Weekend with Hamish Fulton

Best foot forward

Best foot forward

I realise it’s a while since I posted here – I was very dejected at not getting a place on The Cornwall Workshop and didn’t have the heart to write about anything to do with art – I have had a few rejections this year and it has not only undermined my confidence  but really make me question my practice.  I felt quite disheartened for a while.  So the weekend with Hamish Fulton a week ago was something to look forward to. I thought highly of his exhibition at Tate Britain, which I saw several years ago. I bought the catalogue (an honor because I don’t buy many!)  and included him in an essay I wrote on walking for my MA last year. I have now had time to reflect on a weekend full of mixed feelings. It began with a talk at Falmouth University, part of the MA lecture programme there, on the Friday evening. I was hugely disappointed because it was more of a travelogue than anything and I didn’t think it was aimed at postgraduate level. There was no criticality and he was lacking in enthusiasm and ‘passion’ in his work.  If truth be told I just didn’t take to Hamish at all! I found him opinionated and not particularly good at talking about his work.  I don’t want a lot of ‘art speak’ but I do want an artist to to contextualise their practice and to answer the audience questions and not steer around them.  One of the things he said was that art critics constantly got his work wrong and didn’t know what they were taliking about  (and frankly I’m not surprised as he’s not very good at explaining it)  he (quote)  ‘is not part of ‘land art’ and  land artists are gardeners’ – well I’m not sure what Christo would say to that!! HF also walks on roads and is rather fixated with pavements, another revelation!  I  was left wondering what he was doing and why. What makes a walk an art work? Why is his walking any different from other walkers? What constitutes site specificity?  Apparently it’s all about intention and if he sets out with the intention that the ‘walk is art’ then it is (this differentiates it from a walk to the corner shop apparently). All this of course has made me question my own practice.

Following the talk on the next morning, Saturday, 104 people gathered outside Penzanze Station – the only prior information was arrival time, to wear dark clothes and walk in silence so I did not know if I was committing myself to a full days walking or a few hours – it turned out to be 1 hour on the promenade. 50 rows of people facing each other about 30ft apart walking towards and away from the sea, at their own pace, following a line of paving slabs.



You can read more about it HERE.

This was repeated the next day on the beach with approximately 200 participants in 2 lines an arms distance apart, everyone walking extremely slowly towards each other until the lines were parallel – this took exactly an hour. It was VERY SLOW and pretty cold – but at least the rain stopped!


It would have been more impressive if the timing had been achieved without HF checking his watch constantly! I was at the back of one of the lines and didn’t start moving for 20 minutes – it was rather like when traffic slows down on the motorway and eventually comes to a halt even though nothing is holding it up except the speed of the cars ahead.  I thought that the walks would answer some of my questions but I still have no idea as to the rational behind it all, choice of location, silence, timing etc. (yet we could take photographs!).  It felt like a formula that he just repeated in different places – the only participatory walk he’s done that made any sense to me was the one in support of Ai Wei Wei – this took place in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in April 2011. I wanted to know the rationale behind why he was doing what he was doing………….and where was I in this? My feelings are that participants need to know FULLY what is going to happen and the rules of engagement otherwise it creates anxiety. We were not given the crucial element of time restraints and endurance levels until we arrived (when there was the option to withdraw – but if you’d come a long way as I had then it was not really an option).  The experience left me feeling confused…….. What I am clear about is that I really don’t want to engage with walking in this way  – It would take away all the joy of walking and ‘being’. It has offered me a useful counterpart in which to frame my own practice

My second year on the MA has got off to a much stronger start this year in spite of the questioning about walking as an art practice –  It’s really got me thinking! And I am sure I will be posting more about this subject.

  1. Great post Rosie! I too went to his lecture and came away feeling I had leant nothing! It was all rather bland. Good luck with year two. Caro x

  2. Glad you agree with me Caro – i have one friend who enjoyed it but several who felt as I did – it is so disappointing when it is an artist you’ve been looking forward to hearing! I loved reading your post about it all – a perfect description of the Sunday walk – that girl,s feet must have been so cold!

  3. I’m afraid this is the ‘mo’ of rather a lot of that generation of so called land artists…from the UK (though not the States or elsewhere…dissing them is rich…they genuinely articulated their seriousness about their work). I recall an early ‘talk’ from Richard Long that consisted of 25/30 slides to an accompaniment of C&W songs…not a word from the man himself. My feelings about this is that its just ‘stuff’ – only situationist stuff rather than actual stuff – and really has very little connection to meaningful art! (Sean Scully always says “I blame ******* Marcel Duchamp”).

  4. Great comment David – I was thinking it was a ‘ generational’ thing! You wouldn’t get away with it on an MA these days! I wii avoid RL then…….Sean Scully has a good point!

  5. Hello, this is Victoria Cooper here, I believe Walking to be a personal experience beyond spoken language. Hamish Fulton has taught me to think differently about “being in the world”. He didn’t have to SAY anything. . .Thankyou for being provocative.

  6. Richard M Broadbent said:

    Hi Rosie, interesting to hear your reactions to the HF weekend as I know you were really looking forward to the experience with anticipation. Sorry it proved to be a bit of a disappointment. It is also interesting for me to read this, having stepped outside the intensity of the MA forum for a while. It’s a great way to keep in touch with ‘Practice’; at arms length!.
    I had in mind an idea to make work that responds to the concept of the Dartmoor Granite Auriole. Best Wishes, Martin.

  7. Hi Martin – great to hear from you – sometimes a negative experience can be more thought provoking so in a way I did get a lot from the weekend with HF – I’m glad you are keeping up the work and really hope you will rejoin us next year

  8. Hi Victoria and thanks for your comment – I write the blog mainly for myself and as a way of sorting out ideas and feelings about my practice and the art world. The weekend has been impact full in many ways. I think if his participatory walks demonstrate a different way of ‘being in the world’ to others then that is enough (as you rightly point out). My main criticism was in the talk he gave at Falmouth University as part of the MA lecture programme given that the audience was mainly postgraduate students even though they do have an allocation for the general public.

  9. What a wonderful opportunity you have! I think that beyond the self conscious in the practice of art – critique like yours is a most important part of keeping ideas alive and vibrant. For this reason, Hamish Fulton and others who have a long history in art should always be questioned! I wish you well in your MA – Thanks for your reply – Victoria Cooper

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