New York

Hamish Fulton

Emerson wrote, “The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough.” Indeed, after thirty years of trekking, Hamish Fulton has not tired of either his signature ritual of walking or the horizons that this practice yields. Nor has the perambulating Conceptualist strayed from his artistic roots, continuing to annotate his activity through text and photograph, as firmly as ever testing the limits of both to convey, as he puts it, “the experience of the walk.”

Fulton’s most recent show, “Walking is the Constant, the Art Medium is the Variable,” comprised understated unique black-and-white photographs from the various journeys he has made during the last decade, in Europe and Alaska, Iceland, Japan, and Nepal. In these photo-texts, the aesthetic of the particular—the height of a natural form, its remoteness from the photographer, its overwhelming force—can only obliquely suggest, along with the text that appears below each image, the general experience and the scale of Fulton’s ongoing project. Often one glimpses nothing more than a sign—sometimes literally, as in the roadside signpost of Solstice Journey (France), 1992—of where Fulton has been. It is the duration of the walk, with its own sense of distance and time, that cannot be recorded. Yet now and then Fulton does provide images that speak directly to the history and universality of his pastime. The Distance (England), 1997, for example, despite its spare presentation of a simple path above a matter-of-fact annotation (“A Nine and a Half Day Coast to Coast Walk/From Norfolk to Dorset/Travelling on Country Lanes and Paths/The Peddars Way The Icknield Way The Ridgeway/England July 1997”), not only evokes the English pastoral tradition but can as easily conjure the bucolic charms of a Fragonard. Similarly, the crumbling staircase in Raven (Japan), 1999, surrounded by otherworldly arboreal and brushy growth, and the stone footprints on the monument in Swayambhunath (Nepal), 1998, with their reference to the “ways” of Buddha, represent a long path of mystical allusion and transcendence that Fulton, as witness, is modestly treading.

Near the entrance to the exhibition, Fulton had installed a dramatically large (almost thirty by ten feet), bright-blue wall containing several lines of text in letters up to two and a half feet tall. The unrestrained color and evocative words (“LIGHTNING,” “BUTTERFLY”) resulted from aesthetic choices, compositional or simply poetic, that represented an altogether different enterprise from that which governs the more restrictive documentary function and parameters (distance traveled, time spent) of his photo-texts. Fulton’s whimsy was a lively foil for the physically taxing but meditative single-mindedness of his oeuvre.

This is not to say that the lightheartedness of Fulton’s welcoming wall is entirely absent from his photo-texts. It is echoed in the minuscule font of the caption for No Roads No Footpaths (Alaska), 1999, a small mountainscape that nonetheless manages to be monumental. And through the deployment of his purposeful texts—whose sans-serif font and centeredalignment are reminiscent of an optician’s eye chart—Fulton comments wryly on the viewer’s ability to see what for him always remains in focus, beyond the beauty of the image: the walk itself.

Mason Klein