My wife and sometime collaborator Stephanie Burke and I recently completed a 140-mile walk as a perforance piece called “Walking to Mordor.” The walk was based on an Easter egg introduced in Google Maps three years ago: if you asked it for walking directions from “The Shire” to “Mordor,” instead of the usual “Walking directions are in beta” warning, a pop up announced, “Caution: One Does Not Simply Walk Into Mordor.” The line is Boromir’s, from The Fellowship of the Ring. Ignoring his naysaying, the two hobbits Sam and Frodo proceed to do exactly that.
The line, as spoken in the 2001 film, spawned an Internet meme which consisted of a still image of Boromir, hand in mid gesture, coupled with a line of text reading, “One does not simply…” followed by whatever the author wished to decry. Instances date back to at least 2004. In 2011, Google Maps joined the party by adding the Easter egg to their walking directions. Along with the warning, however, Google actually did provide a map and directions, from a restaurant called “The Shire,” in Chehalis, Washington, to a tattoo shop called “Mordor Tattoo,” in Arlington, Washington, 138 miles away.
When I showed Stephanie the joke, she mentioned that, coincidentally, she has family in Chehalis, and had spent some time there growing up. It didn’t take long for us to decide that it would be fun, and funny, to take Google Maps’ directions at face value, and walk the route. Almost immediately thereafter we realized we had to commemorate the journey by getting tattoos at Mordor, and that the tattoos should be of the map of the route. We documented the project with a series of photographs called “Instagram vs. Holga.” Stephanie, a trained photographer, shot on the cult classic crappy medium format film camera, while I, with no more than a couple of undergraduate photography classes under my belt, used my phone’s camera and the everyman’s favorite app.
As has happened with more than one previous project, we didn’t set out to make art. Our process is more often that we have an idea for something we’d like to do, and then, almost against our wills, we realize that it is starting to look quite a bit like art. Or at least like things that other people call art. And certainly, going for a long walk has quite a history as a form of performance art. It has spawned books, blogs, and even a society. Well-known examples include Francis Alÿs,Regina José Galindo, Simon Faithfull.
The history of walking as a form of performance art can never be severed from its history as a form of protest. Galindo’s 2003 walk from the Congress of Guatemala to the National Palace, her feet dipped in blood to leave red footprints, was intended as a protest against Guatemala’s former dictator, José Efraín Ríos Montt. Montt had formerly led a military regime known for widespread human rights abuses, and at the time of Galindo’s performance was running for President in a democratic election.
Not all of those who have walked in protest have identified as artists. Perhaps the most famous example, internationally, is Ghandi’s Salt March or Salt Satyagraha. By directly and pointedly disobeying a British law against domestic salt production in India (forcing Indians to buy imported British salt), the march essentially started what became the international Civil Disobedience Movement.
Inspired by Ghandi, A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard Rustin organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march itself covered barely more than a mile, from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, though the 250,000 participants (60,000 of them white) had traveled from much farther away by bus, rail, and plane. Some spent 20 or more hours on buses traveling as far as 750 miles. Two years later, voting rights activists marched 54 miles, from Selma, Alabama to the state capitol in Montgomery. The Selma to Mongomery marches are commemorated by a National Historic Trail.
America’s racial history (obviously still in the making) continues to inspire performance artists. In 2009 I reviewed Meg Onli’s Underground Railroad project for Art Talk Chicago. (Five years later, her work holds up better than my early efforts at writing.) Presented as part of Twelve Galleries Project and curated by Jamilee Polson (who is also this blog’s managing editor), Onli’s project consisted of her retracing, on foot, the route of the Underground Railroad: a 440-mile journey, in Meg’s words, “in search of blackness.”
Exploring another form of blackness entirely, Chicago-based curator Amelia Ishmael co-edits Helvete, a journal of Black Metal theory, in the first issue of which was published David Prescott-Steed’s “Frostbite On My Feet: Representations of Walking In Black Metal Visual Culture.” (If you’d like to read the article for yourself, the entire journal is presented for free, as a downloadable PDF, at the above link. A print edition, also available, is well worth the price.) “Frostbite” tracks a few reference points linking walking with Black Metal culture. Principally, it finds the common ground between a grueling trek into the Norwegian tundra, led by Gaahl (former Gorgoroth frontman), and the author’s own experience walking the mundane streets of an Australian metropolis while listening to Burzum:
In this case, “blackened walking” is seen to be less about the activity of walking itself and more about the circumstances under which one can move through space—walking not just for the sake of exercise, pleasure, or getting to the shops on time. With the modern world (invested in trains, planes, and automobiles), the slow, simplicity of a walk (Walking? How pedestrian!) seems to have lost some of its value. However, walking is capable of bringing one’s focus back to a fundamental question of what a body physically needs to do in order to transition through, and therefore go on, in the world. Perhaps mourning the forgetting of the existential significance of walking, “blackened walking” pays respects to walking as the chance to explore self-determination and a readiness for the unknown.
We hadn’t conceived of the “Walking To Mordor” project initially in terms of its connection to Black Metal, but as we walked, Prescott-Steed’s phrase “blackened walking” echoed in my mind. The connection, however ephemeral, clarified itself in my mind as I looked over Tolkien’s maps of Middle Earth, and researched his languages. Two of the bands mentioned in “Frostbite” take their names from Tolkien’s writing. Gorgoroth is an arid plateau in the northwest corner of Mordor, surrounding Mount Doom; the name comes from Sindarin (the Gray Elven tongue) and means “dreadful horror.” The name of another band, Burzum, means “darkness” in the Black Speech of Mordor.
Far from the tradition of protest marches, whether as performance art or otherwise, “Walking To Mordor” was in some was a playful exploration of what happens when a joke is taken 138 miles too far. A linguist became an author. His book became a movie. The movie spawned a joke. The joke became a meme. The meme became an Easter Egg embedded in the principal means by which Americans today naviage their world. With every breath spitting in the face of Alfred Korzybski, originator of the phrase, “the map is not the territory,” most of us today confuse a glance at Google Maps, followed by a drive in the car, with exploration. We think of distances first in minutes of driving, or hours of flight. The landmarks we note are gas stations and Starbucks locations. Google Maps has become the average person’s understanding of the world. Moreover, our culture is becoming one of remakes and mashups. References have taken the place of wit: “that’s clever” has been replaced with “I have heard that before.” Tolkien has been reduced, in the public imagination, to the origin of nerd-chic Internet memes, and we have tried in our way to be true to his work by dragging a piece of derivative humor, kicking and screaming, into meatspace.
Filed Under Blog · Comments Off on Walking to Mordor
Welcome to another monthly installment of What You Should Have Noticed, where I try my best to wrap up this month’s top highlights, salient discussions, and general news of note. This is, of course, no replacement for diligent blog-reading, but I know how busy you are and frankly, I can’t blame you – you’re barely in the studio enough as it is. [Read more]
Filed Under Blog · Comments Off on What You Should Have Noticed in May
It’s that time of the year again. Summer is here and this tends to be a prime time all over the world for performance art festivals. The best part is, if you are in Chicago you don’t have to go anywhere to experience some of the finest international performance art. Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival has entered its third year. This year the dates for the festival run June 5-8th and 12th-15th. This years line up proves once again to be very promising. If you are interested in performance art it is an event not to miss.
Rapid Pulse is curated by Steven L. Bridges, Julie Laffin, Joseph Ravens, and Giana Gambino. Together, they bring a wide range of artists to Chicago each year. Rapid Pulse seems to touch on a wide range of genres, embracing theater, visual art, public practice, video, tech, music, and dance all the while dedicated to presenting work that is essentially performance art. If you have not had much experience with performance art or wish to have more, Rapid Pulse delivers a selection of artists that will provide you with a comprehensive look at performance art all in one festival. The lack of typecasting within performance art and the curation of this festival is part of what makes Rapid Pulse dynamic.
This year they will present works from notable artists, real heavy hitters in the performance art world. One of these artists is Kira O’Reilly (UK/IRELAND) who works with tightly controlled body movements that will leave you mesmerized. Then there is Alastair Maclennan (UK/IRELAND) who creates durational performances and sculptures with eerie and nostalgic objects. The multi-member performance group known for their radical actions and border crossings of all kinds, La Pocha Nostra (USA/Mexico) will also be performing. I’m very excited to have the chance to see Lai Thi Dieu Ha (Vietnam) who created a work that used bird feathers to explore sexual identity in a provocative work that in her home country was extremely controversial. As well as Jason Lim (Singapore) will also present his delicate and introspective work; He is a notable figure in performance art and directs “Future of Imagination” in Singapore.
As expected, Rapid Pulse includes emerging artists who you may not have heard of, but you should get to know. I am very excited to see the work of Jessica Elaine Blinkhorn(US) whose work deals with disability and intimacy, Julie Vulcan (Australia) whose meditative work with salt explores ideas of transcendence, and Raquel Punto(Mexico) who deals with filth as a form of performatve evidence. Aiming to foster a supportive community of performance art and artists here in Chicago, Rapid Pulse also features talented local performers such as Mical Samama, Mikey McParlane, and the Antibody Cooperation, among others. In all they have 28 live artist presentations in vivid, exuberant, poetic, and boundary pushing performances and it is definitely worth attending!
Besides the performances which mostly are held at Defibrillator Performance Art Gallery, Rapid Pulse has a wide range of additional offerings. There is an amazing video series of performance art videos held at the Nightingale Cinema. This year they added a performance art workshop lead by Kira O’Reilly that is an amazing opportunity for local performance makers. Though perhaps not as attended as the performance work itself, the festival offers artists talks and panel discussions that are not to be missed deviling into the cusp of the most relevant perfomantive discourse. Still the jewel of the festival is the live performative events and I know this summer I will not be missing a single performance.
Local Boutique Sells Studio Floor Scraps; Calls it Art
Sofia Leiby’s Second Scrap Heap Sale Hits Tusk June 7th
WTT? is always on the lookout for a good bargain (aren’t we all?), and this fire sale is the cheapest/ best deal since Kate Ruggeri’s public drawing trade. After Scrap Heap’s drying rack debut was unfortunately dampened by rain last summer at Medium Cool, Sofia Leiby is back with an even bigger roster of artists willing to sell their tra$h for ca$h. Putting her scraps where her mouth is, Leiby will be hocking studio ephemera for $20 or less.
Delightfully affordable work by Leslie Baum for Scrap Heap II.
Flyer by Louis Doulas.
Featuring artists such as Ryan Travis Christian, Ron Ewert, Magalie Guerin, Ben Foch, Josh Ippel, Leslie Baum, Aron Gent, Emre Kocagil, Tyson Reeder and Aya Nakamura, the fragments and sketches will be available for a limited time only from 11-5PM, June 7th at TUSK.
Matisse much? Aya Nakamura’s painted scraps.
Already jealous of whoever picks up this glorious scrap by Edmund Chia.
More information and preview photos can be found on Leiby’s Facebook. All proceeds will go to participating artists. Tusk is located at 3205 W Armitage in Logan Square.
Shannon Straton dressed in Renovar for the Threewall’s Skywalker Benefit on June 7th VS Kimye’s post wedding gown.
The Weatherman Report
For Chicago IL
Alex Katz, Late Summer Flowers, 2013, 38 color silkscreen on 4-ply, 40 × 55 in, Edition of 50. Vertu Fine Art.
BREAKING: Fitzpatrick to Go Out with a Bang. And a Stage Show. And a Magazine Portfolio.
The artist plans his “sweet goodbye” to Chicago.
If you’ve been awe-struck and slack-jawed since Jason Foumberg broke the news of Tony Fitzpatrick’s departure in April, you may also be wondering where the artist will hold his final exhibition as a Chicago resident. Pick up your face, the wait is finally over: Fitzpatrick’s last show, The Secret Birds (knack for titles, huh?) will be held at the Poetry Foundation from July 1st – September 12th.
Fitzpatrick’s Ice Bird.
Formerly only a student of Studs Terkel and the streets, the 55 year old is leaving his lifelong home for the University of New Orleans. His interest in birds not confined to printmaking, Fitzpatrick will study ornithology and natural history in the fall. In addition to the exhibition in the Foundation’s gallery, Fitzpatrick will also produce a stage version of the show, drawn from his poetry and other writings, of the same name. The performance will feature Martha Lavey (Steppenwolf) and music by Frank Orrall (Poi-Dog Pondering). It will premiere on July 31.
Walk on the Wild Side (Drawing for Lou Reed)
In case you’re not totally Tony’d out, Poetry will also run a portfolio in the July/August dedicated to Lou Reed entitled “The Day Lou Reed Set Me Free.” After that it’s time for Fitzpatrick to update his bio before he spreads his wings and flies away.
Look out for info on the opening and performances related to The Secret Birds. Definitely serving high-quality snacks. The Poetry Foundation is located at 61 W Superior in River North.
T around Town
What you missed while you were at Kimye’s wedding.
Artist, Matt Schlagbaum, convinces viewers to stare at “blank” wall at the opening for In the land of thieves and ghosts at Heaven Gallery in Wicker Park.
GDBD bathed their viewers in their signature pink in and outside of the F&A.
T around Town Continued.
SPOTTED: Chris Hammes and Michelle Harris at In the land of thieves and ghosts.
More ethereal work by Matt Schlagbaum at Heaven Gallery.
Conceptual Artist Lecture Even More Perplexing Than His Work. Richard Tuttle speaks at The Logan Center on the evening of May 13th
A Tale of Two Anthony’s. Romero and Stepter outside the The Artists’ Congress held at Northwestern May 17th. If you missed your chance to discuss radical politics in the arts, you’ll have another chance June 22nd at the follow up picnic to be held at Mana Contemporary in Pilsen.
Good luck ever looking cool again if you missed the Chicago Looks Spring Swamp held at Elastic Arts Sunday May 18th. You already know we love a bargain! Featuring an unbelievable record swap, boozy punch and choice Buffalo Exchange worthy clothes all for free, the event also had local vendors like Leah Ball and Kokorokoko selling affordable duds and accessories. Shout out to the vivacious Isa Giallorenzo of Chicago Looks and the lovely Leah Ball for hooking it up!