Francesco Careri

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Francesco Careri
Walkscapes

Excerpt from the catalogue Unstable Territory, ed. Mandragora, Firenze, 2013.

The act of crossing space stems from the natural necessity to move to find the food and information required for survival. But once these basic needs have been satisfied, walking takes on a symbolic form that has enabled man to dwell in the world. By modifying the sense of the space crossed, walking becomes man’s first aesthetic act, penetrating the territories of chaos, constructing an order on which to develop the architecture of situated objects. Walking is an art from whose loins spring the menhir, sculpture, architecture, landscape. This simple action has given rise to the most important relationships man has established with the land, the territory.

Nomadic transhumance, generally thought of as the archetype for any journey, was actually the development of the endless wanderings of hunters in the Paleolithic period, whose symbolic meanings were translated by the Egyptians in the ka, the symbol of eternal wandering. This primitive roving lived on in religion (the journey as ritual) and in literary forms (the journey as narrative), transformed as a sacred path, dance, pilgrimage, procession. Only in the last century has the journey-path freed itself of the constraints of religion and literature to assume the status of a pure aesthetic act. Today it is possible to construct a history of walking as a form of urban intervention that inherently contains the symbolic meanings of the primal creative act: roaming as architecture of the landscape, where the term landscape indicates the action of symbolic as well as physical transformation of anthropic space.

This is the perspective in which we have taken a deeper look at three important moments of passage in art history—all absolutely familiar to historians—in which an experience linked to walking represented a turning point. These are the passages from Dada to Surrealism (1921‒1924), from the Lettrist International to the Situationist International (1956‒1957) and from Minimal Art to Land Art (1966‒1967). By analyzing these episodes we simultaneously obtain a history of the roamed city that goes from the banal city of Dada to the entropic city of Robert Smithson, passing through the unconscious and oneiric city of the Surrealists and the playful and nomadic city of the Situationists. What the rovings of the artists discover is a liquid city, an amniotic fluid where the spaces of the elsewhere take spontaneous form, an urban archipelago in which to navigate by drifting. A city in which the spaces of staying are the islands in the great sea formed by the space of going.

 

Anti-walk

Walking was experienced for the entire first part of the 20th century as a form of anti-art. In 1921 Dada organized a series of “visit-excursions” to the banal places of the city of Paris. This was the first time art rejected its assigned places, setting out to reclaim urban space. The “visit” was one of the tools selected by Dada to achieve that surpassing of art that was to become the red thread for any understanding of the subsequent avant-gardes. In 1924 the Parisian Dadaists organized trips in the open country. They discovered a dream-like, surreal aspect to walking and defined this experience as “deambulation”, a sort of automatic writing in real space, capable of revealing the unconscious zones of space, the repressed memories of the city. At the beginning of the 1950s the Lettrist International, disputing Surrealist deambulation, began to construct that “Theory of Drifting” which, in 1956, at Alba, was to come into contact with the nomadic universe. In 1957 Constant designed a camp for the gypsies of Alba, while Asger Jorn and Guy Debord provided the first images of a city based on the dérive. Lettrist urban drifting was transformed into the construction of situations, experimenting with playful-creative behavior and unitary environments. Constant reworked Situationist theory to develop the idea of a nomadic city—New Babylon—bringing the theme of nomadism into the sphere of architecture and laying the groundwork for the radical avant-gardes of the years to follow.

 

Land walk

The second half of the 20th century viewed walking as one of the forms used by artists to intervene in nature. In 1966 the magazine Artforum published the story of the journey of Tony Smith along a highway under construction. A controversy broke out between modernist critics and Minimalist artists. Certain sculptors began to explore the theme of the path, first as an object and later as an experience. Land Art reexamined, through walking, the archaic origins of landscape and the relationship between art and architecture, making sculpture reclaim the spaces and means of architecture. In 1967 Richard Long produced A Line Made by Walking, a line drawn by stepping on the grass in a field. The action left a trace on the land, the sculpted object was completely absent, and walking became an autonomous artform. That same year Robert Smithson made A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic. This was the first such voyage through the empty spaces of the contemporary urban periphery. The tour of the new monuments led Smithson to draw certain conclusions: the relationship between art and nature had changed, nature itself had changed, the contemporary landscape autonomously produced its own space, in the repressed parts of the city we could find the abandoned futures produced by entropy.

 

Transurbance

The interpretation of the present city from the point of view of roaming is based on the “transurbances” conducted by Stalker since 1995 in a number of European cities. Losing itself amidst urban amnesias Stalker has encountered those spaces Dada defined as banal and those places the Surrealists defined as the unconscious of the city. Repressed memory, rejection, absence of control have produced a system of empty spaces (the sea of the archipelago) through which it is possible to drift, as in the labyrinthine sectors of Constant’s New Babylon: a nomadic space ramified as a system of urban sheep tracks that seems to have taken form as the result of the entropy of the city, as one of the “forgotten futures” described by Robert Smithson. Inside the wrinkles of the city, spaces in transit have grown, territories in continuous transformation in time. These are the places where today it is possible to go beyond the age-old division between nomadic space and settled space.

Actually, nomadism has always existed in osmosis with settlement, and today’s city contains nomadic spaces (voids) and sedentary spaces (solids) that exist side by side in a delicate balance of reciprocal exchange. Today the nomadic city lives inside the stationary city, feeding on its scraps and offering, in exchange, its own presence as a new nature that can be crossed only by inhabiting it.

Transurbance is, just like the erratic journey, a sort of pre-architecture of the contemporary landscape. The first aim of this [essay], therefore, is to reveal the falseness of any anti-architectural image of nomadism, and thus of walking: hunters of the Paleolithic period and nomadic shepherds are the origin of the menhir, the first object of the landscape from which architecture was developed. The landscape seen as an architecture of open space is an invention of the civilization of wandering. Only during the last ten thousand years of sedentary living have we passed from the architecture of open space to the architecture of filled space.

The second aim is to understand the place of the path-journey in the history of architectural archetypes. In this sense we must make a journey back to the roots of the relationship between path and architecture, and therefore between roaming and the menhir, in an age in which architecture did not exist as the physical construction of space, but as a symbolic construction—inside the path—of the territory.

 

Toward a new expansion of the field

The term “path” simultaneously indicates the act of crossing (the path as the action of walking), the line that crosses the space (the path as architectural object) and the tale of the space crossed (the path as narrative structure). We intend to propose the path as an aesthetic form available to architecture and the landscape. In this century the rediscovery of the path happened first in literature (Tristan Tzara, André Breton and Guy Debord are writers), then in sculpture (Carl Andre, Richard Long, and Robert Smithson are sculptors), while in the field of architecture the path has led to the pursuit of the historical foundations of radical anti-architecture in nomadism, and has not yet led to a positive development. Through the path different disciplines have produced their own “expansion of the field” (Rosalind Krauss) for coming to terms

with their own limits. Retracing the margins of their disciplines, many artists have attempted not to fall into the abyss of negation consciously opened by Dada at the beginning of the 20th century, but to leap beyond it. Breton transformed the anti-art of Dada into Surrealism through an expansion of the field toward psychology; the Situationists, starting again from Dada, attempted to transform anti-art into a unified discipline (urbanisme unitaire) through the expansion of the field toward politics; Land Art transformed the sculptural object into construction of the territory by expanding the field toward landscape and architecture.

It has often been observed that the architectural discipline has, in recent years, expanded its field in the direction of sculpture and the landscape. In this direction we also find the crossing of space, seen not as a manifestation of anti-art but as an aesthetic form that has achieved the status of an autonomous discipline. Today architecture could expand into the field of the path without encountering the pitfalls of anti-architecture. The transurbance between the edges of the discipline and the place of exchange between the nomadic and the settled city can represent a first step. In this space of encounter walking is useful for architecture as a cognitive and design tool, as a means of recognizing a geography in the chaos of the peripheries, and a means through which to invent new ways to intervene in public metropolitan spaces, to investigate them and make them visible. The aim is not to encourage architects and landscape architects to leave their drawing boards behind, shouldering the backpack of nomadic transurbance, nor is it to theorize a total absence of paths to permit the citizen to get lost, although often errare could truly be seen as a value instead of an error. The aim is to indicate walking as an aesthetic tool capable of describing and modifying those metropolitan spaces that often have a nature still demanding comprehension, to be filled with meanings rather than designed and filled with things. Walking then turns out

to be a tool which, precisely due to the simultaneous reading and writing of space intrinsic to it, lends itself to attending to and interacting with the mutability of those spaces, so as to intervene in their continuous becoming by acting in the field, in the here and now of their transformation, sharing from the inside in the mutations of these spaces that defy the conventional tools of contemporary design. Today architecture can transform the path from anti-architecture into a resource, expanding its field of disciplinary action toward something close by, taking a step in the direction of the path.

 

Francesco Careri (1966, Rome) is lecturer at the Department of Architecture of Roma Tre University. In 1995 he founded the urban art laboratory Stalker/Osservatorio Nomade, and in 2009 Laboratorio Arti Civiche, interdisciplinar research group which searches for a creative interaction between citizens and the built environment they live in. His main focus is now on informal urban settlements, exploring critically new possibilities of transformation in such contexts, especially through studies and proposals on the living conditions of the Roma People in Italy and Europe. Since 2006 he runs in the Faculty of Architecture the module Civic Arts, a peripatetic laboratory grounded in the walking exploration of neglected urban areas. He is the director of the Master Programme Architettura/Arte/Città (Architecture/Art/City) at the University of Roma Tre. His main publications are the books Constant. New Babylon, una Città Nomade (Testo & Immagine, Torino 2001) and Walkscapes. Walking as an Aesthetic Practice (Editorial Gustavo Gili, Barcellona 2002).



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