Moving through gravity & desire: subverting the practice of walking
In a new book from the Whitechapel Gallery and MIT Press, the topic of walking in contemporary art is considered through a variety of texts edited by Tom Jeffreys. Jordan Whitewood-Neal attended the launch event & read the book, with the subjects discussed leading to thoughts on the politics & implications of walking, moving & rolling through territories.

On an extremely cold Tuesday in January 2020, I was in the low heathland of the Ashdown Forest. The ground was frozen, rigid, and boggy, and to move was both to pound and sink deeper. I remember this experience distinctly because not only did I cross this heath in my wheelchair, but I got stuck, and in doing so felt a proximity and an affinity with an otherwise foreign ground.

Sitting in a small theatre space in the Whitechapel Gallery at the launch of their new publication Walking, edited by Tom Jeffreys, this memory of the Ashdown Forest re-emerged in response to a screening of Jade Montserrat’s Peat. A short film in which she moves, stamps, jumps, and sifts through a peatbog as a sonic, textural performance rooted in land, for Montserrat the performances in Peat “were acts of remembrance generated by the landscape and inherently, passively by personal histories.” In parallel with Charlotte Bronte’s Heathcliff, Montserrat speaks of the work as being “dropped into an ancient landscape,” and in her analysis of the film in the book, Sarah Jane Cervenak argues that Peat animates histories of anti-blackness, ecological yearnings, and illuminates the engrained entanglements between racial and spatial histories in idyllic framings of the British countryside.

I begin with this work not because its sat at the centre of the conversation chaired by Jeffreys, but because it speaks to my primary takeaway from this book, the construction of memory. As essayist Garnette Cadogan has said: “To walk is to form memories. It’s a deeply memorial act of leaving marks of yourself in a place, and also of opening yourself up to having a place leave its marks on you.”[1]


After the talk, James Zatka-Haas and I sat in the Whitechapel Gallery cafe and discussed walking as it relates to disability, the necessitation of movement as avoidance of the disabling gaze, as avoiding harassment and accosting, as a privilege, as a form of liberation, as a form of oppression, walking that is enforced, and walking not as a desire to move but as a result of the social and spatial characteristics of the city. Movement through is multitudinal in its ethical, social, and psychological implications. It can mean to pass by, to extract from and move on.

Walking on even more so, a distinction established in Cherise Smith’s extract in the book, discussing the photographic work of Moneta Sleet Jr. and The Selma March in Alabama led by Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King in 1965. For Smith, Sleets photograph supported by the heading 50,000 march on Montgomery was a militant proclamation, a shifting or disrupting of power – to march on reworked ground, land, the state, and its geographically defined politics.


In Tanya Barson’s text she states that walking “is more than merely a means of traversing space; it is also a cultural act, an aesthetic gesture, a means of protest and a source of knowledge, and therefore of power or dominion.” In addition, it can also be non-spatial, where presence, physical movement, changing geographies is replaced by memory work, of being equally in and apart from the site of the walk itself. Memories can be enacted by images such as that of Sleets, and of videos like Montserrat’s that evoked my own memories of a vastly different kind of experience to what the work built off.

They can also be induced in other ways. Prior to the afternoon discussion, Sop – an artist whose practice works across crip-time using sound, performance, writing, film, and objects, and often in collaboration with others who have also experienced chronic illness – led a walk/shop in which participants were invited to enter into “a liminal state in which to take a walk through a landscape from their own memory or from their own dreams.” This use of memory to reclaim, relive, and revitalise experiences not only speaks to disabled ways of doing, but challenges the lineage of walking practices that Jeffreys editorial practice actively seeks to subvert.

In Carl Lavery’s text Walking and Ruination, he speaks to the concept of memory by comparing the walk with other forms of documentation or attempts to capture an action and a past:

“Whereas the archive, in its most normative form, seeks to control the past by fixing it in a prosthetic of sorts (a tablet, page, floppy disk, or electronic cloud), walking, when conceived as an act of necessary negation, reduces the past to ashes, to cinders. So that while the trace of my footprint might remain, my other foot is always rising into the air, willing to move on, to become something different, something new.”


If walking is related to or facilitates thinking or a willingness to move forward – and there are many writings and practices that evidence this – what thought is created through necessitated movement? When movement is enforced rather than through choice, does this also enforce thought? And if so, of what kind? If to walk or move in space or mind is to be considered a form of liberation, to what extent must we also consider it to be a consequence of other forces, and how does the liberatory idea coincide with movement as labour, as consequence of capitalist practices? Then, how does this sit in tension with movement as displacement, the act of walking, running, or crawling away from violence?

Many of the works and projects in this anthology address themes of colonialism, extraction, surveillance, and ableism, all practices that directly and indirectly challenge violence and oppression. What ties these practices together in a strange way through this book is a distinct lack of imagery – these practices as stories, protests, meanders, and of getting lost are told and described, recalled, revisited rather than shown. Is it because to capture such ideas in still form somehow freezes or negates the action the image is trying to convey?

Walking is in someways distinguished by its negation of its opposite, standing still. Even in our minds, to wander is to stop the mind from sitting idle. In the book’s extract of The Black Beach, Édouard Glissant’s essay on the frictions, movements, memories, and rhythms of the world, the author ends by stating that “we are not going any faster, we are all hurtling onward for fear of falling.” But is falling itself not just another form of moving forwards, only one of gravity and not desire?

[1] From Walker in the City, by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro on Pioneer Works, available at:


Walking surveys the proliferation of pedestrian practices across contemporary art, taking an avowedly political stance on where and how the three practices of art, walking and writing intersect.

Across the world, walking is a vital way to assert one's presence in public space and discourse. Walking maps the terrain of contemporary walking practices, foregrounding work by Black artists, Indigenous artists and artists of colour, working-class artists, LGBTQI+ artists, disabled artists and neurodiverse artists, as well as many more who are frequently denied the right to take their places in public space, not only in the street or the countryside but also in art discourse. This anthology contends that, as a relational practice, walking inevitably touches upon questions of access, public space, land ownership and use. Walking is therefore always a political act.

Artists surveyed include:
Stanley Brouwn, Laura Grace Ford, Regina Jose Galindo, Emily Hesse, Tehching Hsieh, Kongo Astronauts, Myriam Lefkowitz, Sharon Kivland, Andre Komatsu, Steve McQueen, Jade Montserrat, Sara Morawetz, Paulo Nazareth, Carmen Papalia, Ingrid Pollard, Issa Samb, Sop, Iman Tajik, Tentative Collective, Anna Zvyagintseva.

Writers include:
Jason Allen-Paisant, Tanya Barson, André Brasil, Amanda Cachia, Sarah Jane Cervenak, Annie Dillard, Jacques Derrida, Dwayne Donald, Darby English, Édouard Glissant, Steve Graby, Antje von Graevenitz, Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, Elise Misao Hunchuck, Kathleen Jamie, Carl Lavery, JeeYeun Lee, Michael Marder, Gabriella Nugent, Isobel Parker Philip, Rebecca Solnit.

Tom Jeffreys is a writer based in Edinburgh. His work has appeared in ArtReview, e-flux, Frieze, The Guardian, New Scientist and many others. His books include: To an island in a loch on an island in a loch, with Kirsty Badenoch (2023); The White Birch: A Russian Reflection (2021) and Signal Failure: London to Birmingham, HS2 on foot (2017).

Jordan Whitewood-Neal is a disabled designer, educator, & architectural researcher at University of Brighton, exploring disability, pedagogy, & the rhetoric of domesticity at the Architectural Association. He has presented his research at several conferences & universities including the London Festival of Architecture, Glasgow School of Art & Köln School of Design. He is a Young Trustee of the Architecture Foundation, Teaching Development Fellow at the London School of Architecture, & co-founder of disability collective DIS/


Walking is the latest in the Whitechapel Gallery’s Documents of Contemporary Art series, edited by Tom Jeffreys & published by MIT Press.  

Further details are available from the Whitechapel Gallery at:

Details are also available on the publisher’s website at:


fig.i A mark left in the Ashdown Forest, Photograph © Jordan Whitewood-Neal.
fig.ii “Rosa Parks, Dr. and Mrs. Abernathy, Dr. Ralph Bunche, and Dr. and Mrs. Martin Luther King, Jr. leading marchers into Montgomery” in the collection of the Saint Louis Art Museum. Gift of the Johnson Publishing Company. © Johnson Publishing Co., Inc. Available at:
fig.iii,iv Walking, edited by Tom Jeffreys & published by MIT Press.
fig.ii Sed consequat ante eget magna rhoncus ultricies laoreet sit amet odio. © Lorem Ipsum

publication date
27 March 2024

Ashdown Forest, Tanya Barson, Garnette Cadogan, Sarah Jane Cervenak, Countryside, Disability, Falling, Édouard Glissant, Tom Jeffreys, Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King, Landscape, Carl Lavery, Movement, Peat, Memory, MIT Press, Jade Montserrat, Selma March, Moneta Sleet Jr, Sop, Walking, Wheelchair, Whitechapel Gallery, Jordan Whitewood-Neal, James Zatka-Haas