Ponte Di Barbarano to Padova/Padua (28 km. 6 hours.)
Yesterday’s kind hosts – Nicola and Claudia (who, I must say, were pregnant and in the middle of moving home, as well as being in the middle of harvest season, so deserve extra thanks for hosting me at such a busy time!!) – accepted me into their house with such ease that I forgot they were complete strangers. It seemed like I was at the home of old friends, and dinner with their self-made amazing wine prepared me well for my last day of walking alone.
Setting of earlier than I usually do – Nicola had to go work his vineyards, and Claudia had to prepare the last of the house move – I walked into the rising sun, walking east. The villages were just waking up and the light was painting the top of the hills. Looking up, I walked through a fine silk of cobwebs, and my first thought, honestly, was “I will miss walking into these cobwebs”. And I paused. And smiled. Because, before I had begun this walk, I was petrified of spiders and screamed childishly whenever I walked through their webs. But, over 2500 km, I have walked through so many webs and strands of silk that I have become used to them. They don’t scare me, anymore. I think it is a testament to how much I’ve changed. Old fears are settling, erasing, ending. I carried on walking into the sunshine, smiling, pulling the fine strand off my arms and body and letting it drop onto my path behind me.
As it was my last day alone, as I walked, with every step, I quietly listed every single host and friend and supporter from the past 3.5 months of this project, and thanked them. I thought I was going to have to walk an extra few kilometres just to get everyone in…
Yesterday, I met Claudio in a small, sheltered valley. I had sat down for my mid-morning break next to his woods, and he wandered past and stopped to talk. He spoke no English, but he understood my broken Italian to get a gist of the project, and I think I understood him. He asked me what he thought of the landscape around me, and I told him – truthfully – that it was beautiful. He smiled, and told me that he was working on growing trees and nurturing plants and encouraging animals to thrive. The area had good food, good wine, good people and good landscape. It was hard work, but he wanted to make his own ‘paradiso.’
When I left him, I began thinking about the original inception of this project: a pilgrimage to another sort of paradise – the Venice Biennale. A difficult trek to get into a ‘sacred site’ to artists. In many ways, Claudio’s struggle and mine have been similar: Hard, physical work to reach a beautiful place where we’ve achieved our dream; where we have all we want. For him, it is a slice of Eden, and for me, perhaps, it would be placing my kind of work at the heart of one of the most major art festivals in the world. As I approach the Biennale – 40 km away now – I reflect on what’s changed in that original goal.
To begin with, we (Deveron Arts and myself) hatched this mad walking scheme after not being accepted to represent Scotland in Venice. We thought: well, we’ll just make our own way there , and use the walk as a way to reflect on what a place like the Biennale means to people like us, who don’t make objects, but more socially-engaged, ephemeral acts. Work that is rarely seen in the context of the world’s major art festival.
Much has come out of that reflection – for example, this blog is a record of my own thinkings. But it doesn’t include the endless discussion about ‘art’ and its place in the world with the hosts, the other walkers, between ourselves, nor the other supporters, the critics, and others who have been engaged in this project. There is more we can do to frame those discussions and concepts, which we plan to do in the coming months, but I don’t think we’ve reached any solid conclusions about the Biennale and Socially Engaged Art. It has been the questions that have been important.
In thinking about Claudio’s paradise, however, I have arrived at a few certainties for myself that are useful to mention: I (personally) no longer think of that place (the Biennale) as a ‘sacred site’. I once did, true, but all this time walking, struggling, thinking and reflecting has made me re-configure how – and for whom – I choose to value that place.
This is a good thing. This thinking has emerged from the understanding that power is only half taken: its is also half given. And after all this time, I know I don’t aspire to give that place any more meaning and authority than the process-led, participatory and social exchanges that have occurred along the way. The people, the hosts, the walkers, the readers, the commenters: that has been the art and the beauty of this walk; and getting to Venice seemed to become less and less important with every step.
I think of it like this: I had a pouch of gold that I was carrying to Venice. There were gold coins inside, each one a token ‘value’ and I was going to take them to the Biennale and discuss what value the Biennale gives to socially engaged practice, what value the Biennale ascribes to the people of Venice, what value is in the process-led, participatory exchanges and how is that represented in the Biennale, not to mention how those I encountered valued the Biennale – and art in general – too.
But, rather than carry those coins all the way there, it seemed that every time I stopped, and every time I was helped along the way or given sustenance (physical or emotional), every time shared discussions or debates with people, I realise that I had opened the pouch and left a gold coin with that person or people.
As I approach the endpoint, the pouch is almost empty; I have only two coins left, and I am going to keep at least one for myself. The other… well, I will leave the other coin in Venice, because, its true, it is an important place. But it is not the only important site of art, and it would be a false prayer to give it all my gold. Instead, I gain strength in knowing that the wealth has been shared, rather than being subsumed into the authority of the Biennale.
Now, after 2500 km of walking and thinking about my sort of work and the Biennale, I feel stronger in my practice, more certain about making art the way I do, and I have the confidence that making art that way not only ‘works’ but is conceptually and aesthetically sound and critically relevant in the world today.
And I truly feel that if the Biennale ever wants this sort of work, it knows where to find me.
The Biennale can walk to me.
(Images from two days, below, due to yesterdays interwebs interruption.)
The Chicken Strut
From a distance, I thought this statue was of a man and a horse boxing… sadly, it wasn’t.
Claudio! A Very Nice Man!
Someone disappeared, midstep…
This wall looks perplexed….
The 2nd 4 leaf clover I’ve found on this walk…!!!
I don’t know what they are… but I like them!