in conversation with Blake Morris

Take a log for a walk

Can you describe where you are while writing this and what you can see from your window?

I am on my couch in Northampton. I can see the tops of trees with their leaves beginning to turn for autumn.

What is your chosen medium for recording your Landlinks work?

My chosen medium is walking, communicated through an instruction to walk (a walking score).

What and who is the 'driving' force or major influence for your work?

It began in Santa Cruz with the walks of the Romantics, the Dadaists and Surrealists, the Situationists and Fluxus. It has grown into a collaborative network of walkers, first with the Walk Exchange in New York City, and then further with the Walking Artists Network. Clare Qualmann, who founded the network with Mark Hunter, has been a continued influence through her generous work as an artist, thinker, academic and friend.

How important is research and experimentation to your work and can you outline some of your working processes for us?

The research and the artistic work generally inform each other.

The process for an artistic project is usually the same:

  • Drive myself a bit crazy during some fallow period;
  • make up some rules to follow;
  • follow them.

There is almost always an element of invitation. I have to think about how to invite people to join me for walks. What are the terms of engagement? How is this a reciprocal exchange? Who is invited in, and who isn’t? I want to move my focus to making the work more inclusive, more inviting, to a broader scope of people.

This may or may not lead to ‘research’ in the academic sense, which depends on if I want to subject the artwork to the research system.

Can you talk a bit about walking and the importance of walking in/to your work?

I had to decide what I wanted to be the dominant force in my artistic practice. I chose walking, as an alternative to sitting or standing still. It seemed a way to invite people into a different kind of work, one in which they are prepared to be involved, and one which I found a joy.

I continued to walk because I saw its potential as art that gets get people to look at the world they inhabit and the people with whom they inhabit it, differently. I’m interested in art that asks you to walk, that moves you about to explore the world. I want the medium of walking to be as well-known an artistic medium as sculpture, or theatre, or cinema.

What do you think about when walking?

That of course depends on the walk. The last walk I did before answering this question consisted of two thoughts really: 1. an intense moment of thinking about how to cross a busy street without being hit by a car, followed by 2. an important debate: rice, chips or baguette?

You are part of the Landlinks project and the synchronised walk that took place April. We would love to hear your feedback on this networking initiative and your resulting creative response to that walk

Landlinks made me count. I didn’t use a pedometer. Instead, I counted out the paces. Brouwn Steps. I had been speeding through my walks. Obligatory walks. It made me focus differently. It made me stop, for what seemed like long periods of time. On my walks before I didn’t have a reason to stop. Landlinks made the stopping important again.

The pauses also gave me a time to look at the digital exchanges. I didn’t feel tethered to my phone during the walk, because I knew I could look through everything during those moments of pause, when I captured and shared my picture. The phone has been a dominant force for digital exchange during the pandemic, and the format gave me a time to ignore it, and time to engage with it.

Counting Paces and Seconds

You’re a co-founder of The Walk Exchange…can you tell us something about it and your motivation for the initiative

Dillon de Give and I created the Walk Study Training Course to fill what we perceived as a gap in New York City for artists to think critically about their walking practices. We wanted a rigorous and playful space to read about walking and walk about reading and work on creating artistic walks. Three amazing thinkers and walkers who participated in the first two courses joined us to form the Walk Exchange: Bess Matassa, Vige Millington, and Moira Williams. Through the Walk Exchange, the five of us tried to develop a space that would create an exchange of walks. It was working with the Walk Exchange that really got me thinking about walking together at a distance, and how you could create international exchange through a kind of feedback loop of walking practices.

Landscape and the environment are both important areas of creative exploration to you. With current concerns about our environment, how do you see your role as one heavily involved in the arts?

Part of my move towards walking was thinking about a no-waste way of working. I was trained in theatre, which often used an incredible amount of resources for an ephemeral work of art. I wanted to do something with a lower footprint, something I took too literally perhaps. Walking is a way to get people to think about their engagement with the landscape in different ways while actually immersed in it. Hopefully, this deeper engagement leads to more of an interest in and concern about the environment. Walking tends to attract an environmentally concerned type, so it can sometimes feel like a closed loop. Which comes back to a question of invitation, and how to invite more people in to this mode of artistic work, as both creators and participants.

Can you describe your favourite place and why?

No. It changes too rapidly and depends on too many qualifiers, too many differing moods. Favourite in what way? When? What time of year? Right now? I see a dizzying array of potential spots.

The Covid 19 is having a massive impact on so many lives. Are you able to say what effect it is having on your working/creative life and what you have planned once Covid 19 retreats?

It has been slow. Slow thinking. Slow focus. Slow attention. Accomplishing just what I can to keep all the plates spinning.

#18 of 52 scores

Before the pandemic started I had set the rules for my current project. 52 Scores. A daily action of cutting and pasting a line of text to create a weekly walking score, and a resulting walk of the score on a Sunday. Repeat 52 times. I had decided to invite anyone from anywhere in the world to join me in interpreting the score. It was designed to make sure I was keeping up a practice while also working a job, and help with my feeling of isolation in Northampton after so many years in London and New York City.

I did walks where I lived in Northampton, and as I travelled around for holidays, in New York City, London, Krakow and Fresno. I met up with different people and shared the scores with them. I even enlisted my parents to walk around some empty lots in Fresno for score 6. Other people other places did the scores and shared their experience.

Covid contracted that. Score 18. A return to the hyperlocal.

I was (am, remain) lucky to be able to work from home during the pandemic, and I still had a daily task, a weekly walk, a practice to make sure that I managed to do SOMETHING other than sit at a screen. Engaging and exchanging with the people who have walked the scores at a distance with me has kept me going throughout this whole process. It’s changed the shape of the walks, and no doubt how I will think about them in the long run, but it feels too soon to reflect. My brain is too foggy. We are still in the midst of it, and the project ends in November, so I have a feeling there will be plenty of pandemic time left to reflect on it.

There has been an increase in artists doing digital walking work and exchanges. A sometimes overwhelming increase! But the great part about that is how these different walks can overlap and encounter each other. As I walked Landlinks in Northampton I also added to Deveron Projects’ Slow Marathon in Huntly, or my engagement with the Loiterer’s Resistance Movement for a First Sunday walk in Manchester, or with the Birmingham based group Walkspace or the Resident’s Association in Edinburgh to interpret some of the Sunday scores. All these different digital walking practices grow the network, and create new interactions and new modes of working between, amongst and across.

I think that’s perhaps one positive we can find. The network has been made very visible through digital engagement, and hopefully, as/when we return to a practice that involves walking together physically, we can retain that expanded digital network.

Your work often references a ‘place’ and that obviously influences your creative response. Is there a place that means more to you and why? 

Usually my work is exploring wherever I am. That’s where I am walking, so it starts there. But the digital exchange aspect draws in other people in other places. This allows me to, in a small way, encounter their walks as well. They bring a different set of experiences. How does that, along with the place they are in, shift it or change it? Hopefully, the walks create a dialogue through, around and in response to that.

What are you currently reading?

I’ve got three books I’m alternating between at the moment.

McKenzie Wark’s Capital is Dead: is this something worse? (2019), Priyamvada Gopal’s Insurgent Empire (2019) and Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire (2019).

I’m reading the Martine for my sci-fi book club and it’s a nice way of engaging some of the ideas Gopal and Wark bring up through a fictional world.

Do you consider your work political?

In the broadest sense, yes. I engage with the world from a political position that is present and active in my work. Is it activist? No, not particularly. My work right now is not advocating for change in any specific way. I suppose you could say I am an activist for walking art, for the recognition of walking as an artistic medium. But I don’t know if I would consider that a political stance.

You’re originally from the US.  What was the process that brought you to the UK.

I came to the UK to do a PhD with the Walking Artists Network, so really you all have Mark and Clare to thank (or curse) for my presence.

What are you currently writing?

I am currently re-rewriting a piece I wrote for Livingmaps Review on my Former Fresnans (2012-ongoing) project, which is an imaginary memory palace in Fresno, California based on walks with people who used to live there. I offer tours through the memory palace whenever I go back to Fresno, and share the stories of the walks. It will be a chapter in a book, and like everything else, it is already overdue.

In reflecting on your work of the past 5 years, with what are you most pleased?

The biggest accomplishment would be finishing my PhD and getting it published as a monograph (Walking Networks: the development of an artistic medium). But I am probably most pleased with the people I have encountered through that journey and the enduring friendships, collaborations, and networks that have developed because of it.

Please pose your own question

52 Scores continues through November, would you like to join me for a walk on a Sunday?

Blake's website can be viewed here: