LOS ANGELES — The crisply focused exhibition Following the Prescribed Path takes place in a city that is notoriously sprawling and impractical for long-distance walking. The pieces in the show, which is on view at Loyola Marymount University’s Laband Gallery, position the uncomplicated act of walking as a way of revealing views impossible to see through any other mode of transportation. The many ways that the seven artists catalogued their walks — photographs, prints, sculptures, collages, maps, postcards — reflect the highly subjective nature of their experiences. Besides its slower speed, walking also places the artist in direct bodily confrontation with the elements, other people, and built interventions in the landscape.
The title, as curator Carolyn Peter notes in her essay accompanying the exhibition, refers to how each artist chose certain parameters of their route before embarking. In the Conceptual tradition, each artist laid out rules for him or herself and simply followed these rules to their natural conclusion. The result is art that is formally simple, but with content that reflects complex layers of experience.
Mark Ruwedel’s “Following Nigel, 72.5 Miles” (2011–14) is a clear standout. Ruwedel followed the path taken by Nigel Raab, an LMU professor and urban hiker, from Westchester to San Bernardino, site of the easternmost Metro station. Though they are compositionally similar to the deadpan images of Ed Ruscha’s Some Los Angeles Apartments (1965), Ruwedel’s photographs show parts of Los Angeles that are not often represented from street level: dusty intersections, the underside of bridges, utility buildings surrounded by mountains. The compositional elements — right angles of boulevards, diagonal lines of telephone wires, shrubs jutting out against the sky — create a sense of movement that is compounded by the arrangement of the photographs, which wrap around three sides of the gallery.
The earliest piece in the exhibition is Vito Acconci’s “Following Piece” (October 3–25, 1969), which has one of the simplest “rules” of all. To carry out the work, Acconci simply picked a person at random on the streets of New York City and followed him or her until he or she entered a private building. Unlike other artists in the exhibition who fully laid out their routes beforehand, Acconci did not account for the duration or direction of his walk, abandoning a good measure of agency to an unwitting participant in his artmaking.
In 1987, Kim Abeles undertook a journey to “the wedge,” a slice of the San Gabriel Mountains framed by buildings along Broadway. She documented the journey in “Pilgrimage to the Wedge,” which took the form of a pink-framed collage of plans, a print made with smog on Plexiglas, a memory box, and a hand-drawn map, among other elements. Erin Mallea’s “From Maine to Georgia” (2012), which traces the artist’s trip along the Appalachian Trail, has a similarly personal, handmade feel. A map of the trail and postcards Mallea sent along her journey are encased in a vitrine that resembles a picnic table, compounding the friendly feeling of the work.
For her Berlin series (2011–13), Diane Meyer followed the ninety-six-mile perimeter where the Berlin Wall once stood. She photographed her journey and then embroidered sections of the images where the wall would have been. The resulting images contain pixelated strips of texture that trace the outlines of what was once not only a powerful symbol of Communism, but also a material alteration of the landscape.
Gabrielle Ferrer’s “Pocket Walk” (2009–10) documents four different walks, each represented by a letterpress print of lyrics or an excerpt from a literary text, a hand-traced drawing of the route on Google Earth, a photograph, and the impression of a soft-ground coated zinc plate she carried in her pocket during the journey. The walks took place at Disneyland, in suburban Lakewood, through Laurel Canyon, and from the 405 freeway to the beach. The four-part approach reflects the different ways of quantifying experience, and the resulting grids are visually pleasing in their simplicity.
Bas Jan Ader, a Dutch artist who worked in Southern California for the best-known years of his short life, is represented by photographs from In Search of the Miraculous (One Night in LA) (1973). With only a flashlight, Ader walked from the Hollywood Hills to the Pacific Ocean. The series of small gelatin silver prints, arranged in two thin rows that give a sense of linear movement, contain dim views of the freeway, city lights, and the beach. The photographs have a dangerous undertone that was expanded in the second phase of In Search of the Miraculous, a solo boat journey that Ader planned to take from Cape Cod to Lands End, England.
Nine months later, Ader’s boat was famously found empty off the coast of Ireland. The inclusion of his work underscores that these artistic treks are not mere psychic experiments, but involve a dimension of very real physical risk.
Following the Prescribed Path continues at Loyola Marymount University’s Laband Gallery (1 Loyola Marymount University Dr, Los Angeles) through November 23
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