Making strides: How ASU’s Museum of Walking creates art through movement

Associate art professor Angela Ellsworth brings her interest in contemplative walks to campus

Every day thousands of students rush from one end of campus to the other — whether on foot, skateboard or bicycle. They bump into and swerve around one another, many plugged in and listening to music or scrolling through Instagram while they move. It’s easy to fall into the motions and spend the lengthy commute preoccupied with a hundred distractions.

What if everyone took a moment to pause, set down their phones and pay attention to the simple act of walking?

Associate art professor Angela Ellsworth established the Museum of Walking at ASU to explore that question and more.

“We’re living in a time where everything is so fast,” she said. “We’re pulled in different directions from our phones, computers and all these devices that are constantly pulling and throwing things at us. Our environment is doing that too. So I feel that more than ever, (it’s important) to return and pay attention to our bodies and slow down.”

Ellsworth co-founded the Museum of Walking in the spring of 2014 with intermedia student Steven J. Yazzie as a way of combining their backgrounds in the arts with their interest in movement and contemplative walking. Yazzie graduated from ASU in 2014 and went on to focus on digital video projects, so Ellsworth has since taken over responsibilities as the museum's director. 

Museum of Walking, Notes For Friends from Digital Preserve on Vimeo.

Stepping forward

Ellsworth’s interest in walking sparked when she was in elementary school in Salt Lake City, Utah. She had to walk to school throughout the year, and she said that was the first time she felt an awareness of how the seasons changed the way she perceived and interacted with the environment. Many years later, as a student, artist and teacher in Florence, Italy, she spent six years relying on walking as her main form of transportation through the city.

“Walking became a part of my rhythm, of my thinking,” she said. “I was mostly, more often than not, walking by myself. Walking alone was a way of thinking about the world and life and my own work.”

She was hired as a tenured professor at ASU in 2005 and has been working with interdisciplinary feminist, conceptual and performance art ever since. The Museum of Walking is one of many projects she's worked on in her time at the University.

The museum itself is incorporated into Ellsworth’s 120-square-foot office, but most of its events are held outside the museum’s walls. She and a collection of guest artists host contemplative nature walks, workshops, exhibitions and more.

projectWALK

The museum's biggest event is yet to come. In spring 2017, the Museum of Walking will host projectWALK, a series of events and exhibitions curated in collaboration with Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary ArtASU Art MuseumHerberger Institute for Design and the Arts, and Phoenix Parks and Recreation, among other campus and community partners.

projectWALK will encompass a variety of projects including artist-in-residence Hannah Barco's installation "Fathomings," which will explore "the myriad ways that scholars find footing in this murky landscape," on display from Feb. 4 - Apr. 15.

In addition, Liz Lerman will be presenting "Minds on the Move: The Treadmill Tapes," a series of conversations between her and members of the ASU community while each participant walks on a treadmill discussing "whatever is most curious, urgent, troublesome and baffling." Those conversations will be held beginning Jan. 19 and ending Apr. 20. Afterward, the recordings will be projected in the gallery.  

A selection of works from the ASU Art Museum will be displayed exploring the social and political context of walking from January through May, titled "Museum of Walking Annex: Selections from the ASU Art Museum Collection." On Apr. 14 there will also be a symposium where philosophers and artists will lead a series of "walk-talks" with participants.

The culminating event of projectWALK is theWALK, a slow-paced, 3-mile walk through the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area on Mar. 18. Organizers are planning for 1,000 attendees to move together in groups of 20 people for the 90-minute walk exploring the public space. Tickets will be $15 for students.

The importance of walking

Ron Broglio is an associate professor of English and a member of the Museum of Walking advisory board. He is currently working to prepare for the projectWALK symposium in April.

He said he appreciates how Ellsworth's work intersects with his own focus: aesthetics and the way people move through the environment.

"What Angela has been able to do is bring forward a very rich history of artists walking landscapes, and how that highlights a particular relationship between the human body and space," Broglio said. "My work is mainly providing a philosophical lens for the artistic work she does."

Heather Lineberry is the senior curator and associate director of the ASU Art Museum. She said she's looking forward to projectWALK and the ASU Art Museum's collaboration with the Museum of Walking because of its unique take on the concept of movement.

"We’re really looking at something that artists have been working with for a long time, but hasn’t really been talked about very broadly," Lineberry said. "By bringing it to greater recognition and attention, that will help us reflect upon something central to our lives."

For those interested in contemplative walking, the Museum of Walking is hosting a contemplative full-moon walk on Sunday, Nov. 13 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. through Pima Canyon at South Mountain. The moderate 2.8 mile hike under the full moon will be free for attendees, and information is available here.


Reach the reporter at skylar.mason@asu.edu or follow @skylarmason42 on Twitter.

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