Hamish Fulton's exhibition at Turner Contemporary, Margate

Kent-based conceptual artist Hamish Fulton talks about elements of his walking as art

Walk this way

Kent-based conceptual artist Hamish Fulton talks about elements of his walking as art

With Hamish Fulton’s exhibition at Turner Contemporary open until 6 May, it is very exciting to be able to talk to the artist about his intriguing art.

He is of course forearmed about whether or not it is art, as he immediately tells me that he studied at St. Martin’s in 1967-68, when art was at a changing point and it was the beginning of youth culture, with the ethos of liberating the mind. “There was the idea that art could be anything, whereas previously art could not be anything,” he says. Of course, he adds, the debate about what is art goes on forever.

After his experiences at art college, Hamish got a job teaching at Maidstone College of Art. “I was grateful for that, however, I didn’t believe I could live with myself not being an artist, so I quit.”

This was a brave move, and those who think that Hamish is lucky to be doing what he loves perhaps underestimate the leap - giving up a full-time job to pursue an art which may seem esoteric. “The decision at age 24 not to be employed was a big decision,” he admits.

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So is the art in some sense a critique of painting? “It exists in comparison with painting,” he says “But the important thing about being an artist is to retain the freedom of the mind: that’s what it is about.”

Hamish admits that the gallery is necessary to his work now. The current exhibition at Turner is a fascinating materialisation of the experience of walking which includes photography, large paintings and a film of a previous group walk Hamish undertook in Margate.

The important thing about being an artist is to retain freedom of the mind

Here you can see various items familiar to the walker, such as the signpost, which reminds you of the walk along the South Coast. There are also large posters charting Hamish’s walks through Europe.

An installation on one wall shows points that refer to the mountains Hamish traversed, tracing the contours. He has also climbed Everest, but describes going to Tibet as “like a switch,” for a political dimension was added - although Hamish notes he always thought this might be there, from the times he visited the Native American sites in the late 1960s.

“People have different reasons for walking: escape, going to weddings, going to an operation or to hospital, leisure. So many ways of thinking about it that don’t have to do with health or the landscape.”

The idea of the group walk had struck Hamish when at St. Martin’s. Yet later, in the 1990s, he was invited to an art school in Japan, and had the opportunity to do group walks with Japanese art students.

Several group walks have included an event at the recent Folkestone Triennial, with some 60 participants walking one metre in an hour. The idea was to alert people to what had almost become a lost art, the walk. Movement, a political walk to heighten awareness of the plight of Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei, also took place at Tate Modern.

There is also a spiritual element to the walk. “It is ever-increasingly important. It is something which people want and need but don’t know how to access, as it is not accessible through orthodox religion. Sometimes religion is not spiritual. But I have no time for the New Age. The spiritual is one of those increasing needs: it’s pushed about by technology, but there is a need for it”.

Hamish’s Margate exhibition certainly gives the possibility for quiet reflection and it is an excellent opportunity, if you have not see the Turner, to visit this surprising and inspiring gallery space.

EXHIBITION

Hamish Fulton: Walk, at Turner Contemporary , Margate, until 6 May, 10 am-6pm, including Band Holidays. Turner is open Tue-Sun, 01843 233000.

Hamish will be leading a group walk on 20 April, part of Late Night Live Landmark events at Turner, from 7 pm in the front of the building. Contact Sepake Angiama 01843 233014 for more details.

See also http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCc8Rs4sOVY

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