Ellen Mueller

Interview with Geert Vermeire

by Ellen Mueller on December 26, 2023, no comments

Man with headphones in front of pipes

Credit: https://www.livingmaps.org/geert-vermeire

As part of the release of the hardcover/e-book release of my book, Walking as Artistic Practice (softcover comes out in April!), I’m going to be publishing some brief interviews with the various artists, authors, researchers, creatives, collectives, and platforms whose art practice, written material, or other works I cite and mention.

My 19th interview in this series is with Geert Vermeire (Belgium) who is a curator, writer and artist, moving constantly between Greece, Portugal and Brazil, with a focus on spatial writing, locative sound & performance and social practices. He co-manages walk listen create. He is also co-founder of Supercluster, a platform for learning and creating with locative media, and curator of the Oika project,  leaning on deep knowledge and agency for a more than human planet. He co-coordinates WAC, a bi-annual International Walking Encounters/Conference in Prespa, Greece and Art del Caminar, biannual Walking Arts Encounters in Catalonia. At the Lab2PT – University of Minho in Guimaraes, Portugal he co-coordinates the annual walking arts event/symposium The Walking Body.

EM: First, thank you for chatting with me about your collaborative project walk · listen · create (2019–). I cite this project in chapter one (History of Walking as Artistic Practice) in the subsection on “Contemporary Practices and Collectives.” How would you describe the platform for people who might not be familiar with it?

GV: walk · listen · create  (or WLC) is in the first place a community, a home for walking arts and walking creatives, to meet, stay and sojourn, as a virtual fire pit where stories about walking and walking practices are shared. Equally important is its archive, a real library of walking art, crowdsourced by the community. WLC emerged at the three way junction of previous initiatives of the three founders. Babak Fakhamzedeh, Andrew Stuck and myself, joining forces in 2019, merging our separate activities in one platform. Babak ran a blog called iamthewalker.com, with a constant stream of news about walking arts. Babak is also a digital wizard, a developer of apps and digital tools/games that relate to psychogeography.  Andrew is the founder of the Museum of Walking in the UK and of Talking/Walking, the first is a place for creative walking activities and the latter an online archive  of now more than 150 podcasts with walking artists around the world, interviewed by Andrew. Myself, I am the convener of Made of Walking, a yearly walking arts encounter, in a remote place of ecological fragility, since 2016. At the 2017 encounters in La Romieu, France it was Andrew who introduced Sound Walk Sunday, becoming Sound Walk September in the following years, and since then organized by WLC. From 2019 the encounter happens every other year in Prespa, Greece, and the intermediate year in Catalonia, bringing together hundreds of walking artists from around the world. WLC has now over four thousand registered walking creatives of which thousand six hundred active contributors, sharing information, events and walking arts works. This is complemented with online meet ups and walk listen cafes. WLC is the organizer of Sound Walk September and Walktober, the Sound Walk September award, a prize for sound walks, and the Marŝarto Award, at present the only existing global award for walking art. WLC also manages an own augmented audio platform, Placecloud, allowing all interested to create locative podcasts for free. In summary: WLC is an open meeting space for all interested in walking arts and in sound walking, and everybody is welcome to join and to use its resources.

EM: What are your thoughts on walking as artistic practice?

GV: My walking art practice began 20 years ago, almost by coincidence, at that time not being aware of walking art, and not being aware that what I did was so much aligned with it. This embryonic beginning was a collective activity, a walk I conceived with my friend Stefaan van Biesen, for whom walking was already over a decade an essential part of his artistic practice (without calling it walking art). We created  a walk in an arboretum, at equinox – with the night at its slowest, walking with handheld lanterns as a reference to the philosopher Diogenes always walking with a lantern in daylight. Our walk drifted through a “library of trees”, “writing and reading simultaneously the invisible text of the landscape by walking it together” (to paraphrase de Certeau), in silence, in a more than human language, walking with plants and as plants, listening, whispering, reading texts and collectively creating sound poems in the language of bees. The walk became the work of art, and the work of art was made by its walkers. The artwork was a background, a musical score, interpreted and transformed by its walkers. This experience of shifting, of letting go, creating conditions for the unexpected to happen, and not to produce, this was freedom, revealed by walking. Eventually there may be nothing more free than walking, it does not consume, it does not need anything, and if done together -in the right time and at the right place- it can bring about a metamorphosis of walkers becoming the walk, and of the landscape becoming the walkers. At the same time walking art is joy, the joy of being surprised, to wonder, to be together. It is joy that transforms walking into art, joy is its catalyst.

EM: Can you tell us about any recent or upcoming projects you are excited about?

GV: This year my walking art practice celebrates its twenty year anniversary. It began silently, as a gesture of being together – moving together in a more than human relation, and this eventually led to group walks in all inhabited continents. I consider my walking practice a “silent work”, and almost all of it is intentionally undocumented. It is always an experience of relations. My initial artistic practice began within a collective that I co-founded, called the Milena principle. It was held together by people in movement and in friendship. Our artistic actions were group travels transformed into works of art, as much interacting with the nature we were walking with, as with the people we encountered in it.  Hospitality for travelers was our guiding principle, we were as much host, as guest, in all senses of the word, in a  more than human world. This led to organizing, with local partners, encounters of walking artists, called “Made of Walking”, in remote places, with only one intention to walk together, during a full week, at an unknown territory, (as) for the first time, since 2016 in Greece, in Cyprus, in France, in Portugal, and from 2019 on alternately in the border areas of Prespa, Greece and in Catalonia, bringing physically together thousand artists in the last seven years. This consolidates now, between 2024 and 2027, with past, present and new cultural partners in WALC, in an European funded international center for walking arts, with activities in various countries of Europe, of which I am the artistic coordinator. A second part is in preparation, after a pilot in Lisbon in 2022, including the global South, Latin-America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. In July 2024 the next Made of Walking encounters will happen in Catalonia, with 4 days walking between the city of Girona and the Lake of Banyoles, coordinated by art center Nau Coclea, and in July 2025 follows the next walking arts encounters at Lake Prespa, at the border of Greece with North Macedonia and Albania, coordinated by the School of Arts of the University of Western Macedonia, in 2026 there will be a walking arts happening in the countryside of Brussels, coordinated in and around the village of Gaasbeek, and in 2027 a global walking arts exhibition is planned at the Museum of Modern Art in Thessaloniki.