Walking Diary 01

Valencia

On Being Open and Affected

This walk began with a set destination in mind. Having run through Jardin del Turia both this morning and the day before, I came across an area of the park that struck me as jarring and strange. I resolved to return and occupy this particular space purposefully, as opposed to being transient in it. The following will recount this experience.

The space spans the width of the park, situated beneath a white bridge, one of the more modern to be found in the park. Its floor is paved in grey stone slabs, decorated with large triangle shapes made from (what I assume to be) reinforced glass, which are arranged in patterns across the center of the area. My initial reaction to this area was one of surprise —a result of comparing it to my surrounds of just a few seconds prior, where I had been treading a tree lined path intended solely for runners, separate, it seemed, from any context beyond this. It was as though I had changed course unwittingly — taken a wrong turn and emerged onto this curious forecourt, once again in a city, in the most homogenous sense of the word: tuning into traffic passing nearby, watched over by looming apartment blocks, navigating a route through cyclists.
Within this grey area sat a collection of unexplained stone structures, shaped like a cross between a diamond and a small pyramid. Placed at equal distance along the width of the space, they were hard to discern as decorative or functional, immediately making me think of the tetrapod drawing series I began working on recently, in which these ideas are present. Seeing these strange ‘real life’ oddities bearing resemblance to my work made me feel excited, reassured by this experience that there must be something in the body of work that is worth pursuing — I just need to keep going with it to be clear on exactly what that is. These short moments in this space were my initial motivation for this subsequent walk: I would come back to sit and draw elements of this space, focusing on these strange stone shapes and imagining my tetrapods in their place.

The distance between my entrance into the park and this area is around 2.5 kilometres. I had clocked this earlier on my running watch so that I could have an idea of how long it would take me to walk there. Quite soon after setting off I realised that I was no longer focused on the destination, instead enjoying the act of walking itself. For a while now, I’ve been thinking through the idea of developing my MA dissertation into a new work that that documents a search for/discovery of ‘smooth space’. I realise that until now, I had been thinking about walking to smooth space, as opposed to the walk being the central focus. When picturing it as a location, I visualise it as a defined space — albeit a vast one — rather than a flow state. This walk provoked a shift in my thinking and it seemed obvious that smooth space should be found when walking, as opposed to within a larger static environment. Never set, always moving and evolving, sprawling endlessly. These attributes clearly describe the act of walking. In light of this train of thought, the walk took on a new purpose, becoming much more than a means of getting to where I was going. I would take this opportunity to try and experience smooth space.

On reflection, a lack of focus on my destination was crucial in opening up this new mind state. The walk cannot only be a means of getting from A to B. It has to be an experience in its own right. Even though I actively wanted to experience smooth space — to be sure of it somehow, as if I might be struck by an overwhelming feeling of certainty that had eluded me so far —this goal was not always at the front of my mind. Thoughts came and went with no burden on me to try and contain them, my gaze wandering and reacting to surrounding stimuli. My responses to the space were all very much in the moment, so there is some difficulty in writing about the walk retrospectively. I do remember thinking that it was as perfect as a walk might get, looking forward and contemplating the idea of continuing like this forever. There is something about walking alone that makes this kind of thinking all the more enjoyable. Had I been with someone else and decided to give voice to this thought, it would present itself as an irrational idea or worse, a cliched statement; said for the sake of having something to say. Such scenarios are best enjoyed in the privacy of your own mind, played through slowly, free of the need for rational critique.

The notion of being affected by a space feels very pertinent in my research thus far. I believe that the ability to be affected begins with being present — aware of the impact your surroundings have on you and vice versa. At the moment it’s winter in Valencia. The skies are clear and perfectly blue almost every day — unlike any January I’ve previously known — but there’s still a distinct chill in the air that’s all the more present when breathed in through the nose. On the day of this walk though, there was such warmth emanating from the low sun that I could feel it warming my eyelids. The light filtered through the trees in a way that made them glow. In one instance this sight was so disruptive that I was compelled to stop and take a photograph, failing of course to adequately capture it on my phone screen. My being moved by this moment of beauty indicates to me that I was present in the environment, inquisitive of it and open to such responses. Yet — and I see this as crucial — I wasn’t intentionally searching for them, therefore not consciously judging what was and wasn’t worthy of being deemed as moving/affecting/beautiful. This definition of being affected is one I am okay to sit with for a while: not forcing it.

Key points of interest from the walk:

  • Smooth space as a flow state, both as physical/geographic and a state of mind.
  • Being open to being affected by the environment, but not actively searching for these moments.
  • Even though this park is situated within a city, and home to a number of rules and expected modes of behaviour (no bikes in certain areas, directional signage, dictated paths/routes), I was able to reach the desired flow state/smooth space.
  • Being alone.
  • Desire to walk forever. This not seeming unreasonable.
  • Thinking about the combination of Deleuze and Guattari’s smooth space and Augé’s non–place as a kind of sweet spot.
  • Numerous pathways. The element of choice would not be present if too few
  • Travelling forwards. Not looking back. Focusing ahead but acknowledging the periphery as it develops.
  • Low, warm sun and cold air. Hands feel smooth and cold in a good way.
  • Relatively fast pace of walking. Unobstructed.
  • Feeling of possibility — ideas enter the mind and they feel achievable no matter the size
  • Viewing yourself as anonymous to others. This was especially heightened in a foreign country. We pass each other with no effort to remember one another. It is likely we will never see each other again.
  • The combination of these factors (all or some) culminating in a quiet feeling of joy — thinking that you might be having one of the most perfect moments of your life. The realities seem distant.