Saturday 6 December, 10am – 12 noon
Plymouth City Centre
Well, that was exciting. I’ve never been part of an artwork before. Together with the other 159 participants in Hamish Fulton’s walk, I arrived at our meeting point at Plymouth train station with not the foggiest idea what to expect.
Yes, it was a communal walk and yes, it would take place somewhere in or around Plymouth city centre. We’d all received emails informing us that the walk – part of the Plymouth Walk On programme – would probably not be suitable for children or dogs. Apart from that, we were pretty much in the dark.
At 10am prompt, we were led to the chosen site for our walk, which turned out to be the wide stretch of pavement next to the Civic Centre. An hour had been set aside to get us in place and properly organised. At this point, Hamish Fulton explained how it would all work.
Half of us stood one on side of the path; the rest stood on the other side. Facing each other, we were carefully positioned so that as we set off, the space either side of us was unoccupied: this was the territory of the people starting on the other side. I hope you’re following this …
We were told to choose our walk speed and stick with it, non-stop for the full hour of the event. And then came the bombshell: the walk would be conducted in silence, no matter what. This was going to be tough.
The idea behind these walks is to give people their own space to walk in, simply for the experience. There was no purpose for the walk; we were just doing it. My own piece of space comprised 10-and-a-half paving slabs. Ah, but this wasn’t just our space was it? It was public space and around half a dozen people on their way to from town made a point of holding on to this little bit of space by walking through the middle. This was extremely interesting, as we weren’t allowed to change our pace or speak to them. One man came right up to me and asked in complete incredulity: “What on earth is all this all about?” The vow of silence saved me – I mean, where do you start?
As luck would have it, there were clear blue skies for the walk and by the midday finish, our shadows stretched out across the pavement and the sun was directly over the War Memorial on the Hoe.
I wondered if there was some scientific reason (or any reason) why Hamish Fulton had picked this precise spot for the walk: “The clear lines on the pavement were perfect.” As simple as that.
I really felt as though I was taking part in something completely different. All of the walkers had a great time. Was it art to those watching? Everyone seemed engaged; whether it was by walking through the middle, politely walking around, or by smiling quizzically. Apparently, one man was overheard to say: “If this is art, it’s barmy.” Which just goes to show that one man’s barmy is another man’s art.
Hamish Fulton’s group walk was part of the ‘Walk On’ exhibition, which continues at Plymouth Arts Centre, Plymouth College of Art, Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, and Peninsula Arts until 13 December.