Hamish Fulton 1 Mira Madrid
Hamish Fulton1 Mira Madrid





Luis Caballero Martínez. Psychiatrist. Madrid


To sum up in a nutshell what I gleaned from the pile of books and catalogues Mira Bernabeu proportioned to help me write this note: Hamish Fulton is an artist who walks (“not a walker who makes art”); that he does so endeavouring not to alter the places through which he passes (“to leave no traces”) and then distils from it an experience that is materialized as art in graphic diagrams of the route taken, photos that don’t seek technical perfection, small sculptures, drawings and collages to which he adds texts, generally brief and with no literary pretensions, that record the location, duration and year of the walk. All his works have a neutral, unassuming and low-key outer appearance.

Over the course of the years, Fulton has always stuck to this approach (as he says, “I took a gamble, and placed my bet on just the one horse”) and has expounded as much on many occasions, though in few words. His “set” of instructions includes a prior structured idea and a precise process of execution. He may walk alone or with others, following roads or cross country, with no more apparent motive than the preordained walk, though at times he also seizes the opportunity to support causes like environmental conservation, the rights of peoples or to draw attention to the dangers of human action on the planet.

Even when one understands and accepts Fulton’s artistic template, it can still be a challenge for the beholder to view his works in an exhibition hall: How can you share in the experience of something in which you haven’t taken part? (something the artist is keenly aware of when he lets us know that “An Object Cannot Compete with An Experience”); How can you grasp and give value to an experience that is, in essence, more physical and mental than visual? (“A Walked Line Unlike A Drawn Line Can Never Be Erased”); and given the economy of his texts (because “there are no words in nature”), how can you get a first-hand insight into the experience of somebody else if you haven’t shared in it?


Folleto n.13-web.pdf
1.94 MB





If we were to apply the formula proposed by Shimamura to understand the relationship between The Artist (intention), The Artwork and The Beholder (sensation, knowledge and emotion in front of the work), we would be faced with no few problems. Fulton knows this well and underscores the vast difference there may be between “what he thinks as an obsessive walker and what viewers perceive” when they contemplate one of his framed photos with text.


It is an art that depends on human walking, that complex phenomenon which has been minutely analysed and written about from so many points of view. Anyone wishing to understand it must first ask, physically, how does Fulton walk? For instance, is he slow or fast? (he says not very fast). What is his posture like when walking? On what does he focus? Does he give priority to the perception of one particular sense—sight, hearing, touch, smell…—or does he simply concentrate on propioception? How is his work inflected by the location, duration, intention or contingencies of the walk? Does he walk in a special way so that the walking will become art? In his case, are there different forms of art based on different ways of walking? And a long etcetera.

If we bear in mind the range of mental states that can be understood from walking by famous artists and intellectuals—Nietzsche, Rousseau, Nerval, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Thoreau, Walser, Herzog, Büchner, Sebald, Stevenson and Long, among others—many questions suggest themselves. For what I wish to propose here—a short commentary from phenomenology and neuroscience—the first would be: In what mental state does Fulton walk? In the catalogues of his work he provides a few clues, though admittedly not many. For instance, he says that walking encourages “…moments of meditative slowness”, and that “after a few walks … any worries about what to do afterwards vanish” … or that while walking he experiences “a certain euphoria” and also that “… after a few days walking you think better.” I wonder, for instance: How much of his walking takes place in what we could call the mental state of “mindfulness” and how much in the opposite state of “mindunfulness”?





We know that there are three major neuronal networks which provide critical support to human creativity: they are the so-called salience networks (which select the stimuli of most interest to an individual at a given moment), executive networks (which consciously resolve explicit problems) and default-mode networks (which enable digression, fantasy and autobiographical accounts). Although it was generally thought that the last two were anticorrelated (which is to say, one takes precedence over the other), today it is also accepted that simultaneous forms of activation take place in moments of creativity. Is it possible to speculate about the underlying neuronal support of the experience in such a singular practice as Fulton’s? To be perfectly honest, I am unable to offer any categorical response: just digressions and guesswork.


In writing this note, Hamish Fulton was kind enough to answer a few questions I put to him about his work. And so, he let me know that he makes a distinction between his “road walking” and his “solo camping walks.” If I have understood correctly, in the former, after some perfunctory preparations during which he interiorises the route he is going to take, he starts walking and then begins to feel a growing “relaxation” and then “joy” associated with the experience of “being alive going on foot” (in a world in which almost everybody uses vehicles). In the latter, he claims to have found a kind of antidote for the former (allowing him to avoid road traffic) and a remedy for all worries or setbacks that he might have had when starting out, in such a way that he begins to feel an immediate sense of calm and progressive “euphoria” that reaches its peak during the final days, leading up to its conclusion.





In another of his friendly replies, Fulton spoke about the conceptual nature of his art, grounded in a world of ideas which, turned into “experiences”, are clearly positioned in the first term of the equation which pits “experiences” against “objects” in contemporary art (he places himself, for example, on the opposite pole to abstract art which tries to “build a sanctuary” from the problems and calamities of the world).


As, unlike Alexia Tala, one of the critics who has engaged with Fulton, I have not had the opportunity to “explore Fulton’s way of thinking, his way of conceiving his projects and of understanding things like coincidences and the relationships between geometry, numbers and self-imposed rules in his walks,” I asked him about his recurring personal liking for the number seven (7) and multiples thereof. He told me that, for him, seven is a kind of universal “readymade” which can be used like an invisible personal structure associated with the notions of conscience, respect and the conservation of nature that inspire his whole practice.


I was also curious to know more about that “undiagnosed learning disability” which he mentioned in one of his catalogues. He explained that it was a difficulty in following certain (“how-to”) instructions he had as a child and which had still not completely disappeared (in light of his subsequent career, his case might be of interest to the growing cohort of colleagues in favour of de-pathologizing some of the so-called “neurodevelopmental disorders”, in favour of a much wider version of human “neurodiversity” (and, probably, of the freedom of some artists).





Perhaps the fact that, for the moment at least, we have no better option than language to faithfully convey first-hand experiences, might go some way to explaining why Fulton has still not been able to see “… a definitive conceptualization of his body of work.” Having said that, in the catalogue for his recent exhibitions at Centro Gallego de Arte Contemporáneo and the Museo de la Universidad de Navarra, while remaining “mindful of the danger of using words to speak about his work”, Fulton affords several pointers “to expand its terms of reference and analysis.” And he has proven equally enlightening in the aid he has provided me in writing this text.


I am sitting at a desk from where I can see one of Hamish Fulton’s photos—in which I have unsuccessfully looked for the number 7, beyond the seven letters of the word “walking”— that has the following words, arranged oddly as reproduced below:














Artist-led public and communal walk on November 19th, 2022. Video by Manuel Serra.



The work measures 76 x 88 cm framed (it has a very large passepartout, the image itself is much smaller). As the catalogue clarifies, it is a b&w photo, gelatin silver print with acid-free card and wood frame. In the image one can see a bright dirt track, flanked by darker low brush and shrubs, that winds its way towards the slope of a not very high mountain. There is nothing special about it yet at the same time I found it inspirational when I saw it for the first time. I have never walked such long distances nor for such long times as Hamish Fulton, but on my summers as a university student I usually brought the vacation to a close with a short walk on my own, of no more than three or four days, on dirt roads and paths in the countryside in uninhabited areas of the Toledo Mountains, Sierra Morena or other wooded areas in the centre of Spain (not very different from the one depicted in the above work). I used to get up early to walk while it was still cool and after a few hours without seeing or hearing another person, one could appreciate the wonderful silence (Cervantes dixit) that must have reigned on Earth on the seventh day of creation (the one God took to rest: here is another seven for Hamish, and one of the big ones at that!).


Recent neuro-imaging studies show that, in certain circumstances, a simple photo, or even a slight memory of a physical action, is enough to activate in the observer the neuronal networks that provided support for the original physical action. In the archive of his neuronal networks, Fulton has filed away the complete and secret memory of each walk. His artworks contain the evocation of the experience, the ideas that inspired them and those that arose from them, as well as the desire and the spirited purpose of sharing it all with the beholder.








We use cookies to optimize our website and services.(Cookies Policy)
This website uses Google Analytics (GA4) as a third-party analytical cookie in order to analyse users’ browsing and to produce statistics on visits; the IP address is not “in clear” text, this cookie is thus deemed analogue to technical cookies and does not require the users’ consent.