Walking as Mapping
a creative laboratory

From Guy Debord in the early 1950s to Richard Long, Janet Cardiff and Esther Polak more recently, contemporary artists have returned again and again to the walking motif. Today the convergence of global networks, online databases, and new tools for mobile mapping coincides with a resurgence of interest in walking as an art form. In Walking and Mapping, Karen O’Rourke explores a series of walking/mapping projects by contemporary artists. She offers close readings of these projects - many of which she was able to experience firsthand - and situates them in relation to landmark works from the past half century. Together they form a new entity, a dynamic whole greater than the sum of its parts. By alternating close study of selected projects with a broader view of their place in a bigger picture, Walking and Mapping itself maps a complex phenomenon.


In July 2016 North Island College hosted an experimental Creative Laboratory themed Walking as Mapping in conjunction with Where is Here cultural mapping symposium hosted by the Comox Valley Art Gallery. A group of eight artists engaged over a period of eight weeks in a research/artmaking/walking themed collaboration. Local artists, NIC faculty, ECUAD graduate, and visiting artists in residence participated in the experiment which culminated in a final exhibition of works at the Shadbolt Gallery, North Island College.

Wayfinding: K'ómoks Estuary Solmization
Medwyn McConachy
photo-poetic installation

Always a walker, placing my feet on land brings me into relationship with place. A Comox Valley resident since 2007, the changing land/sea/scape of the K’ómoks estuary has become a beacon, drawing my attention repeatedly as if inviting me to get up close and intimate. So began my walking the sands practice from which this, my project, originates.

Repetitive traversing of a small area on the South side of the estuary, enlivened the nature of the terrain, the beyond human beings, and the atmosphere of the place. Close and careful observation revealed the inhabitants, the cultural artifacts, the diverse habitat, and the human detritus on the shifting sands of the tidal flats. I became attuned to the harmonic chorus of this place discerning an otherwise invisible pathway across the sands solmizated* by the voices of these estuary beings. The documentation of this experience, is presented in this photo-poetic installation of solmization.

Solmizate: to sing an object into place using the doh-re-me scale (mid 18th Century French)

Five times now have
       I walked these sands
               following the markings of
                     history sunk deep into this
                            K’ómoks land of plenty.
                        Each walking an exploration
               finding presence in the absence
            of structures suggested by the
        ghostly remains marking
patterns of what once was
     abundant harvesting in the
              sea washed ripples and
                       gullies of the shifting sands.

Waterlogged the tidal flatlands
                   echo                    thundering resonance
        of my heavy                                human step
            trembling the                         chlorophyllic
                        feast table before me.                                         
                                   Alert alert danger
                    approaches                     a presence
                        unknown                         the stillness erupts
                                chaos moves around my feet.

Seeping tidepools
        with fishes             darting
    rippling                         breezes sing
        rhythmic morse code of the tides.
            into the sands
                offers an elemental infusion enriching deep earth.

ephemeral songspace

Dreaming the Land  September 2015

To celebrate the turning of my seventh decade, I embarked on a journey long desired, to walk the sacred pathways of my ancestors. The way began in Snowdonia, Wales in the good company of Eric Maddern a mystic/storyteller/ecowarrior called to this place to create a rustic sanctuary he named Cae Mabon, and Angharad Wynne storyteller/adventurer/welsh mythology enthusiast. Opening to the land and the beings of the land, I in the good company of eight others, meandered o’er vale and hill visiting with the old ones in tomb, circle and standing stone. Messages flowed from the stones, rivers, ancient landscape allowing us to believe, even for a moment, that we were indeed reweaving the fabric of stories gleaned through the ages from our ancestors.


Mount Snowdon reflected in Padarn Lake - from the bridge Llanberis

Echoing the songline tradition of Australia, our journey followed the Druid's pathway with daily excursion from our base in Llanberis through the mountains to the Isle of Mona Ynys Mon (now known as Anglesey) the pre-Roman centre of Druidry in Wales. Along the way Eric and Angharad shared the stories of the Celtic peoples of this land, our bodies resonated with the echoes in these hills as we sang and wrote our way past stone fort, circle and menhir.

Our Druid's circle ceremony drew forth the song of the stones.

It’s been a long time but we are still here
from dawn till dusk from dusk till dawn from life to death from death to life
the seat of power on the brow of the hill
I am the gatekeeper I am the blending of cultures
the memory of rock lasts beyond all ages
in unison I stand connecting you all
your steps are supported
and we your ancestors love you beyond all reason be at peace

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