Introductory reflections:[1]


Both works imaged here are conceived as becoming unforgettable, their forms kept simple under the dominance of a related narrative.  Willingness to challenge convention is included within the concept of the artist - the oscillation between a professional artist and an amateur.

Long presents the photograph of his intervention in nature as a work of art, he makes the mark by walking and then takes a photographic image.  He is the participatory agent who presents the experience within the poetics of mimesis.  Althammer’s Path was taken by Ostojic as a document of a narrow cut swath for walking.

Long demonstrates how new art comes from old, it is frail and includes its own past, that is the artist’s capacity to re-enact the beginning inherent in birth by actions that bestow significance of an individual’s life.  Walking is a supreme skill that increased the capacity to sustain life.  An upright moving body allows the eye to see both danger and protection early.  This is the existential bind between walking and seeing that Long renews for our attention.  In addition, he freezes the action into a two dimensional image paralleling paintings and documentary, as established forms of culture.  Another aspect worth noting is the way that Long increases freedom of the individual as an aesthetic value.  Walking as a tool to make a mark on a ground is an unexpected choice.  It is an action, unpredictable and irreversible, aspiring to belong to drawings.  As the traditional trinity of eye + brain + hand replaces hand by feet, the brain also selects the respect for nature as a value.  The interference is minimal, only the positions of what is already there are slightly shifted.  The eye is almost redundant during the process, presiding fully over the photographic image later, preserving most of the aesthetics of the classical - classicist art: clarity, restraint, completeness coupled perhaps, with a lightness of being with a touch of extraterrestrial eternity.

Althammer grounds his work in the here and now.  The Dionysian Althammer, born in the year when Long made that line by walking, relies on the intoxication of the experience a visitor may have participating in his visual prompts.  No photograph can approximate that. I watched a video of someone taking a photograph every ten steps – nothing like a walk on that field of wheat.  Appreciating it as art conflicts with recognition of the damage to a life supporting crop - and in my case with memories of walking between fields during school holidays.  I can recall an aesthetic experience but did not and do not consider it an art experience.

“ would not necessarily require an artist to make it” wrote  Roberta Smith, and added that the whole Munster 2007 exhibition may be thought of as “experimenting with definition of sculpture“.[2]

Althammer applied hubris, an intentional damage to a gift of nature and farmer’s skills.  Aristotle defined hubris as causing shame simply for a pleasure of it.  After Hesiod (7th century BC) and Aeschylus(5th century BC) used hubris to describe wrong action against divine orders, Aristotle focused on hubris between people “Young men and the rich are hubristic because they think they are better than other people”.  Althammer shifts the issue between humanity and nature, between art and nature.  He also evokes individual freedom, but this time tarnished by hubris.  The Path being almost a kilometre long cannot be seen fully from any one standing point.  It frustrates any possible clarity of experience beyond the reduction to a primeval being on a path you do not know the end of.

Both Long and Althammer employ fragments of ordinary behaviour.  Althammer secures his as art by display at Munster 2007 event, i.e. by placing it onto a site occupied by art institutions.  Long achieves that by photography, drawings, texts, installations and performance, i.e. recognized art practices.

The strategy of placing something outside its context of origin and re-positioning it in art calls not only for performative intervention but also for skills that expand imagination.

That strategy also reverses the system of arts as described by W Morris at the end of 19thC – his “lesser” arts, those that support and sustain life, become the dominant set.

A quick inquiry into analogous art practices brings forth a wealth of evidence. I have in mind not only Land Art (term coined by R. Smithson in 1968 in the US) but also cooking (e.g. Rirkrit Tiravanija, Adva Drori, Pauline Cummins), and the many strands of performance art.  Tiravanija re-organized a gallery as a contemporary kitchen that would stimulate unexpected interaction between participants and displace the expected role of art.  Adva Drori makes omelettes with slogans written in red pepper asking different questions, including; “Am I an artist?”  Early on, Noguchi and Sonfist inextricably linked two principles; the work of art and the site, the landscape, swap identities.  Later, Richard Long and Andy Goldsworthy identified natural materials as conditions for a walk, or cut ice to become a work of art.

Noticeable is an inherent connection to sculpture and drawings. Soon however, the lens stepped in as a convenient means of limiting some of the ephemerality of art practice that produced art that is eaten, or otherwise “consumed” at the time of making.  These art practices are grounded in the conviction that perception is a kind of participation, in addition they invite physical participation, i.e. eating the food, walking the path etc.  Even more demanding is Roden Crater (, which offers a multisensory experience.  James Turrell has been well prepared for the conundrum of perception, in particular the visual one, by studying psychology first and art later.  He focuses on forming space through light, using eyes to penetrate space.  He draws attention to the limits of seeing, yet makes seeing the very subject.   Recently he added scuba diving and skiing to the means of exploring the double bind of origin and displacement.

Anaximander (610BC – 545/6 BC) pointed out that origin and demise of origin come from the same source.  He had in mind existence; I am focusing on praxis – in this case climbing and visual art.

Dan Shipsides and Neal Beggs independently and mutually unaware made their initial gallery climbs just months apart -  evidence that ideas not only occur over and over again, but also to several people at almost the same time.  In 1997 Shipsides made live climbing performances at Catalyst Arts, Belfast (Under a frogs arse at the bottom of a coalmine). Then as a co-curator of the first Perspective in Belfast, I selected Shipsides’ proposal (The Stone Bridge) during the summer of 1998 to climb the gallery’s walls as a performance and show the video of it for the duration of the exhibition.  Later that year Beggs made his climb (Surfaceaction) at Glasgow Project Room and the subsequent video was presented during the exhibition.

The Glasgow Surfaceaction took place in a show I curated with Kevin Kelly (now living in Dublin, we had both just finished our MA at Glasgow) called Mountain Madness (Dec 1998). It was an artist run show at the  Glasgow  Project Room. There were about 15 artists in the show and I made my climb around the gallery before any of the other artists moved in to position their work. So when the public came to see the show they saw many works on the wall and floor and between these works lots of scars and holes made by my axes and crampons (the making of the work was not public). The video was presented on a very small tv monitor on the floor of the gallery along with several other videos. (Neal Beggs, email, 12/12/2010)

Significant difference defined the status of climbing in an art institution.  Shipsides put forward personal commitment and skills in both activities to the judgment by the viewer simultaneously, Beggs preferred suggestive marks on the wall to have a moment on their own, before the video would give an entry into their origin.

In both cases, the lens-based display scaled down the original action and subtracted the real-life energy into two dimensional memory charged with the task of triggering imaginative attunement.  The possible challenge to this concept was muted, the visitors were already used to video as art.

Moreover, the video posits itself between art and a document of art.  It is this ambiguity that will prove both a challenge and a solution for the collaborative projects embarked upon by Shipsides and Beggs around 2003, referred on their websites as Shipsides and Beggs Projects.

One more detour:  Outside collaborative projects each artist has expanded independent research concerning climbing and visual art. 

Shipsides for instances superimposes drawing of the climbing done over the photograph of the rock face.  It is a record, a virtual map of a climb done or planned – the viewer is not assured which – as a visible mark of a non-visible experience, even of one that did not happen, yet.  Plausibly intuitive mimesis embraces the insecurity and the doubt as equals.  Moreover, while viewing the drawing the idea of safety and audacity in climbing nudges away the perception of it as beautiful.  Happily, the photograph of the mountain, of the landscape has no similar qualms, it harnesses all to switch on the sublime and the beautiful.  I have not perceived, what others might, an intrusion of romantic escapism.  The fore-grounded demand on skills and rational safety measures, takes care of that. 


Shipsides and Beggs Project

at the Death Of Delawab (2010)

LEFT: Richard Long (1945), A line made by walking, 1967, copyright The Artist
RIGHT: Pawel Althammer (1967), Path, 2007, Munster, photo Roman Ostojic



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