain scale of the map. So, the coast to coast walk, say a walk across Spain, would show on a map of the world. This is a matter of scale, not of ego. And it’s as opposed to driving because all the road works are made in comparison to driving. I walk on roads where people drive.

EC: In what ways does your art acknowledge the element of time? If walking is duration, I presume the idea of time might be quite important to your practice, and perhaps also related notions such as pace, rhythm, temporal patterns…

HF: Well, that’s a huge subject. In the first place, there is the time of a life. When I’m dead I can’t do any more walking, so there’s this fundamental issue of time. We climb before we can walk — the baby climbs up onto a seat or onto a table — so first we do the climbing and then we walk… Because I am interested in the number seven, I say “your first seven steps”. I have a daughter and I know exactly were she first walked, and it was actually on a train. And the train was going in one direction while she walked down in the opposite direction. It was like a miracle that she managed to walk down the corridor on a moving train. And then maybe you could consider your last seven steps before you die.

Around ten years ago, I was in a public discussion about walking in La Spezia in Italy, and one of the people talking was a local author who talked about the most important walk of his life which was 17 paces. He was in a terrible motorcycle accident with all his bones broken. He left the hospital eventually after months and he went home to his apartment where he lay in his bed, and then he said there were 17 paces from the bed to the bathroom. He said that was the most important walk of his life, to finally be able to do it. I don’t think in walking art one must walk a very long way, a very short walk can also be significant.

EC: But maybe because there is a connotation of meditation in the solo walk, I think it’s inevitable to associate it with the experience of time.

HF: Yes, and I think of a lot of things while you’re saying this. Nevertheless, my work includes a wide spectrum of types of walks, from the solitary walk to the communal walk with lots of other people. I haven’t always walked alone. In fact, I will make two group walks here in Cerezales. One this afternoon and another one tomorrow in Riaño. In the 1970s, people who were critical of me and other people making walks would say this was romanticism, escapism, nostalgia, all of these sort of academic, non-experiential criticisms.

At that time also, specifically in England, it was common to be critical of anybody wanting to walk alone. It was considered something was wrong with you or that you were strange. “Why would you want to do that? You know, it’s unsociable…” that kind of thing. But it’s not so simple. For me it was about reacting to that kind of criticism. But I think when you walk alone and you camp, this is incredibly healthy! And, then, we must immediately come to the issue of gender, because it’s males who go walking and camping, and fewer women go walking and camping. Now we have world class solo women mountaineers, but there is a kind of gender issue inside this story all the same.

EC: One of the main elements or aspects of walking is movement. I wonder if you’ve been interested in movement through other media, perhaps during your formative years, before adopting the walk as an art form?

HF: It’s interesting but I don’t think so. Sometimes I think I should have made more films or sound recordings. Nevertheless from the beginning I was always instinctively concerned about the control of the medium on the walk. Because there can be a controlling element from the medium that can, from a certain perspective, interfere with the walking. There is an Australian climber who lives in the United States called Greg Child, and he was asked to be involved in making a film about mountaineering. And, at the end of it, to cut a long story short, instead of the film being about the climb, the climb was about the film. In other words, it’s not true that there was a film predominantly about climbing, it was the climbing that was really working in support of the filming.

EC. The walk is made by footsteps. What is your conception of the body? The body of the wayfarer registers the events of the journey; it can be an instrument of perception and a tool for drawing on the landscape.

HF: Yes, indeed it is an instrument of perception. On a longer walk, like for instance a solo walk I made from the south of Spain to the north of Spain, the route had to go in terms of where I could find petrol stations where I could buy bottles of water. In the south it was very hot and even though I wanted to go one way I had to modify the route for that reason. Sometimes, the temperature was too high during the day while in the evening it went down heavily, becoming very cold. So you have to put on thermal underwear to keep from shaking with cold. This is a learning process. What I find very interesting is when in the morning you think, after having walked for ten days so far, that you are very tired. But then after one hour you realise it was a complete delusion, you’re not tired at all. It’s nothing to do with stupid ideas about laziness or tiredness, it’s just a misreading. Eventually you realise you have a lot of energy and it’s ok. So, sometimes it’s a matter of knowing when you have to push the body.

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Hamish Fulton, vista de la instalación Walking on and off the Path, Fundacion Cerezales FCAYC, 2017. Fotografía: Juan Baraja

EC: Let’s talk about the walk you will conduct tomorrow in the environment of Riaño. What kind of walking activity are you planning to develop there?

HF: First of all, today is today and tomorrow is tomorrow. I can speak about walks that I have made, but the future is still the future and unforeseen events can happen that could force us to change plans. I don’t think it’s absurd or pessimistic to think like this, it’s an acknowledgement of possible realities. In any case, I have a sketch of Riaño [he shows me a hand-drawn plan of the area]: this is the water of the lake [reservoir] and this is the big bridge. If you approach the area from the bridge, leaving the lake on your right side, there is a road, a former vehicle road from the village that went through the area where there is water now. So the road now disappears into the water. When I saw it for the first time I thought it was fantastic. Regarding tomorrow’s group walk, I don’t know how many people will come. We can’t be sure, and we can’t talk in retrospect but the idea is to have two lines of walk with an equal number of people on either side taking one hour to walk a certain distance of the road that goes into the lake. The two lines of people will pass each other. From the edge of the water to this tree is approximately 600 hundred metres, which will be the distance to be walked. No talking, walking in a straight line, trying to maintain a one metre space between the various walkers. It’s quite difficult to keep the equal spaces and to concentrate on it. It’s a silent walk, there is no stopping, and it lasts 60 minutes. Perhaps it sounds ridiculous or absurd or stupid to ask if people have ever done this before. I think probably there’s a good chance nobody ever did this before.

EC: In 1994 I believe that you began experimenting with group walks. What is it that interests you in these walking experiences with more people?

HF: Walking with other people is actually an expansion of the experience of the solo walk. It’s easy to sort of drift into the idea of walking with other people and share the experience of the walk. Then, there is also a question of verification, which nowadays has seemingly become a vital element with all the fake news and the “post-factual era”. It seems that, if you have enough lies or untruths, at a certain point they can become real. So verification is interesting. For instance, I walk from the south of Spain to the north of Spain, and someone says “Can you prove it? How do we know? Are you sure you did that? You didn’t get on a bus somewhere?” In 1994, I was walking with 15 students in Japan, and we all knew we did the walking; we saw the other person there, we could verify it. And then, with the Native American people that I read about, there occurs something similar. A lot of old Indians told their life stories in the 1930s when they’d be in their 80s. Then they’d pass away, and the stories couldn’t continue. When they were telling their stories — and it might take weeks and weeks to do it — one person would tell the story, and there’d be three friends who would sit quietly beside that person and just listen. And then if they heard something that wasn’t what they remembered, there would be a discussion, and the other would say “Oh, yes, well maybe…”. So then there’s the question of verification again.

EC :I guess also in the collective walk you can experiment with ideas or activities that perhaps you wouldn’t do alone. Choreographic ideas, for instance.

HF: Exactly. A few years ago, I made a walk in France that I conceived with a French choreographer called Christine Quoiraud. We made a 10 kilometre circuit, actually with a measuring wheel. We walked backwards for 10 kilometres, and when at the end you see the faces of the people that have walked 10 kilometres backwards, their expressions were completely different; the muscles have all changed. In any case, there is a significant choreographic element in communal walks.

EC: How about the walk you already made for Cerezales in October 2016? You made a circular walk from Soto de Sajambre to Picos de Europa. Could you talk about how the idea of this walk came about and what it means to you having done it? At first I thought it was your seventh walk in Spain and therefore perhaps more significant in some ways but I am not sure.

HF: Maybe if I looked at the whole list I could say it’s the seventh walk, so maybe as you said there’s something to it, but I believe I’ve made more that seven walks in total in Spain. Nevertheless, you’re right the number seven was important in that walk, because I used it two times; I used the number 14. The idea was to decide in advance the number of days to be walked, and this number was 14. I walked around Picos de Europa for 14 days. I had been to the Picos de Europa before in relation to previous walks. In fact, there’s a print, a limited edition print [2], that shows the interconnections of the invisible footprints of a collection of walks made over the years in the north of Spain — for instance, one year I walked down from the north coast to the south of Spain and ten years later I walked across that same way, but from the south to north coast. There’s no mark anywhere, but the actual lines, the routes, were crossed or interconnected at some particular points of the way.

EC: You’re quite interested in mountaineer’s stories as one can find for instance in the books by Reinhold Messner. Could you give details about possible relations between that interest and your art practice?

HF: I guess there’s an attraction for me to mountains. There is the issue of world class mountaineers, what they are capable of doing in the mountains, and today it’s both men and women. It’s not a totally macho world; no doubt it was, but it has evolved and changed. The thing with Messner — and I think also, in England, with the same generation climber Doug Scott — is that they really had ideas. It’s not that they just sort of go over there and wander about and climb this and come out and get in the car. Messner was the first person to climb all 14, 8000 meter peaks in the world. And now, ‘supercool’ people would say that’s boring, but I don’t think it’s boring at all. It seems sort of amazing that people can do what mountaineers can do. It’s one way of seeing what human beings can possibly do.

EC :You said you feel attracted to mountains. They are strong symbols in different cultures; they can symbolise romanticism, strength, obstacles, permanence, spirituality, loneliness, etc. What could you tell us about your interest in mountains and in boulders?

HF: Boulders are the base of mountains. The land where we are now is flat. Humans made it flat in order to make it productive for growing crops and for cattle. It’s not that the mountain is useless, but from the productive/production point of view you can’t make an economy from mountains (other than the Austrian skiing industry or the French Alps, for instance, and the economy Germany has based on Mont Blanc) as they manifest themselves, as you said, as an obstacle or a barrier. Mountains are borders as well. They draw frontiers. I think Le Corbusier said that the greatest architect is the architect of The Dolomites, meaning their shapes. So, mountains have many facets, and they can’t be read or interpreted in one single way. There is also the issue relating to highways. In this sense, mountains are practically obstacles for their construction. And then there are different ideas about high ground or mountains or hills, for example with all the issues relating to Carrara marble. The hills that are in Carrara, from one point of view, have been wrecked, ruined by marble extraction. From another point of view, Michelangelo carved David from a block of Carrara Marble, and then it became something very precious. There’s a book by a Scottish woman author called The Living Mountain [3], who argues that indeed mountains are alive. It’s not a blood life, obviously, but it’s another form of life. We have exploited and destroyed mountains because we disrespect other forms of life.

EC: I’d like also to bring up the subject of walking as an art form and exhibiting in galleries, the relationship between these two different activities. One of the main problems of the art of walking is of course the communication of the experience in aesthetic form. How do you translate this circumstance, or how do you deal with this problem — the problem of representation — in galleries?

HF: One of my statements is that “an artwork cannot represent the experience of the walk”. In art this is of course a major problem. There are two difficulties. I’d prefer to use the term ‘difficulty’ because ‘problem’ is a bit of a heavy word, whereas with ‘difficulty’ there can be a sort of negotiation. On the one hand, there is the person who went on a walk, that is seen as a difficulty, and then there are the works that show in exhibitions, another difficulty — so these are seen as difficulties, but perhaps not so different. In newspapers photographs appear as well as writing. My artworks are not newspapers, but they sort of function in a similar way. We weren’t there in Afghanistan when this happened. But it raises news and social media issues.

EC: Is the difference between the city and nature (or the contrasting relation between indoors and outdoors) approached somehow in your gallery shows?

HF: Absolutely. This is unavoidable. It is an approach that emerges almost spontaneously in the visitor’s mind when he or she goes to my exhibitions. We tend to think of what has happened somewhere else, outdoors, while the result is shown indoors. Moreover, I think of other issues, like for instance the way half the world’s population now lives in urban areas, and how urban life has become predominantly and increasingly an indoor life. The issue of income for earning a living for people on the land in certain areas became too difficult or impossible so they had to find new work in factories or wherever they could. The indoors exist because of the outdoors, it’s yin and yang. I used to think always, not necessarily in terms of wilderness, but of wilder landscapes, and then I realised that there’s plenty of possible options. I have made communal walks in cities and indoor spaces, like the one we will make this afternoon in the exhibition space. I have made walks that went right away through some major big city, and it’s kind of amazing to see the city in the distance, walk right through it and then come out the other side. The possibilities of walking in terms of what can be found interesting seem infinite really, once you get into this way of thinking.

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Caminata Riaño, Hamish Fulton, Fundacion Cerezales FCAYC, 2016. Fotografía: Jean Marc Manson

EC: In galleries, you translate the experience of the walk into images, signs and graphic texts, a sort of geographical poetry. How do you decide on an image or a particular text? Is this a decision you take during the walk or afterwards?

HF: It depends on the particular experience, but I think through the whole of the 1970s I already started to make works like the ones we have here at Fundación Cerezales. I am referring to the kind of work that combines photo and text. From the beginning I made press publications, mailing cards, etc. Sometimes I find professional photographers in my shows that ask me why I show these boring, dull looking photographs. “I am a real photographer, you should see my photographs”, they tell me. Then, there is the issue of the text and the image, of the relationship established between them both. If something had to be subtracted it would be the photograph, not the text. Photography doesn’t give exact details (when, where, how long I was walking) whereas a very small text can address all those kinds of issues.

EC: Have you ever been interested in photography as an autonomous artistic medium, beyond its documentary capacity?

HF: I didn’t study photography, so the origin of using the camera as a student is that something could be made very quickly by clicking. It is not the same as in the digital era but the transition seemed very fast: you clicked and then you could print or even go to a commercial printer. You could get a result quickly for that time as opposed to making a marble sculpture that takes months. That was how I got attracted to photography. As I said, I didn’t study photography and then I realised there were these different priorities and different concerns inside photography; what a photographer wanted versus what I wanted so that the people who followed the history of photography would look at my photographs and say “this is very boring, very repetitive” because their sort of priorities are not the same, even though the medium is the same. And then there is the whole issue of writing. I remember once a famous American collector said to me at one of my exhibitions in New York: “We don’t really need all these words, we understand, you don’t really need to put all those words underneath”. So, he completely lost the whole point of what I was doing. But it’s all part of it.

EC: What makes you stop and decide to take a particular photograph?

HF: There’s two main subjects I turn to often: footpaths and boulders. These subjects contrast each other, because footpaths are made by people and boulders simply rolled down the hill. Of course, you can’t find boulders everywhere, and they sort of seem like sculptures, not created, not carved, not moved by human hands, but you can walk all the way around them like sculptures. I think I photograph in an old-fashioned idea of spontaneous visual interest. Each person carries their repertoire of what they are attracted to at that time or for a few years and then this evolves and can become something else with time.

EC: Are there any other forms of documentation that you also use during the walk?

HF: I do a lot of writing. The writing is the dominant one. But then again with this idea of the solitary or the communal walk, another of the permutations is to make a walk and not take a photograph. In mountaineering there is a lot of discussion on this. This Australian climber living in the US, Greg Child, has said things like “The best climbs won’t be found on social media”. As an artist I relate to the idea.

EC: Artists books are another medium you’ve often used. It’s interesting to note the associations between the walking journey and the journey involved in the experience of reading or going through the pages of a book...

HF: Yes, there’s a beginning and an end in both. I think part of it is the issue with regard to graphic design — because publications are about graphic design — you can move things about on a surface. It’s not like moving these rocks, you can move things about but not in a sculptural way. In the exhibition I have photographs of boulders, and the boulder arrives in this position because it was up and then gravity rolled it down and then it arrives onto a flat, so gravity eventually just stops or stopped in this place. Whereas with sculpture, people remove things and place them in human positions whereas the boulder wasn’t taken there by truck, it just broke off, it rolled and stopped.

EC: That would be closer to Land Art.

HF: Yes, it’s Land Art. In fact, it’s a Michael Heizer. Levitated Mass, I think is called.

EC: Do you consider your practice to be underground? As, for instance, Arte Povera could be understood as an underground art practice.

HF: I think Arte Povera started underground but it became very valuable. I didn’t start out wanting to be an underground artist. I just wanted to make the art that I wanted to make, and then it was viewed to be on the margins of art. It is a position you’re given, not one that I go out of my way be in, but nevertheless I do think that I consider my work on the margins of art history. I think there is a certain kind of energy from it, from being on the margins. I might be wrong, I don’t know, but that’s what I think anyway.

EC: Your work could be somehow taken to an extreme, and I wonder if you ever have been tempted to be even more radical about it by defending a more “artless” attitude or an art without artwork or artist; by rejecting representation and personal talent and pursuing anonymity. It is inevitable, I think, to consider this polarity, which nonetheless your work points out as a potentiality.

HF: I understand the question, and as I’ve been saying it’s on the spectrum of possibilities, from being a solitary walker to making communal walks; it’s on the issue of the spectrum to sort of just disappear and live somewhere and make all of these walks and not communicate them and not let anybody know about them. And that does fit into what I was saying about the mountaineers who are tired of endless social media, which then relates to sponsorship and deals with different equipment companies and how you make a living. But, for myself, I definitely see it as a possibility and I have made walks where I didn’t take photographs, but I did take notes, although these notes may’ve not been public. So in a small way I have done that. I think the thing is that I am interested in and I enjoy the creativity of making things. It’s not so simple as that you have to make something in order to sell something in order to receive payment in order to build a continuity. I can really really seriously enjoy making. I feel unbelievably fortunate with the subject matter of walking and for being a walking artist, every single day. I find it incredibly interesting. I wouldn’t want to do another thing. I can see it is a permutation to sort of disappear, but again, I think it’s a great enjoyment being creative. But also I think there is the issue of the dialogue with unknown people, like meeting yourself. This I think is really important, the connection, and also — hopefully this is not pure ego — if there is any response to what you make. Or maybe there is no response coming back. This kind of thing, you know, because you never come to the end of it as long as you live.

* This conversation was proofread by Maximilian Le Cain.

[1At that time, Peter Kardia was known as Peter Atkins. All contemporary documentation uses Kardia’s prior name. Peter Kardia developed a radical programme called the “A” course in St Martins and is considered to have been a crucial innovator in his experimental teaching methodologies.

[2He is referring to “Eight Interconnecting Walks on Northern Spain / The Crossing and Joining of Invisible Footsteps”. In Footnotes: Hamish Fulton. Mountain Skylines / Picos de Europa 2016, Fundación Cerezales Antonino y Cinia, León, Spain, 2017.

[3Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain, Canongate Books Ltd, 1977 (reedited in 2011).


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