Saint Savin

Hamish Fulton

Abbaye De Saint-Savin

The work of Hamish Fulton always brings to mind measurement and description. His series of walks over the past twenty years have been textually and photographically documented in order to translate a physical, personal activity into an event, an activity that reverberates beyond the present moment.

The oldest section of the Abbaye de Saint-Savin dates from the 9th century, although the site is particularly renowned for its extraordinary set of 11th-century murals, which trace a series of biblical events from the Creation to the Crucifixion. The Centre International d’Art Mural has undertaken a program of commissioning contemporary artists to create work at the abbey based on the tradition of mural painting. Fulton’s year-long exhibition should be viewed in this context. Situated in the abbey’s 17th-century refectory, it both expands and summarizes the artist’s continuing descriptive project, while ex-tending our conception of the mural.

Each of the five pieces consists of a series of dots painted directly on the wall, and is accompanied by a text that functions both as straightforward description and as a kind of metaphoric bridge. For example, in one text we read: “Counting 5000 dots/For the first 5000 paces/Counting 5000 dots/For the last 5000 paces/Of an 8 1/2 hour day/Road walking journey/From the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean/France Summer 1983.”

The dots are painted on rectangular surfaces stretching along the walls, and the effect of these remembrances is continually to shift our attention between the activity and its trace. Fulton’s use of repetition, as opposed to the recognizable, time-based document of the photograph, creates a tension between the haphazardness of the steps and the linear progression of the texts. At the same time, the murals seem to be more closely related to the texts than to the photographs, when one examines their proximity to the processes of counting and measuring. Just as the walk left an invisible trace on the landscape, so the effect of the mural is to leave a visible trace on the environment.

Fulton distributes the five murals in a kind of progression around the refectory. The last one functions as both a conclusion and a summation of the previous works. The text is similar to the one cited above, except that it was drawn from a 20-day journey from 1989, and the direction has been reversed. It stretches out along the length of the wall, so that one has to walk alongside it to read it. Fulton’s measurement of physical space influences the spectator’s perception. Here, the artist manages to infuse the painting with a sense of the activity that generated it in the first place.

Michael Tarantino