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RCA Fine Art Collaboration Explores Urban Walking as ‘Art, Writing, Pilgrimage and Protest’

Royal College of Art staff and alumni have contributed to a new publication Walking Cities: London (2017), which brings together artists, writers, architects, musicians, human geographers and philosophers, to consider how urban walking informs and inspires new processes of making thinking, researching and communicating. 

Edited by a team of artists, architects, musicians and academics – including Jaspar Joseph-Lester, (Reader and Tutor in Fine Art, RCA), Simon King (EAP Tutor, RCA) Amy Blies-Carruthers (Royal Academy of Music) and Roberto Bottazzi (Westminster University) – the publication represents an active area of research in the School Fine Art, and demonstrates strong links with different institutions and disciplines.

Both personal and theoretical, it explores the ways in which ‘walking can function as a tool for activating thought and unlocking knowledge' and –  as Joseph-Lester explains – ‘speaks of the way that the city exists as many cities, multilayered, constructed from a myriad of overlapping cultural, social, historical, political and economic paths.’ 

The varied contributions – gathered into the six distinct but interconnected sections Site, Night, Writing, Monuments, Music and Dialogue – take the form of short stories, illustrated essays, personal reflections and accounts of walks both real and fictional. While artist and RCA tutor Rut Blees Luxemburg and philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy recount a nocturnal journey from Shoreditch to the City of London; architect Peter St John of the practice Caruso St John offers a detailed and personal reflection on the Holloway Road; and architect and author Douglas Murphy examines what he calls London’s ‘more politically charged locations’ in his account of a solitary walk through an area of South London.

Opening and closing the publication are two photographs from artist Richard Wentworth’s ongoing project Making Do and Getting By. As Joseph-Lester comments, ‘these temporary assemblages are familiar to anyone who has spent any time walking the streets of London: they are placeholders, temporary fabrications’, and like the other work in the book, ‘help us to see the city as an inventive, transitory and unsettled landscape.’ 

Walking Cities: London – more than two years in the making – has its roots in Walkative, a project run by the publication’s co-editors Joseph-Lester and King, established in 2013. Walkative – which was run as part of AcrossRCA for three consecutive years – saw Joseph-Lester and King organise walks in which artists, architectural critics, film makers, critical spatial theorists and writers responded to textual, visual and verbal prompts. 

Just as Walkative evolved into Walking Cities, the co-editors hope that this publication – designed and published by London-based studio Camberwell Press – might evolve into an exhibition, or a series of public talks and events, which will continue to explore urban walking as a method of critical engagement.

Walking Cities will be launched on 15 March 2017 at The Showroom, alongside contributor and RCA PhD candidate Laura Oldfield Ford’s solo exhibition Alpha, Isis, Eden (1 February – 18 March 2017). The event will feature readings, performances from a number of individuals involved in the publication, including Sean Ashton, Douglas Murphy, Rosana Antoli and violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved, whose daily ritual includes walking long distances across city and country. 

Walking Cities: London  is co-funded by the RCA's School of Fine Art, the Research, Knowledge Exchange & Innovation office, the Royal Academy of Music and Westminster University. 

The launch will take place on 15 March 2017, 6.30–8.30pm, at The Showroom, 63 Penfold Street, London, NW8 8PQ. 

Walking Cities: London is edited by Jaspar Joseph-Lester, Simon King, Amy Blier-Carruthers and Roberto Bottazzi. It is available to buy from the AA Bookshop, the ICA, the South London Gallery, Donlon Books, Broadway Bookstore, Daunt Books, Somerset House Bookshop and Koenig Books. 

Contributors: Rosana Antoli, Sean Ashton, Rut Blees-Luxemburg, Amy Blier-Carruthers, Roberto Bottazzi, David Dernie, Duncan Jeffs, Jaspar Joseph-Lester, Adam Kaasa, Ahuvia Kahane, Simon King, Sharon Kivland, Nayan Kulkarni, Douglas Murphy, Jean-Luc Nancy, Laura Oldfield Ford, Steve Pile, Peter Sheppard Skærved, Phil Smith, Tom Spooner, Peter St. John, Jo Stockham and Richard Wentworth.