Inspired Reading

Inspired Reading | Richard T. Walker

First of all, thanks to those who participated in sharing a few titles from their bookshelves last month! Now, I am happy to share with you the selections of British artist Richard T. Walker. In his videos, performances and photographs, Richard appears alone, speaking or singing in the midst of vast landscapes. The works seem to reveal an internal dialogue, shaped and contextualized through the dominant visual of the landscape. You can view Richard’s work on his website:

Richard is premiering a work this week at the Loop art fair in Barcelona with Christopher Grimes Gallery. He will be doing performances at SFMOMA on August 30, September 1 and September 2, 2012 as part of the exhibition, “Stage Presence,” and is currently working on a commission for Arthouse in Austin, Texas for 2013. He is also preparing for his solo show at Carroll/Fletcher gallery in London, set for January 2013.

Here is a selection of texts Richard chose to highlight as influential to his practice:

Jeanette Bicknell, Why Music Moves Us (2010)

Italo Calvino, Mr. Palomar (1983)

Walker Percy, The Message in the Bottle (1976)

William Carlos Williams, The Descent (1948)

Rachael Ziady DeLue and James Elkins, Landscape Theory (2008)

Richard T. Walker. "the possibility of foreverness," 2011.

Richard’s comments on these texts follows:

Kelly Huang: Jeanette Bicknell, Walker Percy and Italo Calvino’s books all struck me as ruminations on what it means to be a person in this world, taking in experiences of all kinds–be it visual, written, or aural. Your works include all of these elements and, in some ways, function similarly to these texts. Can you describe your process? At what point in your process do these texts play a role?

Richard T. Walker: My process is one of attempting to articulate or speak of a certain type of articulation, or comprehension. So it is in a way an act of attempting to comprehend something, even if that something is a lack of comprehension—understanding what it is to not understand. It seems to me that music, text and dialogue are three of the main instruments we have to determine our existence in the world. I suppose this is why they are present in my work, as they are tools, along with the visual, that we use to come to understand things, and arguably these are the tools that enable things to exist, including ourselves.

Texts such as these help determine the content and my approach to cataloguing these varying elements. Often these texts clarify and help solidify ideas and queries that have been surrounding what I am doing. Ideas will often float above an action, not quite sure where to land. I’ll start writing something, going further and further into an idea or thought, trying to meditate on the minutia of a moment, trying to turn the most mundane action into an event, and then these readings will enable me to stand aside, pull me out and see where I am going. They help the idea find a place to settle. These readings are like the lenses that sit on my nose. They help to clarify; they sharpen the edges. They help me to translate thinking into thoughts.

I think the relationship between these readings and my process is also about determining degrees of separation. I like the push and pull of a work being intrinsically personal and sincere whilst at the same time being critical of that very sincerity. Objectifying the personal to some extent.


Richard T. Walker. “the hierarchy of relevance,” 2010 (excerpt), courtesy the artist.

Mr. Palomar by Italo Calvino

RTW: I am fascinated by the discrepancy between what goes on internally (in our thoughts, feelings emotions etc), and then the space in which the body carries around this information. Sometimes, in fact most of the time, they seem irreconcilable and then sometimes they become significant in equal measure. I am interested in this coming together, but also in this struggle. I think Calvino meditates on this. How we pull things into our own system of understanding in order to make sense of the world; everything becomes personalized in a way. In actually being able to push something away so one can see objectively, sometimes the opposite has to occur and we have to fool ourselves into thinking we own it. And we do this by fictionalizing reality in one way or another; we place the world of “out there” in the context of “in here.” Then we have control and everything is warmer.

Why Music Moves Us by Jeanette Bicknell

RTW: Music has an ability to speak to things beyond the point where words begin to struggle, or indeed fail; music has an affinity with the ungraspable, or ineffable. This is what brought me to the Bicknell book. I am really intrigued by how music functions in our understanding of ourselves, its relationship to reality and experience, and also how it influences our understanding of imagery, be it film, photography or indeed an actual landscape. Our reaction to music seems to be so rudimentary and implicit, I just wanted to know more about this, and in particular I am interested in music’s relationship to the sublime, which Bicknell talks about quite a lot.

The Message in the Bottle by Walker Percy

RTW: I like the way Percy dissects reality, questioning the meaning we ascribe to things. But he does it in a very playful way. I like to take a position and then imagine how this would make us feel. How the analysis makes us feel. How would we feel if we were able to see how we see? We see things the way we do because it is natural to do so. The fabrication of reality is indeed reality. How and why this fabrication is built is intriguing, but what actually happens when we take this away? I want to fictionalize and contextualize the kind of deconstruction that Percy proposes. For me it is about breaking into a chain or a loop of questions and propositions, stepping into and rupturing a rhetorical quest for meaning. Where the answers are in the means and the means become the ends, or the event. Percy is interesting to me because he is about breaking down these systems. Stepping aside and looking in.


Richard T. Walker. “the speed and eagerness of meaning,” 2011, courtesy the artist.

Landscape Theory edited by Rachael Ziady DeLue and James Elkins

KH: Landscapes play a major role in your work, so it is no surprise to see James Elkins and Rachael Ziady DeLue’s “Landscape Theory” on your list. The book includes an open dialogue regarding “landscape” with academics and practitioners, and then includes essay responses from those key voices. My guess is that this is a text that you continually reference. Which arguments presented in “Landscape Theory” speak to you?

RTW: There is so much in this book that rings true for me. The book assesses what it is that we are actually seeing or experiencing when we are in or looking at a landscape and questions the reasons why we have come to view and think about them in the way that we have. I am interested in the folds between cultural interpretation and innate understanding and this book has helped me navigate between, in and around these two positions.

In my latest work let this be us I have been thinking a lot about the Kelsey essay in the book called  “Landscape as not belonging.” He proposes the idea that over time we have fantasized ourselves into a situation whereby we feel alien to the landscape so that we can then desire to “belong” to the landscape. Of course, we are nature, we are not separate from it; we have just conditioned ourselves to think and act this way. I like thinking about a situation where someone, somewhere, against all odds actually becomes “one” with nature. However, because this would mean breaking down so many of the perceptual boundaries that we have culturally constructed, their existence and sense of self becomes very different. This means that they can’t “see” distance, or at least they can’t see the romance inherent in distance and they don’t know what is meant by a “view” etc. Many of the concepts discussed in this book are really foundational to the way I have developed my thinking about landscape. Throughout the book, the distinction they continually return to with regards to assessing or theorizing landscape is either through the lens of ideology or phenomenology. This is something that, without really being aware of it, I have been thinking about and working with for some time.

Richard T. Walker. "our personal economy of meaning (second take)," 2012.

The Descent by William Carlos Williams

KH: In the history of this column, you are the first artist or curator to highlight a poem as an influential text. Can you tell me when you first read William Carlos Williams’s “The Descent” and how it has influenced your thinking?

RTW: This is very new to me. I first read this poem on my birthday this year a few weeks ago. I wanted to include it on this list because I have never felt like I have really understood poetry, or at least I have never felt that my comprehension of it ever matched that of the writer’s intentions. And I’m not sure it does here; however, a good friend gave it to me and I have become very thankful for the gift. I like the way that this poem speaks clearly about the kind of disharmony between the internal and external world that I was mentioning with regard to Calvino. Williams speaks about how, through the deterioration of old age, the degradation of his senses enlivens memory and thought. “The descent” is that of a descent into inner thinking. When I read it I get a vision of when I have visited the vast desert landscapes of California. There is a moment when after miles of driving you go over a series of small barren hills and then boom, you are suddenly confronted with this expanse of space that you really don’t know what to do with. I find that within such an experience my senses become almost numb because their language suddenly seems redundant. But the language of thought and memory becomes stark and crisp. I think this is some of what he is saying, albeit from a different angle. My work speaks a lot about loss, or more specifically lack. I think it would be safe to say that the persistence of revisiting the subject of a man who can’t quite come to terms with his relationship with nature, as I do, proposes a kind of circular, melancholic position whereby existence is determined by absence as much as presence.