Gudrun Filipska shares her thoughts as she re-runs our Running Artfully Network launch from February 2021. The Running Artfully network (RAN) is a new international artist-led collective which brings artists, runners and social science and health experts together to reframe running as an artistic intervention to unpick our time of multiple global crisis and create a more equitable creative future.
Gudrun Filipska is an artist, writer, researcher and founding and steering member of the collective (Arts) Territory Exchange. Her work considers the cultural and literary associations of journeying often aiming to re-configure these narratives to include, feminist and ‘other’ itinerant practices and offering counter positions to colonial and male-centric travel and mobility cultures. She is interested in the intersections between distance and proximity and the manifestations of co-presence which take place across these fields. She is currently undertaking a Phd under the ‘Transnationalism, Mobilities and Borders’ scholarship at Lancaster University.
Running across urgent terrains: Safety, collectivity, care and unknowing in the work of the Running Artfully Network.
Preceding the 2021 Running Artfully Network launch event I had two dreams; my dead father (who said he didn’t know how to run) running at speed up and down a Snowdonia mountainside in his work suit, and myself running across the fields, out of breath and exhilarated, waking to remember the hip injury that has kept me from running this past year. Jostling alongside these more personal reflections my attention was turned towards the curious circumambulations of people I have observed over lockdowns, running like crazy. People who maybe have never run before, older people, teenagers, children with their parents, running with a ‘get out of the house’ urgency akin to mania. I decided that there was an absurdity to this physiological tenacity in running that I found very exciting and wondered why I had almost kept my own running a ‘secret’ or at least separate from my art practice. I have made work and written about walking for a long time and have also always run – but initially, perhaps as the running bit was for my health and self care – it didn’t figure in the work.
People I knew when I was growing up didn’t run, at least I never saw anyone. For my father, the son of a Polish immigrant and coal-miner, such things were seen as a waste of time and energy. My family and their friends were walkers and climbers, these activities were thought of as synonymous with the wholistic/creative lives they aspired to in a way that running or jogging was not.
This snobbery about running has been followed through for decades in ‘walking arts’, and in academic communities is epitomised perhaps in the ‘jogging debate’ in France. Sarkozy and his regular jogs (with full bodyguard entourage), while often wearing his NYPD T shirt, infuriated those who resented both his political closeness to America and it’s indulgent neo-liberal attentions to the body.
French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut said Sarkozy should stop his un-French and “undignified” athletic activity, which involves the indecency of ‘exposing one’s knees‘. Finkielkraut suggested strolling was more cerebral and stated, “Western civilization, in its best sense, was born with the promenade.” 1
The daily newspaper Libération asked “Le jogging est-il de droite?” 2 (Is jogging right wing?) and the editor of V02, a sports magazine, added “Jogging is of course about performance and individualism, values that are traditionally ascribed to the right“. 3 Boris Johnson also pitched in “The very act of forcing yourself to go for a run, every morning, is a highly conservative business. There is the mental effort needed to overcome your laziness“. 4 So with these comments we have the suggestion that running is not only moronic but also right wing, if you run you are conservative, if you suggest others should run you are a neo-liberal coercionist … the body co opted by the right and the floating brain for the left … ?
In retort Professor Alan Latham of UCL defended jogging and the prejudice against it by the left and argued that instead of being a single-minded activity that shuts down thought, running and its emergence as a mass fitness activity in the 1960s and 1970’s (recommended as a way to combat health issues in the middle classes) holds within it possibilities of engendering new modes of thought.
“Running makes a reconnection with physical effort and the weighty-ness of the world. It can be seen as a means of rediscovering our inner nature and it can be a means of thinking, and meditating. It is an inherently thoughtful rather than thoughtless act.” 5
The idea of such a simple act as moving a body at speed being a conservative activity is one which indeed demanded disruption and this is work which the Running Artfully Network has been progressing, which I will expand upon. (In the spirit of things to come Keynote speaker and marathon runner Abdelkader Benali responded to French intellectuals describing running as conservative with one word, “Bullshit“).
Firstly it is important to acknowledge that the dichotomy of thought around the politics of running is clear. Backgrounding this, the motif of the walk as generator of thought and reflection, the world of the promenade and its Flannery which Alain Finkielkraut suggests birthed western civilisation – was at its roots inherently privileged, white-male and misogynistic. In response to this lineage of able-bodied ‘clubbable’ males Laura Elkin retorts “They are all men and at any moment, you’ll also find them writing about each other’s work, creating a refined canon of masculine writer-walkers. As if a penis were a requisite walking appendage, like a cane“. 6
Baudelaire’s passante, described in his poem “To a Female Passerby”, from Les Fleurs du Mal (1857) moves quickly past as he stares at her “Swift and graceful, with legs like a statue’s/Twitching like a madman, I drank in“. I like to think she is quickening her step as she sees the lurking Flaneur, perhaps breaking in to a run to escape his gaze. For nearly every woman, alert to a city’s dangers has experienced that walking is just a heart’s quickening, an adrenalin rise away from running.
Breaking into a run … the well-known phrase in English suggests not only an urgency but that something is actually being damaged in doing so, are you breaking your self? Your pace? Or something else…? The Macmillan Thesaurus offers a number of synonyms for the phrase; dash, jog, bound, stampede, caper, bolt, patter, lope, nip, pelt, gambol, scurry, pound, skitter, streak and ‘run like hell’. Words and phrases which open up very different narratives between what might be assumed to be an inquiring mobility and a mobility of urgency and necessity…and paces which exist in-transition between the two, from walking to running (gambol, lope).
The next evolution in the walking fraternity after the Flâneur, the Psychogeographer would not be seen to run, jog, certainly never scurry or gambol. His was (and is) a much more highhanded, slow and considered occupation, described by Beth Clayton in her presentation for this event aptly as “androcentric“. The idea of a Psychogeographer legging it about is absurd and tickling to me; These men described by Will Self as “middle aged men in Gortex, armed with notebooks…prostates swelling as we crunch over broken glass, behind the defunct brewery on the outskirts of town” 7 could certainly do with breaking into a run or at least practising a bit of speedwalking.
The practice of running, its breaking into, breaking away from… feet literally in both political worlds of right and left seems very much the starting point of the Running Artfully Network; and with this event and its contents on which I will expand in this text, an acknowledgement of a neo-liberal indulgence (with its outfits, products and magazine subscriptions) as well as the potential of flight as a new space in which to engender a radical re-think about artistic and performative practices and what it means to both have a body (which either runs or doesn’t) and a brain (which processes or doesn’t) neither one denying the other…
I came to the Running Artfully Launch event with the same questions I have for the world of walking art: How can these practices be radical and useful for Other voices, disabled, queer, marginalised and left out of mainstream academic discourses as well as those whose territories we run roughshod across?
‘Walking art’ although collectively desperate to move away from the heroic territory taker, the lone male, the pervy Flaneur and the highhanded games of Guy Debord’s Situationism , often gets stuck in ruts which are reflective of a digitised ‘manspreading’. 8 Similarly the running world has its emblems of endurance, heroism and the problematics of corporate techno-mobilities and nationalistic branding to literally side step or leap over.
The idea of running as an urgent practice helps make clear a delineation between mobility practices of privilege and those of necessity: those who run for their life in war zones, and those who run for self-improvement and the territories and psychic geographies which dictate how we run and how safely. Ahmaud Arbery — a black man who was attacked while jogging in Georgia in the middle of the day in 2020 has come to represent the worst fear of many people of colour. He was killed, unarmed and vulnerable by two white residents. Recent research by sociologist Rashawn Ray (University of Maryland), found that black men are less likely to run outside if they live in a predominantly white neighbourhood. 9 and People of colour in the US often make adjustments to how they run in order to feel safe – determined not to have their right to exercise infringed upon, especially during the Corona virus pandemic.
Tyrone Irby, a fitness coach recently told NBC News, “As Black runners, we have to have eyes in the back of our heads. It’s a part of being Black in America. It’s sad to think that every day we have to think about the shoes we wear, times we run, the colors we choose, where we run. And now, during a pandemic, wearing a mask, a hoodie, running at 6 a.m… it can be problematic” 10
LGBTQIA+ people are also at risk while exercising – attacks on these groups in public places has surged since 2016 as reported in the ILGA Europe annual review in 2020. 11 In Poland a magazine associated with nationalistic politics distributed stickers to be displayed in municipalities declaring them LGBT FREE zones 12 and many municipalities declared themselves spaces not welcoming of gay, trans or lesbian citizens.
The violent killing of Sarah Everard whilst she walked home through the streets of London, has brought home hard what most people already knew, the streets are not safe for women either. Sarah was wearing her running shoes, like many females she was ready to run, but was devastatingly unable to. Sarah’s death has unleashed a cacophony of voices on social media, women listing the protective measures they take whilst exercising or walking in public; holding their house keys at a certain angle, pretending to be on the phone, female runners sharing their experiences of running alone and not wanting to stop despite their fear. 13
Against these histories and troubling terrains what does it mean to Run Artfully?
Kai Syng Tan has been asking these questions with her running research since 2009 developing a position in her PhD thesis for ‘Trans-running‘ which she mobilised as “trans-cultural, trans-disciplinary, transgressive and transformative” 14 and going on to explore running as an arts and humanities discourse, a metaphor and a methodology in itself through participatory events and festivals. Considering the 2016 edition of the RUN! RUN! RUN! Biennale, Tan raised questions about ‘activities by practitioners in the arts, academia and NGOs which have hitherto been underrepresented in dominant discourses in the emerging field of ‘Running Studies’. And raises ‘philosophical questions about the synergies between arts and sport‘. The 2016 edition of RUN! RUN! RUN! was conceived in retort to the racisms and nationalisms of the referendum year in the UK and sought to raise a plurality of multidisciplinary and cross border voices. According to Tan ‘It spoke loudly of the richness of research, practice, action and activity on the ground that are not just heroic, privileged, territorial, logocentric or white(-washed)‘. 15
The 2021 launch event of the Running Artfully network promised to do all these things as well as offering room for some surprises and brought together a mix of diverse approaches to the subject. Opening with a video by Lynn Dennison where people run in and out of shot, we hear bird song, sounds of the outside. From leafy pathways overhung by trees to snowy landscapes, some people run with dogs but most run alone. The film serves as set of running observations or vignettes of running styles.
James Steventon from Fermynwoods Contemporary Art (event co-organiser) next describes the effects of extracting resources from the land through a series of artistic interventions across Northamptonshire (Running in Steps of Sundew) a project which brought the the post-industrial landscape into dialogue with extractions and their accompanying mobilities. Steventon ties this in with his own experiences as a runner growing up in a working-class town (Corby) which witnessed the end of the steel industry in 1979 and the athletic clubs and running groups which brought a pride back to towns in economic decline.
Kathryn Cooper’s paper ‘A guided run in Sneinton Nottinghamshire‘ is delivered on the run, demonstrating running as a method of delivery and generator of knowledge. Her delivery makes a clever nod to the psychogeographical tour and perhaps the place-led films of Patrick Keiller, adding a breathless, shaky and urgent air. In relation to Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass she asks the question how can we develop a deep relationship to ‘land’ and origin whilst living in a city which obfuscates its living world with streets, concrete, lithic material and architectural and social histories? This was a good place to begin discussion of the rest of the event’s contents and discontents which I will breakdown into themes;
Gesture, reparation and symbolism
Andrew Filmer delivers a lecture about gesture in running ‘performance’ as mediator between the biological and social as a way to work towards creating more artful and creative futures. He uses the idea of relay and ‘gestural call and response‘ mobilising Rebecca Schneider’s work on gesture. 16
Suggesting, with the motif of the relay, the migration of gesture from one body to another makes re-iterations and alterations possible. Filmer looks to the live stream relay Run For Your Life (2015) within the context of these ideas. Starting at the Arctic Circle the relay covered 4500 KM, finishing in Paris at the united nations climate change conference. Filmer notes such races’ reliance on collaboration and civic participation and the collective gesture undertaken across borders to address climate change. Filmer points out that in professional relay the interval between the passing of the baton is judged to be as swift and seamless as possible with the runners passing the baton ‘blind’, holding it behind them as they pass. In contrast, the participants of Run For Your Life carried a stone passed to them by the Sami artist Jenni Laiti and the ‘passing-on’ providing a series of moments punctuated by what Filmer calls ‘call, interval, and response‘ and through this use of Schneider’s theories on gesture, a space where change may happen, forwards, or backwards in time as well as horizontally across to those who run in accompaniment or solidarity. According to Filmer this call and response become the glue through which a collective event is woven together.
From the passing of a stone, the passing of a baton, the hands up gesture of protest in the Black Lives Matter movement (the hands that are held up in the air both imitate a pose of surrender in the face of police authority as well as the performative and collective call for a future that might be different). Can this perhaps open up the possibility of an ethics of call and response which passes across temporal zones and offers the possibilities of re-writing histories and making reparations? As with Foucault’s counter-memory (Foucault 1977) 17 it is an individual’s resistance of the official versions of historical and linear narrative. Meaning can be multiplied and changed through the practice of vigilant repetitions which may be actions as well as words. 18
Natalie Pace also works with ideas of relay, in a project of the same name that she calls an ‘action-research curatorial project comprising an open-source reading list, discussion, writing and durational run.’ She deepens her own running practice and in collaboration with others she seeks to explore running through various lenses: as motivation, methodology, metaphor and material. This manifests as collated reading material offering a critical resource for the rapidly expanding field of Arts and Health. The frames of reference for her work relate to personal well being, self care, trauma recovery, connection to place, human limitation and non-hierarchical relations between the mind and body.
As with Andrew Filmer’s positioning of ‘relay‘ within Run For Your Life, Pace offers a similar hope for repair and sublimation of something troubling into something productive. Responding to Brexit and lockdown in 2020, Pace began to run to Europe (or the EU), setting the distance of 286 miles, the distance between the town of Felixstowe in Suffolk where her Pier Projects Art Agency is based and Wessel in Germany, a town with which it is twinned. Pace says ‘The significance of the distance is both symbolic and practical. Last year reinforced connections between individual, social and planetary health and I wanted to reflect upon and process this trauma slowly. Running that distance was also gestural: a small act of hope, solidarity and resilience across borders‘.
Running virally and running away
As stated by Tan in her introduction to the RAN event, Covid in its cunning has amplified structural inequalities whilst transmitting across organisms – what can art and running and running and art mean post pandemic…what can new networks such as RAN mean in terms of care and in terms of curation?
The idea of running virally is a timely one – runners have even been accused of spreading the virus. In France running was banned for a time as if this form of mobility itself was a vector in the spread of the disease. There has also been much debate over whether runners should wear masks or not.
RAN keynote speaker Abdelkader Benali says ‘Running is like a virus, you see someone running and you want to run too‘. He describes watching Ethiopian athlete Belayneh Densamo running when he was a child. Suddenly for him, the streets of Rotterdam went from being mundane to being as he describes the potential ‘terroire of heroes‘ where he could also run. Running is catching.
Flo Adamson took up running again in her 70’s – In her presentation she speaks about her adopted daughter who had come to them emotionally disturbed. Adamson describes the years of not being able to look after herself, bound with parenting a child who repeatedly ran away. “She ran away from home, ran for weeks and couldn’t be found…she crawled through skylights and windows, removed screws and hinges“. Her daughter was sadly killed in 2004. When the lockdown came in 2020 Adamson describes knowing that it was her turn to run again, she starts slowly and builds up; recovering from Covid, trips and falls, cracked ribs. She likens herself to a runner bean “running up a bamboo pole“.
The compulsion to run; the term fugue often referred to with a sense of romanticism by some walking artists, actually more appropriately refers to running or running away. It was originally a psychiatric term pertaining to a loss of identity often coupled with a flight from home. Henri Dadas from Bordeaux (the so-called first Fugueur 1886) repeatedly left his everyday life, place of work and family to journey on foot until he was either thrown into prison for vagrancy or returned to the care of his psychiatrist. He didn’t travel for pleasure, his mobility was not even of his own volition but a compulsion with its routes in trauma. 19
Running can be a space of repair and recovery but is also a space where trauma is enacted and played out often with complicated endings.
Taking up space, terrains of safety and danger.
Taey Iohe says ‘Running was not in my language of life nor art. I feared running all my life; anxiety over breathlessness, body shame, and an internalised endurance against misogyny and racism over many years’.
She opens her presentation pondering the way privileged bodies occupy space; asking whether the restrictions placed on those confined by Covid rules during the pandemic are not restrictions on freedom always felt by less able, traumatised or migrant bodies. Her film ‘The Great Circle With No Rim‘ unfolds through plural voices (narrated by Olu Niya Awosusi and Haein Kim). The dichotomy between inside and outside – public spheres of transition, necessity and exercise are played out against the safe private spaces of home, for foreign and migrant bodies in the UK “there my space my things my smell” says one of the narrators after a tense journey home “my privacy, I am safe“, she describes the outside as “someone else’s space“. The dual narrators describe watching runners taking up space with bravado and cadence, and being spat upon when waiting for a green light on their bike, being sworn at, drooling dogs to be fearful of. Words type out on the screen with a haphazard urgency against a backdrop of images, pens writing, men running, reflections in pools ‘don’t come home late. “Call me. While you walk call me. Don’t have your head phones on in the dark“. The film shows drawings of circles expanding getting larger; the dual narrators describe going out, starting running, first ten seconds and onwards, out of the front door, out of the safe space into the world of a country they weren’t born into and the public space that is “someone else’s” – the closing voices rising together “take up some space by running“.
The privilege of travel, whether down the road to the shops or on a long hall flight is one which was demarcated pre Covid by freedoms from financial difficulty, mental health issues or the local ties in caring responsibilities and by migrant or refugee experiences. Taey Iohe’s work asks the questions can we make spaces safer for each other? Not just in a physical sense but in a psychic one, and how can we make people feel welcome and cared for in public spaces so they feel able to take up some space too?
David Sidley talks about using running as way of cleansing emotional space through acts of accumulation and repetition. He describes running as a process or methodology that can be mimicked through other mediums, seeing a correlation between the collection of his GPS data and his drawings, harnessing repetition as a way of noticing correlations and discrepancies. He layers 100 runs drawn from GPS shapes on top of one another, he collates an archive of 9743 pages of data from his runs. He also traces some of runs over in pencil, an act that he finds emotionally calming. The work tracks his emotional mind set as he moves out of a depressed state. He makes interesting experiments looking into the way in which running and its resultant tracked imagery may help to display, or point to, psychological states and how they are affected by location as well as the hard data of their extraction, and show emotional growth and change as well as physical space taken.
Manjeet Mann’s project Run The World worked with women from Ashiana Community Project in Sparkbrook, Birmingham leading weekly sessions for the women that combined both her professions in theatre and personal training. Mann developed workshops and walking tours based around running, later developing an audio walk formed from experiences that women shared while they walked and ran together. The project helped to develop public spaces as ‘safe spaces’ for women from marginalised backgrounds and survivors of domestic violence who didn’t feel safe in parks or recreational areas and had nor run before, empowered by collective exercising. Mann repeated the project in Folkestone in 2019 with many women seeking refugee status which culminated in a sharing at Quarter-House Theatre before the first lockdown. Mann correlates collective activity, sharing stories and exercise as a force to inspire change and transferring their physical and running successes to their everyday lives.
Virtual running, running in two places at once. Mediated running.
Véronique Chance has for the past 13 years developed an endurance running art practice exploring the relationship between the body and technology and the collective relationships between moving bodies, technologies and audiences. She performs her work along pre-determined routes, mediated and transmitted to audiences live through mobile tracking technologies, relaying images from her various locations.
Chance’s work plays with the idea of limits, the limits of technologies to keep up with speed of movement, to mediate effectively the limits of a body within a practice that utilises endurance as a performative practice. Her work opens up beautifully the problems of how we develop interfaces to convey performative practices (and subjective bodily experiences to audiences). Chance says “Rather than making claims to a loss of visceral experience, I look to how different technological formats might constitute new ways of thinking about the experience of place, creating new mediated spaces, at the same time I also consider how the nature of our engagement with technology also grounds us in our own physicality by drawing attention to questions of presence and embodiment“. In ‘A Winter Landscape‘ a six screen video installation at Triangle Project Space, Chelsea Collage of Art London, Chance displays multiple view points from her runs captured by devices attached to her body, her body is unseen in the films, her presence made known through breath, jolts and rhythms of her movements pointing to the possibility of the body’s failures as it faces its physical limits. She develops these ideas further in ‘Great Orbital Run‘ a work made through GPS tracking and live streaming interfaces where a series of images is relayed to audience at the same rate at which they have been run past. Again the work asks what it means to use digital interfaces to record and relay live experiences and also who are the dissipated consumers of these live feeds? These ideas are developed in her work ‘The M25 in 4,000 images‘ a refreshing and playful piece making digital archives available in a tangible sense as something to be enjoyed in a traditional gallery context as large artist book format installations, offering fleeting glimpses of running views through their folded pages.
Chance’s articulations of audience engagement as fertile problematic within performance practice which involve digital interfacing reminded me of the works of Jen Southern, particularly ‘Running Stitch‘ (2006) where the GPS routes of invited participants were made explicit for gallery goers to ‘read’ as they were stitched on to fabric in the gallery in real time (Southern & Hamilton. Fabrica, Brighton 2006). Also other articulations of locative media such as Jeremy Woods ‘Meridians‘, GPS drawings often printed large scale for the post performance consumption of gallery going audiences, and the feminist GPS performance work of Lizzie Philps where she ‘embroiderers’ quotations by forgotten Romantic artist-mothers in picturesque places, finding new meanings in the relationship between their words and location. (Some times Philps invites others to collaborate and they become a kind of collective audience, or the audience will be the consumers of a film, or her website which acts as a repository of research creating a symbiosis between mobile bodies, the words they write and the technologies that record them).
In ‘Running in Rome: A Bio.Digi-Rhythmic Soundscape’ Kathryn Lawson Hughes explores how her digitally-mediated running body is re-materialized as a data-process in flux through an audio-visual experiment with a sound data-stream tracking her body as she ran in and around the Villa Borghese Gardens, in the city centre of Rome.
Hughes’ research focuses on contemporary digital and wearable biometric devices and their tracking of data to accompany our subjective health and sport-related pursuits. She posits that “the quantifiable biometric data-language that ‘self-tracking’ devices translate our physiological bodies into arguably reduces the multiplicity of our sensorial embodied experiences into abstracted numeric data-products, with ‘big-data’ implications“. It reminds us of the nefarious tensions existing between how we ‘choose’ to monitor our personal running practices and the agendas of techno-governmental organisations which create surveillance and biometric technologies. This points to the importance of artists learning to subvert and disrupt technology which was designed for population monitoring or military use (such as GPS and geo-locative and pedometric technologies such as ‘Fitbits’). Art works and reappropriation of these devices offer possibilities for re-use of technologies which have been developed within neo-liberal data monitoring frameworks.
Sharon Wilson explores bodily orientations, frictions and flows and traveller imaginaries of a ‘locked-down’ body during the Covid-19 pandemic, through her Running (on the spot) in a virtual fitness tour of Times Square, New York. An experiment in art and mobility and what she calls a “chaos in both worlds”. She describes running in her basement following the virtual tour, spending a two-week period using experimental, creative and mobile methods to produce an ‘auto-ethnographic’ account of the performative amateur jogger. Through audio, drawings, field-notes and photography she attempts to map bodily frustrations and the intensities of being in two places at once, making comment on the proximity and distance, dreams, reality and virtual travel. The daily 24- minute repeated route she followed echoed the incarcerations and daily exercise of lockdown as well as opening up a space for her to dream of the real New York, thinking about feeling the city its potentials and possibilities.
Being in two places at once has a precedent in mobilities works, projects using avatars such as S Project (Butler and Filipska 2017) pointing towards wider implications for virtual and by-proxy travel. The potential for technology to ease tourism’s carbon footprint is obvious (although may have devastating ripple effects on precarious economies that depend on visitors). VR experiences may open up possibilities to exist alongside real travel (augmented experiences for exercise motivation for example) and will probably develop in the future into haptic wearable technologies which allow the experience of touch and smell. Although whether this will allay the desire to run and feel the ‘real’ place remains to be seen.
Running as abandon, fun running and running addicts
In her write up of RUN! RUN! RUN! Biennale 2016 Kai Syng Tan developed some amusing acronyms; “What I term MAMIR or middle-aged men in running-shorts, or the MAMIRA, the middle-aged men in running-shorts in academia, both of whom I consider are close cousins of the MAMIL or middle-aged man in lycra“. 20 Pointing with gentle amusement to the frailties of our bodies, our aspirations, the seriousness of middle aged exercisers purchasing all the correct gear…there is something intangibly amusing about running, especially the idea of academics doing it.
Competitiveness and endurance in ageing and often sedentary academic and literary bodies adds to this amusement.
Writer David Sedaris describes his Fitbit as a digital trainer which perpetually eggs him on. Sedaris compulsively exceeds the Fitbit goal for health of 10.000 steps a day, walking instead sixty thousand (twenty-five and a half miles) whilst picking up litter. “We saw David in Arundel picking up a dead squirrel with his grabbers,” the Neighbours tell his boyfriend Hugh. Sedaris becomes addicted to pleasing his pedometric device saying “The Fitbit thinks I can do better!” 21
Chris Wright also obsesses; about litter and lists, mantras that accompany her running, sweet wrappers, bags for life, costa coffee cups, poo bags – she makes lists, she plans and creates ways to remember; Birdsfoot trefoil, Cow-parsley, Groundsel, Butterbur, Nettle, Dead Nettle, White Clover, Daisy Dandelion, Hawksbit, Sorel…Forty five plastic buckets! A compulsivity in rhythmic lists.
The variations on competitiveness, against others, to beat our own goals (personal best etc) or to impress and be rewarded by pedometric technologies are a real part of the line we run between observing and being inspired by the world of professional sportsmanship and wanting to improve our health as amateurs. But there is also something amusing and playful about the idea of competing (Read Dan Simpson’s amusing poem ‘Dear Personal Best‘).
Many speakers in the RAN launch talked about how children run, racing for its own sake and a bodily abandon which many adults aspire to with their long distance running. Speakers also seem slightly embarrassed by the idea of competitive running or personal bests, choosing to frame their running as performance practice, not sport situated. This is perhaps to do with how mind knowledge over body knowledge is prioritised within Western culture and a certain embarrassment that a body could be involved in the worlds of sport, academia and art all at the same time.
Matti Tainio talks about the practice of Finnish ‘Woollen Sock Running’. A practice which emerged when barefoot runners looked for a more comfortable way to exercise during winter. According to Tainio, this is running with a fun aesthetic to it. He states one of the requirements for this minimalist running as “determination to be a fool” and to tolerate questions and surprise at seeing you run past in home-knitted socks. Taino states that the activity “releases running from the confines of sport” and certainly eschews the macho competitive aesthetic associated with endurance running (barefoot or otherwise).
Victoria Ohuruogu represents the dichotomy and cross overs between the worlds of art-play and sport in her work, a practice which aims to present the spirit of track and field in abstract concepts. Ohuruogu, a professional athlete and also a sculptor explores how acts of ‘play’ are designated to and delineated across public spaces; everyday spaces of non-play, playgrounds for play and sports courts for ‘formal play’. “Not perceived as buildings, nor as landscapes art or architecture unlike Stadia, functional sculptural playscapes have never been designed for preservation. Playgrounds/playscapes are sites of subversive potential“.
Her work uses shape repetition and scale alteration to reflect the repetition in training schedules, running in circles and the possibilities for play within designated spaces. She finds the symmetry of running tracks and playing courts particularly appealing. She photographs shapes while she is training, shot put circles, angles which later inform her sculptures, scaled down, non-functional versions of locations she inhabits as an athlete. These are shapes that may act as insignia to the informed but are otherwise decorative and formal works of art, as well as pieces that speak of acts of subversion within sports arenas (a chair stolen from mile end stadium for example). She plays with ideas of absurdity and non-functionality, echoing the strangeness and repetition of gruelling training regimes and endurance sports.
Performing without disclosing – unknowing the self
Beth Clayton says that she soon learned that endurance running was an act of meditation, a way of becoming part of the landscape but she wonders how to represent this, asking “can the running be the artwork itself, or perhaps you need something solid representative of the experience, what if you made a drawing out of the sweat on your own back…?“. She asks the fundamental question how can we represent running as felt experience…? She tracks her experience from frenzied runner, fuelled by fumes and psycho-geographical exploration, to a body that becomes injured from running too much. Clayton describes her body’s furious protest at not being able to run, as she starves her body of food.
She charts her recovery as one of collage and dissipation “where a new internal geography forms” from the process of breakdown, this is reflected by the lists of the numbers; calorie counts, step counts and BMI charts. She speaks of stress on bones, micro tears in muscle fibres caused by overdoing it and insufficient rest, asking how women in particular can return to running after injury as a non-abusive practice against their bodies. She suggests surrender as a way forward, being overcome by bodily demands and giving in to them.
Her work demonstrates the correlation between the drive to create art work and the drive to exercise both which can be damaging forms of overproduction.
Nick Wakefield talks about his attempts to demonstrate futurity and failure, opening up a gap between what is invisible rather than unspoken or as he says “to show rather than tell“. He was encouraged by colleagues and friends to re-make his solo performance work Three inserting more of his subjective self in relation to a newly diagnosed condition CIDP which caused him severe muscle weakness. He resisted making his condition explicit in his performance work – recalling what he describes as “the audiences disgustingly patronising applause” after watching a pirouette by a woman in a wheelchair at Sadlers Wells in Jérôme Bel’s ‘Gala’. – In response to this he sought to implicate his own body in his work without disclosing his condition “to try and perform a condition without disclosing it“. Within a context of the ‘prime’ long distance runner and the idea that evolutionary traits which make humans good runners are inherent – he demonstrated his body’s inabilities through failed attempts to run. “I wanted to disavow the responsibility of disclosure” Wakefield states; “to reveal in invisibility, my ultimate goal was to circumvent the ascendant power of ableist sympathy, to deny the spectator their right to accept my weakness“. Looking back on the piece Wakefield wonders if he were not in some way, in denying the audience the knowledge of what disabled him, adding to the culture of ableism and shame of disability that can often pervade in performance, that which he says ‘re affirms the stage as a place of bodies that hide their gradations of ability‘.
Speaking from outside a hospital following a blood transfusion, Wakefield tells of his remission due to Infusions of intravenous imonoglobulins and living in a body that has the potential to become less able, but for now he enjoys running again (off stage) infused with the anti-bodies which belonged to other people, in a body which perhaps now hosts a kind of collective mobility and as he describes, now runs as these bodies rather than my body.
The work of both Clayton and Wakefield speak of unknowing the body as a way of developing positions of self-care, undoing the primacy of the self in order to re-build anew. The practices of both performers, disavow ‘mastery’ and the able body whilst at the same time being intrigued by endurance and bodily limits. This opens up a question about how a dismantling/unknowing of the body can help develop affinity with other less able and immobile bodies. How can the different registers of endurance that we often masochistically force ourselves through and inflict upon ourselves help open up positions of care for injured, hurt and disabled others?
As David Hindley suggests in the question which provided a jarring backdrop to RUN! RUN! RUN! Biennale 2016, “What can be learned or revealed from mobilising running to comprehend the experiences of refugees flying persecution and torture when juxtaposed with aesthetic displays of suffering in endurance support through documentation in contemporary art?” 22
The hiatus forced by illness and injury offers ways to address these questions which move beyond the tokenistic, states of the bodies destruction which force pause.
Running as a meditative act for the able bodied or competitive professional runner may also open up possibilities, the state of ‘flow’ runners talk about characterised often as a timelessness, loss of self, or what Natalie Pace calls “transient hypofrontality“. 23 Perhaps a state of being able to move in and out of these zones of damage/injury also offers a way of generating affinity for those that live permanently in states of immobility? Or instead, perhaps dangerously offer brief sojournment which provides catharsis, akin to donating to charity or going to work for an NGO for a few months…
Can being injured generate any real ethics of thought…? Can we be helped to acknowledge the importance of rest and pause which may translate to care for others?
The idea of urgency through running (across injury, illness and crisis) seems particularly pertinent currently as we grapple with different registers of environmental and social catastrophe. French collective GONGLE demonstrate this urgency through their film (directed by Nil Dinc) ‘25th May Montreuil, Seine-Saint-Denis, France‘. A woman runs through the streets, we see glimpses of her summer (non-running) attire caught by her camera phone as she moves. She stops periodically, reading out inscriptions written on walls, banners hanging out of windows. Some of the texts mark places where women were killed on the streets; celebrate hospital workers, offer words of encouragement during the lockdowns, advocate for sex workers and call for collective action, “today at the window, tomorrow in the streets” reads one banner. The frenetic movement and the blur of the camera phone unable to keep up with the speed of running give a sense of anxiety echoing the camera work in Run Lola Run as well as films of the handheld horror (found footage) genre. The film represents a running across a terrain of trauma, specifically related to its location but also pointing to themes of sociological and geopolitical significance.
Tracing these urgent footsteps across the terrains mapped by the presenters at the RAN launch, we are left with a number of ideas, questions and provocations; what demarcates our terrains of safety? What makes up these terrains, dogs that chase and shouts of abuse and harassment? Who holds space and for whom? Who takes space and from whom? Can we develop running as activism or mode of empowerment in marginalised communities? How can unknowing and disavowing our bodies and their abilities through injury and illness help develop care for others?
These are problematic questions which have been interrogated and provoked and remain ongoing but to which the Running Artfully Network offers essential insights.
To return to the idea of gesture in Rebecca Schneider, “When we think about gesture as the intervals opened between us by calling and responding, how might we choose to move to the side, to let something other than the tired dramas of dominance and submission occur? When we think about gesture as the intervals opened between us, do we gain a different relationship to response-ability“. 24
Running, its gestures and intervals can open space where change may happen and where we may step aside for others. As Andrew Filmer suggested, through this relay and repetition we have the possibility of moving temporally forwards, backwards as well as horizontally across to those who run next to us – or perhaps with us but at a distance, in solidarity. This position can be complimented by the powerful concept of Fictional Activism (Montserrat and Gamaker 2020) 25 re enactments and re imaginings which offer new possibilities for past bodies within repressive histories. Also the spaces of dreaming and freedom that in-between travel offered for black bodies in Sarah Jane Servenak’s book Wandering (2014). 26 Drawing attention to the constant invasions and violences which take place not only across physical territories, but as incursions into bodies and minds which need actively resisting across timescapes.
These are fertile possibilities for side stepping and entangling narratives of the lone runner (or walker) who pushes ahead and takes ground in straight lines. We step into other’s footprints, press into their handprints or we take a baton, a stone from them and run with it …
It would be nice (idealistic perhaps?) to think that the demands, distances and collective traumas of Covid have added to and deepened development of this collective response-abilty. Certainly running and its metaphorical relays opens up such possibilities for scrutiny; Running as a collective or community, which has a reflexive dialogue as well as a shared physical practice, is something that the Running Artfully Network can provide.
In order to step aside for others, to make women and those identifying as female feel safer, to make refugees, migrants, asylum seekers, and traumatised bodies feel they are allowed to take up space we all need to be a bit undone, a bit fractured from our positions of health, ability and privilege (whatever level of privilege this may be). The idea of undoing mastery whilst in worlds of health, art or academia is more important than ever. Whilst still using established syntax and structures how can new positions be articulated and change be made? This is a question reminiscent perhaps of positionality within postcolonial studies, as articulated beautifully in the writing of Julietta Singh. There are texts which rehearse recognizably masterful forms of practice, which can also urge us she says “through their messy narrative play—toward mastery’s undoing“. 27
Running as a process of undoing the self is described by Micheal Atkinson (2011) through his analysis of Fell Running and the animal-like behaviour and gestures employed by runners “The animal mimicry becomes important in the fell runners’ performance because moving”wildly” stimulates them to be irrational and uncalculating” 28 modes of running suited to unstable terrain. He cites a runner who describes marching up hills like ants in a line, flailing around in water like fish, scurrying through the brush like foxes, and jumping off boulders like rams. He analyses this performative practice of animal mimicry across changing and undulating terrain as reminiscent of Roger Callouis’s Ilinxa (1957) 29 a purposeful pursuit of disruption or vertigo in play, describing the act of losing their everyday selves as “a deliberate act in which they hurtled their bodies around the course precisely in order to be, at least for a moment, like animals inhabiting those fells“. 30
Fell running serves as an interesting metaphor to stitch together the themes of individual and collective exercise and the right/left dichotomy explored earlier. The differences between wanting to lose oneself, even to the point of becoming non-human as in collective endurance practices set against the neoliberal ‘managing’ of the body as exemplified by Sarkozy’s jogs (contextualised and organised by their capitalist strata).
Echoing the ambiguity, openness, and indeterminacy of the Ilinx play space where subjectivity may disolve, Atkinson mobilises what Caillois describes as ‘voluptous panic‘, suffering dizziness, pain, a merging with others, rocks, animals, and the elements. This feeds into the liminality of repetition and mimicry, which he states as “characterized by a pleasur-able immersion into a gray zone of self-identification where the runner encounters many possible selves“. 31 Atkinson describes fell runners sticking to their ‘packs’ while running – groups who started in the same village will stick together and wait for each other. But of course (as the multiplication of possible selves points towards) you could run alone and still run in solidarity. Alan Sillitoe’s Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) and films of the Nouvelle Vague (such as Les Quatre Cents Coups, Truffaut 1959 – see last scene) speak of individual moments of resistance in running and running away which spread out to a wider web of historical change and resistance within the working classes.
The differences between collective action and individual revolt and where these might blur and collide into a grey zone is interesting. Setting the Sarkozy jogging debate against ideas of the Paris Commune (1871) for example brings into stark light the histories which foregrounded suspicions of his individualist and neo-liberal ‘self-improvement’ and how complicated the gestures are around how we reproduce and act out these social identities through exercise. As runners, what we choose to mimic and repeat, and whose gestures we choose to re-employ can have political and ethical implications which reach far beyond our own bodies.
Running seems a messy business. It can be an act of playful defiance, a taking back of territory and a way of undoing ourselves. Running can be self-care, a reminder to eat, to rest and sleep better and to nourish ourselves in other ways. As Abdelkader Benali says “We need art to run better“, he suggests culture, reading and art can act as a form of “mental doping“.
Perhaps collectives such as the Running Artfully Network can engender mobile spaces of safety and recognition, a peripatetic collectivity that can move with you. As my friend Lucy says to her concerned husband when she runs at night “don’t worry you can see me on Strava” 32 – the inquiry into what running artfully might be is a collective question with no fixed answer but begins with seeing and recognising each other. You are running alone, we see you. You are running vulnerable, we see you. You are running for safety, we see you. RAN provides an umbrella of real and symbolic collective care.
In her opening comments for the RAN launch Kai Syn Tan talks about this space of collectivity in running, a space to “let the imagination run riot” that will make you simultaneously both “sore and soar“. This vertical exultant promise polarised against bodily realities and discomforts, seem a fertile space to continue running back and forth between (and to meet within again soon).
• NB All italicised quotes from speakers come from the RAN event which can be re-watched here.
- Finkielkraut was talking on the the late-night French television show “Cross Words” in 2007. His comments have been cited widely from the Independent to the New York times.
- https://www.liberation.fr/vous/2007/06/28/le-jogging-est-il-de-droite_97136/ (accessed 22.2.21)
- As reported by Foreign Policy.com in 2007 https://foreignpolicy.com/2007/07/09/in-france-le-jogging-is-a-right-wing-activity/
- As reported by BY PREETI AROON in Foreign Policy.com in 2007 https://foreignpolicy.com/2007/07/09/in-france-le-jogging-is-a-right-wing-activity/ (accessed 10.3.21)
- P19 Flaneuse ; Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London. Laura Elkin. Penguin 2016
- Self, Will. Psychogeography. London: Bloomsbury, 2007.
- There is much great work being done to remedy this including by offshoots of the Walking Arts Network and the recent Walkings New Movements’ Conference at Plymouth University as well as the Womens Walking Network and the fantastic artists who use walking in their practices such as Claire Qualman, Clare Hind, lizzie Philps, Jen Southern, Sonia Overall, Deidre Heddon, Cathy Turner, Janet Cardiff and the important work done by Ingrid Pollard.
- https://www.runnersworld.com/news/a20801993/black-men-less-likely-to-run-in-white-neighborhoods/ (accessed 10.3.21)
- https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/everyone-should-be-safe-when-they-run-lasting-trauma-ahmaud-n1258475 (accessed 10.3.21)
- The 9th edition of ILGA-Europe’s Annual Review details the human rights situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people across the 49 European countries, and the five countries of Central Asia. Created with LGBTI activists and experts on the ground, the Review also identifies trends, both current and on the rise.
- As reported by Reuters and NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/conservative-polish-magazine-issues-lgbt-free-zone-stickers-n1033471 (accessed 13.3.21)
- @gems_miles states on instagram ‘ the horific death of Sarah Everard has struck a cord with me and begged my own question, should I run alone at night, dawn or dusk, Should I run through trails with nobody else in sight taking in the scenery and sounds of nature’.
- ‘The physical and poetic processes of running: A practice related fine art discourse. About a Playful way to transform your world today’. Kai Syng Tan. Slade School of Fine Art 2014.
- Kai Syng Tan (2019) An exploration of running as metaphor, methodology, material through the RUN! RUN! RUN! Biennale #r3fest 2016, Sport in Society, 22:5, 829-845, DOI: 10.1080/17430437.2018.1430488
- Schneider, Rebecca. “That the Past May Yet Have Another Future: Gesture in the Times of Hands Up.” Theatre Journal 70, no. 3 (2018): 285-306. doi:10.1353/tj.2018.0056.
- As discussed in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Foucault, Michel. Cornell University Press 1977.
- Foucault’s ideas are expanded upon by Schneider in The Explicit Body in Performance (1997)
- This case study and the wider field of ‘ambulatory disorder’ is explored in detail by Ian Hacking in his book Mad Travellers; Reflections on the reality of transient mental Illness Free Association Books, London 1999. And the Original medical reports and records of Albert’s hypnotic treatment are written by Doctor Philippe Tissie LesAlienes Voyageurs;Essai Medico-psychologique Octave, Doin Paris 1887.
- Kai Syng Tan (2019) An exploration of running as metaphor, methodology, material through the RUN! RUN! RUN! Biennale #r3fest 2016, Sport in Society, 22:5, 829-845, DOI: 10.1080/17430437.2018.1430488
- David Sedaris https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/06/30/stepping-out-3
- David Hindley, on RUN! RUN! RUN! Biennale 2016 Leeds Leg (2016) Quoted in Kai Syng Tan (2019) An exploration of running as metaphor, methodology, material through the RUN! RUN! RUN! Biennale #r3fest 2016, Sport in Society, 22:5, 829-845, DOI: 10.1080/17430437.2018.1430488
- https://www.nataliepace.co.uk/home/2020/7/11/relay-running-as-motivation-methodology-metaphor-and-material (accessed 4.3.21)
- In Our Hands: An Ethics of Gestural Response-ability. Rebecca Schneider in conversation with Lucia Ruprecht June 2017 Performance Philosophy 3(1):108 DOI: 10.21476/PP.2017.31161 p122
- See as part of the Airspace ‘Artists make Change conversation series’ https://www.airspacegallery.org/index.php/2020/public_entry/conversations
- Cervenak, Sarah Jane Wandering: Philosophical Performances of Racial and Sexual Freedom. Duke University Press 2014
- Julietta Singh in UNTHINKING MASTERY Dehumanism and Decolonial Entanglement. Duke University Press Durham and London 2018
- Fell Running and Voluptuous Panic On Caillois and Post-Sport Physical Culture. Micheal Atkinson, American Journal of Play 2011.
- Roger Callouis, Man, Play and games, University of illinois Press 2001. Originally published as Les jeux et les hommes, 1958.
- Fell Running and Voluptuous Panic On Caillois and Post-Sport Physical Culture. Micheal Atkinson, American Journal of Play 2011.
- Lucy Fox is a kick ass feminist and human. as are my other friends who run for stress relief and sanity ;Tamara Simmons, Kate Newall, Carly Butler, Gemma Irvine, Charlotte Cornwell and Laura Watson, (who doesn’t actually run but just walks extremely fast).