25.06.2013 | River Walk Informs Community Engagement Project

Walking as Art in the 21st Century

Dominique Mazeaud has worked and walked with water for twenty-five years. In "Rivers Run Through Us," a new collaboration with artist Bobbe Besold and poet Valerie Martinez, she deepens her walking explorations as an intrinsic foundation of the aesthetics of engagement.

Von Dominique Mazeaud, USA

For Amigos Bravos

The following text, “Walking as Art in the 21st Century”, is a short essay about the role of artists in the environmental movement , presented at WATER MATTERS, a series of lectures organized by Amigos Bravos, an environmental organization who has cared for the rivers and water of New Mexico by providing knowledge and organizational skills for the last twenty-five years.

Often, artists, like priests, become artists by revelation. Sometimes it happens very young, or after living a certain slice of life. For me it was a slice, here is the story. In 1970, I started my career in art, first as a gallerist in New York City. Then in 1979, in a powerful vision while at the Findhorn Community in Northern Scotland, my prayers were answered and my role in art was specified: I had to find The Spiritual In Art In Our Time. (What had the spiritual in art become… since those words, art and the spiritual, had first been put together by Wassily Kandisky in 1912?) Finally, in 1986, a memorable experience along the Rio Grande “commanded” me, after being gallery director and curator, to join the ranks of artists, and with this glorious command came the “instruction” of doing a ritual that would involve my walking every month in the River, “cleansing” the river as it was termed, meaning that my work would be about serving the river, in whichever way she needed me, a performance I ended up doing for seven years.

In those days, I knew nothing of walking as art, a bona fide genre that is now warranting academic study and conferences. I will now quote Beverly Naidus, university professor and author of “Arts for Change/Teaching Outside The Frame.” Beverly and I are part of a listserve devoted to eco-art, another way of saying environmental art, what Valerie, Bobbe and I like calling Doing Art FOR The Earth. Responding to a recent discussion on the subject of Walking As Art, Beverly wrote, “Many social practice artists are working in the area of walking. Some see their work as gently activist, but there is some trepidation about that word, “activist.” Lots of things to discuss around that hesitation.”

I can understand this hesitation if you have been trained in the traditional ways of art which most academic setting will do. In a way, I feel fortunate having plunged in without much formal art education. In the world we have created since the 1600s, we have been schooled to work in separate fields. This separateness, a deeply-felt concern of mine, led me to “The Road of Meeting” in the early nineties. In that piece, I covered the whole state of North Carolina (driving this time,) one purpose of which was for me, an artist doing art for the Earth… to meet and find common ground with environmentalists, after all the environmental folks were acting on behalf of the Earth as much as I was, we both had our specific style, but it was time we met, and better, we worked together.

We are reaching a crisis point which hopefully will become “The Great Turning” as Buddhist philosopher/author/activist Joanna Macy puts it. As the old structures crumble, we should be aware that at the same time, Evolution is still at work, an (hopefully) maturing development that is sweeping all paths (not to say all walks of life!) As someone who likes symbols and abstraction, I’d say it’s happening both horizontally and vertically.

Collaborations are the kind of horizontal relationships that create community… And creating community between humans, and humans and non-human beings, seems to be a rallying cry these days. Because we have little time, we need to create in ways different than the ways that put us in such a dire situation in the first place. We need to refine and put our visions into action, the time for the artist or the scientist in his/her ivory tower is gone.

Drawing on the diversity of a group leads to the vertical element which is made up of many levels of talents, and their synthesis warrants better ways for solving problems.

With the horizontal and vertical levels, you get an equal cross, (like St. Andrew’s cross.) For anthropologist Angeles Arrien, it represents the process of relatedness. It’s a symbol of synthesis, it brings things together. Arrien found that in ancient Egypt, the equal cross was the hieroglyph for Art. “Art was the invisible painting that two people created between each other. In Egypt, relationship was considered the highest form.” In fact, art meant many different things falling together.

I never even thought of questioning whether what I was doing was art or not. After all, it was my soul that made me become an artist when, in August 1986, right by the Rio Grande in Taos, my heart broke down when it dawned on me how polluted the Earth, the River were… and what our future may be like. Not being ‚trained‘ as an artist, I am a bit of this, a bit of that… activist, certainly…I am not ashamed of that. I see what is needed in the moment… I let myself be called by place or by community. That is probably why I was also “commanded” to the word “heartist.” When you come from your heart, you don’t beat around the bush, you just be, you simply “art.”

(As a way to plant a seed, we are all heartists!)

I am not surprised that I was directed to walking early on, as walking brings together all the various parts that make me: artist, pilgrim, scientist (well… citizen-scientist,) seeker communing with the land, weaver of the web that unites us all, activist, priestess… In 1967, British “walking artist,” Richard Long performed his famous work, “A Line Made By Walking.” However, as different as the medium is, the idea behind it is still about “art for art’s sake.” Today, as we are reaching a point of crisis, our lines need to connect with life, they give us strength, knowledge and inspiration to bring back to our communities and use what we have found for their betterment, we do “Art for Life’s Sake,” “Art for Earth’s Sake.”



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