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'Protracted Symposium' mixes talking, walking and investigation of places

Melissa Mitchell, Arts Editor


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Kinesiologists regard walking as a good starter activity for couch potatoes just easing into an exercise regimen. For others, walking is simply a logical means of getting from Point A to Point B.

But Kevin Hamilton, a professor of art and design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, views the act of walking in less pedestrian terms. For him – and a host of artists, activists, writers, scholars and others who will be visiting the U. of I. campus this spring to participate in a “protracted symposium” and related activities – walking can be a form of personal, creative expression. Or as Hamilton describes it: “a distinct mode of acting, knowing and making.”

That concept will be explored – from both theoretical and applied perspectives – during the semesterlong symposium, “Walking as Knowing as Making,” organized by Hamilton and Nicholas Brown, a graduate student in art and design. Symposium events, which are free and open to the public, will take place at various campus and off-campus locations during a series of sessions Feb. 24-25, March 10-11, April 7-8 and April 28-29.

“Between February and May, we will bring to campus a diverse group of scholars, activists and pedestrians to present ideas, engage in conversation, generate questions, tell stories, and, of course, walk,” Hamilton said. “Supplementing and also weaving together this series of convergences will be an informal film series about place, a reading group (sponsored by the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities), a series of informational and experimental walks and tours, production of a monthly sound collage for broadcast on local community radio stations, a museum exhibition, and a digital and print archive of all the events and activities.”

How, exactly, does Hamilton explain the notion that walking can interpreted as more than just a way to get around?

“As ubiquitous as walking may be in everyday life, it is growing less frequent for many of us,” Hamilton said. “The more we depend on cars or even public transportation to carry us about, the less walking we do, and the more anachronistic walking becomes. Walking takes on new symbolic resonance, even as it retains its unique capabilities for revealing the particularities of the places we inhabit. Walking connects our bodies to spaces, places, details of their ecological, social, political, historical makeup.

“As artists, Nick and I see an investigation of walking as rightly located in practice as well as theory, and so we have planned a series of symposia that mix talking, walking and investigation of our own places and spaces. We’ve invited a truly distinguished and international group of presenters, with the specific goal of getting people together who might not normally get to converse – artists and activists, historians and ecologists, psychologists and musicians.”

The first symposium session, on Feb. 24-25, will feature presentations by John Francis and Anne Wallace, from 2-5 p.m. Feb. 24 at the Levis Faculty Center, 919 W. Illinois St., Urbana. Francis is a writer, artist, U.N. Goodwill Ambassador and founder of Planetwalk, who has walked and sailed around the world and did not travel in any form of motorized vehicle for 22 years. Wallace is a professor of English at the University of Southern Mississippi, author of the book “Walking, Literature and English Culture” and co-editor of “The Walker’s Literary Companion” and “The Quotable Walker.”

Guest talks by Hamish Fulton and Dennis Banks continue that night, from 7-10 in the Plym Auditorium, Temple Hoyne Buell Hall, 611 E. Lorado Taft Drive. Fulton is known as a sculptor, photographer, conceptual and “land” artist who characterizes himself as a “walking artist.” Banks is an American Indian leader, teacher, lecturer, activist, author and co-founder of the American Indian Movement, who has organized protest walks and spiritual runs throughout the world.

On Feb. 25, at 11 a.m., the symposium venue moves to the Sadorus Community Park, in Sadorus, Ill., the starting place for a public walk. The walk will be followed by a panel presentation, from 3-5 p.m., by Banks, Francis, Fulton and Wallace at the U. of I.’s Krannert Art Museum, 500 W. Peabody Drive, Champaign.

The U. of I. museum also will be the venue for a symposium-related exhibition focusing on Fulton’s work. The exhibition, which runs from March 5 through July 31, is expected to consist of a photo-text installation based on the artist’s walking experiences in the community.

“Fulton creates each work specifically for the hosting institution, so we won’t know for sure what the work will be until he arrives,” Hamilton said. “He may do another in a series he’s been working on where he walks 25 miles away from the gallery and back in a day.”

Other featured symposium speakers who will visit the campus to participate in subsequent symposium events include David Abram, Tim Cresswell, Chellis Glendinning, Simon Levin, Laurie Long, David Macauley, Trevor Paglen, Mike Pearson, Danica Phelps, Andrea Phillips, Jane Rendell, David Rothenberg and Jack Turner.

More information about the symposium, biographies of visiting lecturers and related activities can be found on the Web. Hamilton said the Web site will continue to be updated throughout the semester as details about forthcoming symposium sessions become available.