Two reviews, in One

I wanted to write a little about a book, and a film that I have come across recently.

The first is a book of the artist Richard Long's work, called Walking the Line I've been lucky enough to get for my birthday.  I'm not the first to wax lyrical about the silent beauty and sheer scale of this guy's work, but for many hikers he may be interesting.  Its a large format, 'coffee table' monograph, which shows many of his works in situ, in the landscape out of which they are borne, as well as an essay and some text works.

There's a few things I love about Richard Long.  The first is that his work is a conversation with the landscape, an ongoing discussion.  He doesn't beat up on the countryside, he treads lightly, often 'laying down' his small interventions or rock sculptures after photographing them.  Whats also great is he dispenses with an idolised notion of wilderness - its not about whether we should be there, but rather about how we act when we are.  This is often the 'bad step' for conservation arguments - pitting humans against nature is a modernist irrelevance now we increasingly realise we are part of the same.  He beckons us towards real stewardship.

Sometimes all that survives of 'the work' is a short written precis of the journey: actually, its the walk which is the work.  He doesn't tell us too much, its equally important what is omitted. We fill in the gaps, use our imagination, we are thrown back on our own resources.  This is the mark of someone who really knows what he's doing, in my view - he's not trying to be clever, conceptual (although the work is both), he doesn't need to be.  It speaks to the walking experience.

Here's an example of a journey he takes.  He picks up a small stone on the east coast of Suffolk, walks to the west coast of Wales, deposits it, picks up a Welsh stone and walks it back to his point of departure in Suffolk.  He's done dozens of journeys in a similar vein, plotting the landscape, and in doing so talking about our mark on the land, our fleeting relationship to it, time, space and memory.  In some ways it parallels recent developments in spot tracking and GPS mapping software that many seem to be excited about, and in other ways it makes explicit, in a brilliantly concise way, what many of us feel when we're out there - silent awe.  I think its simple, genius stuff.


The second is for a film called Being Caribou that I found after spending way too much time at Andy Skurka's website.  Its National Film Board of Canada Film (who incidentally have an incredible film library online) made by Karsten Heuer and Leanne Allison who walk for 5 months and 1500km across snow and tundra.  They follow the Caribou Herd from Canada's protected parks to Alaska's unprotected (and oil rich) calving grasslands, with a view to highlighting the environmental concerns surrounding one of the largest migrations in the world.

Its a great, honest film, well made and very revealing of the mental and physical journey both they and the herd make.  There's a truly poetic moment where they need to keep pace with a 'post calving aggregation' and a lack of sleep, hunger, and the total physical commitment required lead them into a 'dreamland' state similar to an Aboriginal Walkabout.  The filmmakers aren't traveling UL, and they might come across as a little naive about the dirty world of politics, but in the end they completely won me over with this epic tale of survival.  Their love for wild places and the creatures they hope to understand is utterly inspiring.  You can watch it online now.