The Walking Encyclopaedia – AirSpace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent

Text by Michael Escolme

AirSpace Gallery have turned their eye towards the cultural activity of walking and the role it plays in the art world. Working alongside the Walking Artists Network this collaborative exhibition sets the ambitious target of becoming both a physical and online repository for walking practices. Originating from an open call, The Walking Encyclopaedia now encompasses work from over 150 cultural practitioners and takes in disciplines as varied as architecture, archaeology, anthropology, cultural geography, history, spatial design, urban design and planning. Housed in a corner of the gallery in its own custom built space, The Walking Encyclopaedia is like a cabinet of curiosities in that it is both separate from and integral to the exhibition space. This space within a space is a compact, busy environment in direct contrast to the great outdoors. No space is left unfilled, but what treasures there are to behold.

Walking Home by Bram Thomas Arnold is described by the artist as a work in progress in perpetuity. The visitor is invited to take away a copy of a text detailing a walk across the French / German border and return it to the artist once it has been edited, added to, reduced or redacted in any way that seems fit.

Walk walk walk an archaeology of the familiar and forgotten by Gail Burton, Serena Korda and Clare Qualmann touches on just a small part of their wider work but beautifully captures the sensory experiences of a walk and translates it into the written form. Observations of the present are woven together with memories of the past, both distilled into an elegantly expressed consciousness. Paths of Variable Resistance is a solo exhibition by Tim Knowles, a noted walking artist who attempts to limit the degree of control he has in his work by introducing unpredictable variables. A fine example of this is the striking Waterwalk – path of least resistance, a large wall drawing which confronts the visitor immediately on entering the gallery. It shows the routes of twenty walkers plotted using a combination of GPS technology and artistic flair. The participants started from the summit of a hill and headed earthwards as if they were water subjected to the pulls of gravity and the twists and turns of the landscape. The result is simple yet strangely evocative. It is part line drawing, part organic entity, part map, part travelogue.

For this writer the highlight of the show was Kielder Forest Walk, a looping video installation which, in keeping with the ethos of the gallery, teases the passer-by in the large box bay window of the Victorian building which houses AirSpace. The video shows in near real-time the artist’s attempt to walk through the Kielder Forest in a perfectly straight line. The walk took eight hours so the journey is best experienced in the more comfortable dark space at the rear of the gallery.

The Walking Encyclopaedia and Paths of Variable Resistance runs until the 15th March 2014.

Michael Escolme is a writer based in Cheshire

Published 04.03.2014 by Ali Gunn in Reviews

503 words