A few years ago I wrote a brief manifesto defending the value of processes of following:
A MANIFESTO OF FOLLOWING
What are the implications of following? Where does following lead?
Instead of trying at every instant to do something new.
Instead of commenting wryly on the past.
Instead of feeling stuck.
Instead of lamenting the disappearance of the future.
Instead of attending to a restrictive past.
Instead of strictly following.
Instead of deliberately going astray.
Instead of imagining that following is a simple process.
Instead of imagining that following is especially hard.
We follow. We follow following. We follow following wherever it leads.
I wrote this partly in terms of a creek walking project. A small group of us were walking up local creeks. We were following watercourses from the sea inland as far as we could manage, encountering various barriers along the way – weeds, roads, fences, drains, etc. Within this context the notion of following was linked to the affordances of urban and suburban creeks – their intermittent capacity to be walked, but I was also referring more generally to the creative potential of following.
Following involves repetition. It involves adhering to the contours of an existing line or path. It does not initiate something ex nihilo, but takes up with the existent – in this case not with a sense of irony, but with an attitude of humility and curiosity. The humility is nothing self-negating. It simply attends to what is before it without any feeling of regret – without any sense that something is missing.
Following adheres – lightly, not absolutely – to existing lines. It waywardly follows them, that it is to say its following also creates a line – one that no matter how one tries is never exactly identical to the line followed. In this sense, following includes the necessity of passing (not deliberately heading) astray.
My overall point: to trace the place of the non-original within the aesthetic, to recognise it as source of movement and inspiration.
Now to become literal again, I envisage a walking project that sets out to follow every trail in a small section of local bush. I live in the city of Wollongong, which runs in a long line between the sea and a steeply rising sandstone escarpment. The lower flanks of the escarpment are a dense mix of temperate rainforest, drier sclerophyll forest and patches of indeterminate weediness (mainly lantana). Hardly iconic mountain landscape, but the escarpment runs to over 1000 feet in places and counts as a mountain space for we beach-hugging locals. What would this involve? How would I set about doing it? What is a trail and how can it be recognised and determined? Beyond this, how can this experience of trail discovery and walking be documented? How can it be represented? Does it take shape as a work, or only as the vestiges of a work?
And this represents a different relation to the mountain environment – here regarded not as an alien, sublime space, but as something already well discovered, as something thoroughly traversed from the outset.