Milano master-class

14. Polyphonic Walking

#lesson2 #lesson3 #lesson4 #lesson5 #metropolises #communicatingculture

I began my work as a walking artist with a personal project called “Banlieue de Paris”, and it was actually about exploring a metropolis on my own. At the time—this was the 1990s—there wasn’t much talk of the “metropolis”. Saskia Sassen had some theoretical writings that talked about the hidden face of the metropolis. But the fact is that the metropolis is a new phenomenon (for better or for worse?) of concentration, of international hubs, and especially, of something humanly new: the creation of large cities with ten or fifty million residents. A book that marked my generation was Rem Koolhaas’ Pearl River Delta: Project on the City.

So, it was as a young architect/urbanist that I wanted to go out on my own and explore, without having the obligation of sharing a narrative, because—as is often discussed—there is a kind of mandate to recount and share. I’m thinking of Rousseau and his Reveries of a Solitary Walker, of this personal pleasure, this right to personal pleasure.

Over time, my approach to the “Banlieue de Paris” project, which is of course still ongoing, became to imagine mechanisms of exchange, since knowledge building can only happen in relation with others, and prior to imagining an artistic form. Do we necessarily need to have an artistic vision to make art? These are the kinds of questions we can also ask within an aesthetic sphere, since there is, for instance, “art from out of an indifference toward art” (Jean-Claude Moisneau). But in the end, the question is: “What to do with this enormous thing, this urban whatchamacallit that we don’t really know how to define?” And that’s where Metropolitan Trails comes in.

For example, I’m working on the Greater Paris Trail, and it’s a response to that question. It’s a form in the same way as a book. I’ve never written books. I wrote a blog and a newsletter for Banlieue de Paris as well as all manner of documents with collectives and organizations—knowledge and experience sharing reports. It’s important to create a typology of all these practices.

The word “practice” is important. We have a practice of spaces, either alone or in groups, and, in the end, the trail is a magical form. The Metropolitan Trail is a magical form because it’s like a film: we can walk it alone or in a group; and sometimes I really just want to walk alone. For instance, I want to walk the Inspiral London Trail alone, before going to the festival.

I am trying to bring my twenty years of walking experience in Paris to the Greater Paris Trail, and it’s amazing imagining this practice with other members as if we were making a film. I have a lot to offer, places I’ve known for a long time and that I’ve watched evolve.

This question of the group vs. the individual is political, since I am a champion of margins. I tend to question people who say that “everything is political”. If the margins become political, then they cease to exist as margins. And, like the question of the center vs. the periphery: it’s a vital question. We could unpack that. Is the periphery really still a periphery if it becomes politicized? Is the margin really a margin because it is outside of politics?