Lines Made by Walking
First published in the catalogue to 'Tales of the City', curated by the British Council, Arte Fiera
It’s a typical metropolitan morning. We recognise the scene: hordes of early commuters crossing London Bridge and flocking into the City; the countless slaves of the capital at the gates of its highest temple. But unusually, amid this monochrome river of briefcases and suits, a woman walks forwards then backwards, carving out a small path of personal space in the steady flow of bodies. Carey Young’s Lines Made By Walking (2003) documents this action in a looped series of slides, taken from a fixed viewpoint, and projected at one second intervals. With no beginning and no end, the sequence is locked in a circle of infinite repetition reminiscent of one of life’s inevitabilities – the daily journey to and from work. Analogous to global capitalism’s flow of information and money, these permanent micro-migrations are central to urban experience in a society defined by the rapid dissolution of boundaries between business, culture and politics. The ritual, almost militarily precise, emphasised by the rhythm of the slides changing and the clicking carousel, add up to a sense of the unavoidable: no escape, no recourse from the inexorable clench of the corporate claw that fundamentally shapes the texture of life.
The woman on the bridge does not differ much from the rest of the crowd. Clad in an indistinguishable corporate outfit, she appears as one amongst many. In her inconspicuous ordinariness there is nothing to clearly indicate that this is the artist herself. Drawing on her own experiences in the corporate sector, Young explores the complex interdependencies of business and art and, in a more general sense, the enduringly troubled relation between art and life. With reference to Richard Long in her title, Young connects a previous generation of artists whose dematerialized and processed-based practices drew attention to artistic institutionalisation, to a contemporary critique of artistic complicity with the business sector – interior to it, incorporated and defused by its forgiving embrace.
Less didactic and more overtly poetic than previous works, Lines Made by Walking reworks Long’s famous A Line Made by Walking, England (1967) in which the artist walked repeatedly back and forth across a field, leaving a line of flattened grass. Transferring this action to the hurrying crowd, Young opens the scope of its implications to the artist’s role within the wider social field. Incorporating herself into the working mass, thus collapsing the distance between the artist and the worker, she suggests the intrinsic connection with differing modes of production. The artist is part of the crowd not only because of her chameleon-like makeover, but because by walking she is also working, making her artwork. Conversely, the act of walking – there and then – turns workers into artists, each inscribing their individual ‘line’. In that sense, everyone is an artist, and the artwork is – as Beuys would surely agree – immanent in the crowd. At the same time, turning her pace against the stream, the artist appears as if displaced, strangely disconnected from her fellow walkers. She is conquering her own private space; she is involved in that dramatic and futile proverbial artistic ‘struggle’, whilst simultaneously sending up the concept.