Ellen Mueller

Interview with Michael x Ryan

by Ellen Mueller on January 8, 2024, no comments

a white sculpture featuring the outline of a road stain

Michael x Ryan, “Roadstains #2: Multiple spill at Fulton and Peoria streets, Chicago, Fall 2005” (2005 – present) Wood relief with Finnish and Baltic Birch plywood and latex paint to match wall color; 102.0 x 220.0 x 10.0 inches

As part of the release of my book, Walking as Artistic Practice (pre-orders now open for softcover shipping 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 21th interview in this series is with Michael x Ryan, a Chicago area based visual artist who recently moved to Woodstock, IL. He creates drawings and sculptural installations that focus on patterns made or discovered while traveling places lived and visited. Ryan attempts to record the fleeting residue of the human presence by realizing the interconnectedness of bodies and places while magnifying the minutia of a life lived.

EM: First, thank you for chatting with me about your work Roadstains (2007). I cite your work in chapter six (Rituals) in the subsection on “Commuting.” How would you describe the work for people who might not be familiar with it?

MxR: The Roadstains Series you mention in your book, consists of large-scale wood reliefs created by tracing actual stains on the street or sidewalk that remind me of a minimal surreal landscape. This required me to lay down sheets of plexiglass and, on my hands and knees, I would draw out the image onto the plexiglass while keeping in mind what drew me to the image as I was walking by it and over it many times, sometimes over a period of days.

This process was a spiritual ritual for me and it was easy to get lost in the movement of the line as I saw this process as walking the line. With some images that were in the street I would block off the area I was working on so I wouldn’t get hit by a car. This process was sometime an embarrassment to my then teenage children. Back in the studio I would trace the image onto tracing paper if I felt it was an image that spoke to me in a powerful way. I would then transfer the image onto 1/8 inch Finnish Plywood that I would then cut/draw with a Dremel tool.

The next step would be to decide what type of framing devise should be used for that specific image. These hand-cut plywood reliefs that become diptychs, triptychs and monoliths were then painted by studio assistants using a brushing system that I approved with latex house paint that was the color of the architectural environment that the works are installed in. Whenever possible I like to have someone else bring their energy to the skin of the piece as a type of community dialogue.

Individual or multiple works are then installed with sensitivity to the built environment and the day-to-day functions of the space in which it lives. In one Installation the work may be white to match the wall it is hung on and in another the same piece may be painted a red oxide color to match its environment.

binder of black and red drawings

Michael x Ryan, Study drawings, ink on archival print | “Couple(d) on Damen near Evergreen (south and north)” Summer 2010

With the Chicago Roadstains Series, I would trace stains on the street and the final work would be the same scale. With the Wicker Park Roadstains Series that came afterwards, I would still search for images that remind me of a minimal surreal landscape that I can see myself walking through but instead of tracing the actual roadstain, I would collect these images on the street or sidewalk with a digital camera while on walks through my neighborhood. This approach to collecting stains on the street gave me the freedom to record interesting large-scale roadstains that would be in the middle of a high traffic area where I could not safely work with the image. In the studio the photographic image would be printed onto 8.5 x 11.0 inch archival paper where I would “draw out” the image that interested me in the stain with archival pens. These images would be the starting point for a series of small ink drawings on paper and small laser-cut drawings.

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

MxR: For many years I have charted my lines of movement with a variety of journaling approaches, so the act and observation of grounding one’s body and movement as another way to experience our environment seems natural to me as a human being. This can be through walking, driving in a car and wondering if you will turn left, right or straight. When I was in my early 20s, I had a job mowing lawns for the largest trailer park in the east coast which required me to sit on a riding lawnmower all day cutting around over 500 trailers per week. The patterns of movement were never the same and I would visualize myself from above being aware of the patterns I was making and why. This experience changed how I viewed my place in the world.

I saw this movement as an act of drawing where you can get lost in the emotion of the act. The movement of a body is how we experience the world and ourselves so to me acknowledging this is equal to any performative medium we choose to use when we choose to create to understand what is hidden to us.

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

MxR: The previous owners of the property my family purchased in Woodstock, IL had to have this very sick magnificent oak tree cut down to around 24 feet with many of the limbs laying on the ground like wounded soldiers. Buckthorn and drought may have been too much for the wise one which now looks like a monument to extreme environmental stress. For the last year and a half, I have been working on a series of drawings called Amputated Wise Oak of Woodstock that up to now consists of different approaches of drawings while starting to work on more sculptural works.

two drawings of chopped up trees

From January to May 2021, I was in a group exhibition called Sustainable Societies for the Future at the Malmo Art Museum in Malmo, SE. The exhibition project Sustainable Societies for the Future springs from one of the most complex and urgent challenges of our day: how to create safe, inclusive, and sustainable societies. Twenty-four artists and artist groups contributed works to the exhibition that in different ways encouraged dialogue and engagement with sustainability issues of local and global urgency.

From October 15-17 2021, I was in a version of the exhibition presented at the Malmö Konstmuseum, Sustainable Societies for the Future : Chicago Edit, that included work engaging with the following questions: How do we make societies more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable with all of the challenges we are facing today regarding climate, social inequality and the world’s growing population? And how can we accumulate change through art that explores collectiveness and social engagement for a better future together?

The second edition, which includes artists presented in the first exhibition in Sweden, was curated by the Floating Museum and used an LED truck as the exhibition platform and moved through the city over a period of three days. The exhibition presented a program that was mobile and investigated urban landscape, social geography and created juxtapositions and complimentary moments between streetscape and the Nordic and American artist contributions.

Participating Artists /
Christian Falsnaes (DK), Max Guy (US), Minna Henriksson (FI), Hesselholdt & Mejlvang (DK), Ingela  Ihrman (SE), Toril Johannessen (NO) & Marjolijn Dijkman (NL), Cheryl Pope (US), Wang & Söderström (SE/DK), Amanda Williams (US), and Michael x Ryan (US).

Curated by the Floating Museum (Faheem Majeed, Andrew Schachman, Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford, and Avery R. Young, US).

Interview with Kate Green

by Ellen Mueller on January 2, 2024, no comments

a stone post and a sheep on a hill

Kate Green “Watershed Line” Credit: https://www.shortladywithdarkhair.com/watershed-line

As part of the release of my book, Walking as Artistic Practice (pre-orders now open for softcover shipping 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 20th interview in this series is with Kate Green who wanders and wonders (mostly in the Welsh Borders) presenting thoughts on life and landscape with her unique blend of humour, song and gentle satire. Kate’s work is usually springboarded by a walk but is also formed by research, archaeology, geology, social history
and serendipitous conversations.

EM: First, thank you for chatting with me about your work Watershed Line (2021). I cite this work in chapter seven (Place) in the subsection on “Urban versus Rural” How would you describe the work for people who might not be familiar with it?

KG: In 1892, an Act of Parliament allowed the City of Birmingham to claim the gathering grounds, or watershed, of the Elan and Claerwen rivers in Mid Wales. A massive engineering scheme involving thousands of construction workers (navvies) built a series of dams to capture the water and pipe it to Birmingham. The Elan Valley reservoirs still provide the majority of Birmingham’s fresh water.

For Walking the Pipe (2019) I walked the 73 ½ mile aqueduct that caries water from the Elan Valley reservoirs to Birmingham. In Watershed Line (2021) I walked the perimeter of the 72 square mile watershed of the Elan and Claerwen rivers. Mapped and termed the ‘Watershed Line’ by the Victorian engineers surveying the site prior to flooding, this tipping point in the water’s flow is marked with hundreds of concrete posts – some now fallen, sunk into bog, shattered by frost, or hidden by vegetation. On my walk (over 2 weeks) I photographed each of the 540 concrete posts I encountered. During the evenings, staying alone in an off-grid cottage, I recorded my experiences in a journal and composed four songs inspired by my walking, reading and research.

After my residency in the Elan Valley, I became involved in trying to kickstart the renovation of a scale model of the reservoirs in a Birmingham Park. Although this wasn’t successful (yet!) it led to the opportunity to curate the Watershed exhibition, showcasing the Elan Valley artist residency scheme with archives and artefacts. I was also commissioned to create a new interpretation of my concrete post images: a 10m wide, 3m high mural of the images, with their perspective manipulated to face the viewer with a convex dam-like wall.

Watershed at Midlands Arts Centre (June-November 5th 2023) plays on the dual meaning of the term ‘watershed’ – ‘an area of high ground where rain collects, bounded peripherally by a dividing ridge, draining into a particular river or body of water’ but also ‘a significant event or period that represents a change in direction, or tipping point, in how people think about something’. Its climatic message was inspired by Antonio Guterres’ speech at COP27 in 2022: “… our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible. We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.”

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

KG: Goodness that’s a big question. I’m not sure I can answer in one sitting. But I would say that I am not an artist for whom only the walk is the work. For me, the walk is part of the work. It may be that a piece of research or a story leads to a walk, or a walk inspires a creative response – be it song, sculpture, drawing, a gathering or happening maybe. But a walk is always there somewhere in the creative journey, and the other forms within the work could not exist without the walk.

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

KG: I am currently resident artist at the Sidney Nolan Trust. Inspired by research into Nolan’s 1964 trip to Antarctica, I am working on a project about Glacial Lake Wigmore, a lake that filled a North Herefordshire valley (right on my doorstep, so far easier to reach than Antarctica!) 20,000 years ago. Geological research suggests that the highest water level reached is indicated on the modern OS map by the 130m contour line. Due to the erosion of a gorge and centuries of agricultural drainage, only a few marshy areas now remain. I have been walking the once-shoreline, beachcombing stories: geographical, archaeological and personal. The shape of the lake has become a motif in my drawings and I’m in the process of composing and arranging new songs in response to my own journey of exploration in the ice.

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.