System Walks

I am an artist with a particular interest in the application of systems and processes in understanding nature, society and art. Although my work could be described as a hybrid of Land Art and Systems Art the ultimate aim of each work is to understand the particular system employed and communicate the experience of interacting with both the system and the subject of study. I have trained in environmental science, systems science, development theory, animation and film. I have worked and studied in these subjects, as they all deal in different ways with our relationship to space and our conceptions of time. Art is a way of pulling together these disparate subjects to comment on being in the world.

We are living in a world of information excess and as an artist I need to physically engage with the world in order to experience it first hand, as opposed to the secondary experience of media and data. The media theorist Jaron Lanier summed this up as, “Experience is the only process that can de-alienate information” (Lanier, 2011, p. 28).  Which in turn reflects the earlier ideas of Kierkegaard who argued that the conception of self depends upon one’s stand taken in life and that one’s interpretation of self should be based on what you do, as opposed to what you think. Kierkegaard argued that our primary access to reality is through our involved action in the world. He argued that the way things are seen or perceived by a detached thinker is only a partial and distorted version of the way things show up to an individual actively engaged in the world. Thus an active engagement in the world and the systems that surround us is both a necessary process in order to perceive the world and how it works and a necessary process in order to make critical or aesthetic judgements about the world.

This position developed due to my work prior to art in data visualization on ecology projects. These projects dealt with huge amounts of data and the process of going for walk, and getting out into the field was a way of calibrating the accuracy of this data. This practise, known as ground-truthing meant going into the area of interest and walking with a GPS to check the accuracy of the information for a given location. In reality, the process of spending time in a place gave you a much stronger qualitative understanding of a place, even if you could not translate this into hard data. Thus, the paradox was that the accuracy of the second-hand scientific information being generated from such projects had to be corroborated by the subjective first-hand process of walking around a place.  Thus one could understand a place on an intuitive level in a way that could not be confirmed by the data. This disjunction between the science process and the physical, but subjective experience of a place ultimately led from walking as a process of systems science to walking as a process of art. I made such walks on projects in South and Central America, The Middle East and Africa. This process has continued with recent walks in wilderness locations in the Scottish Highlands and Scandinavia, and urban walks in Berlin, London, Edinburgh and Istanbul.

Thus as an artist my active engagement with a place or situation will usually start by physically standing up and walking around the place or through the problem of interest. As stated I am interested in walking, as it is a direct way of experiencing a place qualitatively, and a useful way of capturing data quantitatively. The walks I make are in a way a private performance that is recorded. I will document the walks with photography, film, drawings and GPS and the art work made from the walks are a culmination of organizing and interrogating this recorded information in a systematic way, and then transcending this order to make works that captures the essence of the place and experience of being in the place. These works appropriate the apparatus of systems and environmental science, but also offer a critique of them, by highlighting the inherent subjectivity of the approach, which is rarely accommodated in science.