Walk / Don’t Walk

I’ve spent a lot of time in Paris and have lived there, in short bursts, as a child and as an adult. In 2015 I co-edited “Terminus,” a special issue of ART PAPERS, with Ryan Gravel, an urban planner and author best known as the creator of Atlanta’s ambitious Beltline—a redevelopment project turning the city’s former heavy industrial railway into a car-free corridor of alternative transportation and outdoor recreation. In his editorial introduction, Ryan said that he learned to walk in Paris, which in turn influenced his approach to city design. In this issue, urban sociologist and conceptual artist Brian Sherman says something similar, noting that he once viewed public transportation as the best way to explore cities, until he visited the famously “walkable” French capital in the 1990s and began to prefer to get to know cities on foot.

Many months ago, I found myself talking to Brian about his habit of walking through cities—a systematic practice that he calls “circuit-making”—outside WRFG, a radio station located in the same building as ART PAPERS where he hosts a weekly show called “Radio Free Activists.” I had been thinking that our winter 2017/18 issue ought to somehow respond to the amount marching that everyone did in 2017, beginning with the Women’s March in January and continuing with airport occupations and numerous other protests and gatherings over the course of the year. My conversation with Brian helped me to crystallize a broader theme—walking—explored here as a mode of transportation; as a luxury, unevenly distributed; and as a meditation, articulate in various forms of pilgrimage (see “Allora & Calzadilla’s Puerto Rican Light,”).

Atlanta is known as a capital of effective protest, a reputation the city earned by playing a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement, most famously as the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr., and maintains as the home of such civil rights leaders as Congressman John Lewis. Lewis was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1963, when he was a major co-organizer of the march on Washington; also at SNCC at the time was Dr. Doris Adelaide Derby, a resident of Atlanta’s College Park neighborhood who was active not only as an organizer and educator but as a photographer who sought to represent the individuals behind the movement in all aspects of their lives and work—that is, through a lens with an emotional range not limited to the experience of trauma.

Another photographer interviewed here is Iwan Baan, known for architectural documentation that eschews the image of the isolated building in favor of capturing the human experience of a built environment. Baan and I spoke mostly about his experience documenting the work of Atlanta architect, developer, and artist John C. Portman (1924–2017), who passed away as this issue went to press, and whose absence is already deeply felt across the Atlanta community, and throughout the architectural world.

Andrew Young, former mayor of Atlanta, US Ambassador to the United Nations, and Congressman, spoke at the public memorial, where he told astory about a statue Portman had recently given him as a gift. Young had hoped to receive a miniature of the architect’s Belle, a stainless steel figure installed in front of Portman’s Hotel Indigo—his last project—and created to symbolize his love of Atlanta. Yet what Young received instead was an object he described as a white “… something” quite unlike Portman’stypically colorful artworks, which Young had come to interpret as celebrations of fusion and difference. Young nonetheless put this “something” on his desk, where it confounded him. After contemplating the object for some time, Young concluded that its function was to stimulate thought, and began to view it as a “womb of the spirit,” from which ideas emerged and asked to be understood. Walking, as it is broadly and notalways literally proposed in this issue, is also generative of ideas: practical ones, involving cities, as well as philosophical and existential ones that implicate a vision for the future. To “walk,” here synonymous with any movement toward or contemplation of what is somehow ahead, is to have a destination, the attainment of which requires desire, trust, and drive, and promises to enrich things.

It is pleasant to learn to walk in Paris, with the impossibly wide sidewalks of its tree-lined boulevards, its riverfront promenades, its pedestrian sanctuaries, and its picturesque cobblestones. But it is essential not to limit our stride to that recursive dream of the Champs Élysées, circling old ideas about beauty, function, mobility, and order. Surely movement (throughspace, on foot; and especially psychically, within) is an affirmation of a kind of belief—not a spiritual one per se, but a belief in a certain ethics, in a certain sense of justice, in an authentic and realizable self, and in our collective capacity to change.

Happy New Year.

Victoria Camblin