Going for a long walk can be compared to a journey. A hike of a day or more is a journey in its elementary form. The walker goes from one resting place to another, amid changing scenery and, in a direct way, loses himself in the landscape. The walker isn’t introspective, he is out to get to know the world
The philosopher, Ton Lemaire, wrote that the first real walkers of the West were the romantics. They were the travellers of immeasurable landscapes. At the end of the eighteenth century the romantic saw himself in juxtaposition to the vastness of nature and felt insignificant in the big world. This walker wanted to experience nature intensely and used the course of the walk to think about himself and the world. While walking, thoughts came. The contemplative walks of Jean-Jacques Rousseau described in his “Reflections of a lonely walker” (1782) are examples of this. Characteristic of the romantic feeling is a longing for the abrogation of the deeply felt opposition of the individual to nature, the longing for a connection between the self and the world. The walk through the countryside assisted in this attempt at integration
The journey is a motif that frequently occurs in the thinking and culture of the West. The walk and the journey are metaphors for the person who is trying to find himself. Whoever seeks and wants to think, is like a traveller setting out. He goes out into the world to get to know it and thereby to get to know himself. As he travels the surroundings change and the traveller himself changes towards and with the landscape. “Schlecht wandern, dass heisst, als Mensch dabei unverändert bleiben. Ein solcher eben wechselt nur die Gegend, nicht auch sich selber an und mit ihr”. With these words the German philosopher Ernst Bloch summed up the motive for travelling. Apart from personal development a journey is likewise the symbolic representation of the course of world history. For the world changes as well because the individual has passed through it. History and civilisation are shaped by the continuous mutual interpenetration of the individual and the world; of the subjective and the objective. This too will lead to rapprochement : the world no longer remains strange to the traveller and the traveller is eventually no longer a stranger to the world.
Travelling and walking are important aspects of the artistry of Frans van Lent. In search of new ideas he travelled a number of times to the Greek islands and the Canaries. In recent years he made his long walks. Loop (2000) was a journey of three weeks along the Pieterpad. Pulse (2002) was a seven day hike through a volcanic crater on the island of Tenerife. Pas (2003) was a one day hike from sunrise to sunset and Path (2003) was a walk of twelve days through the North of England.
In an explanatory note about his first walk Van Lent wrote “The idea for the walk arose from the need to concentrate. Not, as in earlier journeys, with the intention of making plans for future work, but to bring my mind to bear upon the thoughts, ideas and reflections which occurred to me there and then.” Just the same this concentration on the here and now which is reflected in photographs, films, sounds and written meditations that he publishes directly onto the Internet, doesn’t prevent Van Lent from encountering the universal themes of the walk. During the walk Van Lent experiences the problematic relationship of the individual with reality.
Illustrative of his awareness of this is a sketch in his diary dated 27th April 2003. He has drawn a walking figure with a rucksack. The head of the figure is in the clouds and his feet are on the ground. Van Lent has written “Headpath” and “Footpath” beside this little drawing in order to indicate the difference he senses between the simple motor movement of walking and the internal flow of thought. This relationship emerges again and again in various forms in his account of his travels. Just as he feels the physical automatism of walking becoming free from the stream of thought, he is at the same time conscious of the separation of the person who observes and the concrete material qualities of nature.
In Pulse he has made photographic records of the volcanic landscape in which his own presence dominates. He photographs the rocky formations but shows the way that he holds the stones himself. There is a photograph of a stone that he has put on his head. Van Lent has made a film of the mist drifting past him as he stands in the landscape. He has photographed the ground but more importantly his own shadow falling on the ground. He has filmed the earth as he walks and you hear his footsteps and breathing. You see the air and the mountains in the distance with a part of his head in the foreground. “Much of the work here can be described as an attempt to make myself a part of the landscape,” Van Lent notes in his diary. Is my head a thing like that stone lying on top of it, he seems to be wondering. Is my shadow a part of me or a part of the landscape.
In Path Van Lent’s presence is less dominant. He disappears into the views and panoramas that he has recorded. In this walk he is above all concerned with the subtle play of observation and reality. Inspired by the history of the landscape in which he follows the route of Hadrian’s wall, built by the Romans straight through Northern England, he is on the look out for traces , signs and structures in the land. What is a footpath, he wonders. “You look for some form of organised design in the chaos. Shadows lying within one another’s length, clumps of grass trampled down in the same direction. “You interpret the image from your own preconceptions are convinced you are right yet you are actually completely wrong.” The path is a notional yet at times real line that is continually interrupted. “The wall too is continually interrupted line. The difference is that the essence of this line isn’t dependent on the interpretation of the walker, it has been an undoubted physical reality for thousands of years,” he writes. All the time there is this observation of reality and the interpretation by the walker of the patterns and structures therein.
The walks are to be regarded as independent works of art. At the same time they have led to a series of works that are derived from them and related to them. Staan (2002) for example, is a video projection in which Van Lent stands in a volcanic landscape while the mist drifts past him. Pictura (2002) is an installation in which two feet are projected onto a sand relief modelled in the form of the feet. Walk (2002) is a variant of this, with a moving foot that, as it descends, comes down right onto a sand relief. In these works the themes around walking remain in force. Van Lent plays a game with observation and reality through which the viewer feels the distance between what he thinks he sees and what is really there. Does the foot really leave a print in the heap of sand. Van Lent deliberately builds in a turning point between reality and illusion through which the image of the foot disappears as soon as anyone enters the darkened projection room.
In Muur (2004) his most recent work the themes around walking come together again. Muur is a video with alternating stationary and moving images. During the moving images you hear the thunderous noise of the wind. The imposing wall begins to shake because Van Lent, impeded by the wind, couldn’t hold the camera still during the recording. Arising from this shaking of the image the wall suddenly loses its forbidding presence, its objective character of heavy physical reality and becomes an unstable structure dependent on subjective observation. Reality and observation, object and subject are alternately driven apart and then brought together again. Muur includes the whole project of the walks in a concentrated form.
Gerrit Willems, 2004