Book review: The art and politics of walking in New South Wales

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The title of Molly Wagner‘s book is a mouthful: No Trespassing: The art and politics of walking in New South Wales. The oblong tome is a good looking, glossy publication, documenting Molly’s self-discovery of her as a walking artist.
American, but having moved to Australia in 1988, the book covers 11 walks, completing a journey between Sydney and Bathurst, in New South Wales, in Australia, which she made between June 2017 and October 2019.

No Trespassing is really a coffee table book. Who still buys coffee table books these days? Let alone one by a walking artist, a niche art form not familiar to much of the general public. So, just getting the book in print is an achievement, also as, perhaps, more typically, Molly’s work would be captured in a long-running blog, or perhaps her Instagram profile.
But, her persistence and dedication have paid off; moving through the pages documenting Molly’s experiences in text and image is a pleasure on several levels.

In part, Molly was inspired by the journey of an Aboriginal man, Windradyne, who walked from Bathurst to Parramatta, with his people, in 1824. A walk which ended Martial Law in Wiradjuri Country, putting an end to the lawful and deliberate killing of Aboriginal people by the state. 

One has to wonder, Molly being an immagrant to Australia from the US, whether her interests in the institutional abuse of Aboriginals by the Australian state derives from the too-often ignored and neglected, but similar, abuse of the black and Native American population in the United States.
Presumably, being something of an outsider in her adopted homeland Australia, it’s easier to take up the position of more detached observer to the racist abuse and injustice, perpetrated by the state.

Molly’s account of her walks starts with explicitly quoting Debord on the definition of the dérive. And the rest of the book, her experiences, quotes, and stories, are exactly that; a collection of individual mental, and physical, meanders, inspired by place and history.
Molly’s thoughts and musings are easily accessible, and heavily illustrated with images taken on her wanderings, supplying the reader with a sense of being there with her, like looking over her shoulder, listening to her thoughts, as she moves from place to place, and back.

Molly‘s photos are perhaps not quite a stunning depiction of peri-urban Australia; Australian suburbia might just not be very photogenic to the casual stroller. But, Molly’s eye for composition and subject mean that the mix of musings and visualisation make for an insightful, if also, in a way, harsh, kind of immersion.

On a few occasions, Molly’s derives pay off with her insights, seemingly almost stumbled upon in a very psychogeographic manner; “it is my belief that we continue to violate our surroundings because we constantly shelter ourselves from the damage we create with our cars, rubbish, and noise”.

An interesting undercurrent in the progress of the narration of the book is that Molly slowly comes to terms with understanding herself as a walking artist. What does it mean to be a walking artist? What is it that a walking artist actually does? Does one need to earn the right to call oneself such?
By the end of the book, Molly believes she has earned her spurs as a walking artist. Though I’m not quite sure this is either relevant or necessary. After all, a rose by any other name…
She closes with, what I believe is, a more profound insight that underscores the latter: “A walk is your personal, creative act of Walking Art.” As proven by Molly’s own experiences, ‘walking art’, or, being a ‘walking artist’, is something inherently personal. No external validation necessary.

You can read more on Molly’s book, No Trespassing: The art and politics of walking in New South Wales, in our Books section. You can order it from her website.

On Tuesday, November 29, 2022, Molly will be the guest in our next walk · listen · cafe. Listen to her speak and ask questions on her process and experience.

Babak Fakhamzadeh

Founder SWS Online Jury 2022 SWS Online Jury 2023

Babak was working in ICT4D before it had a name (2001), never really left it, and knows how to throw together a pretty mean combination of a wide array of programming languages, both frontend and backend. He brought photomarathons to Africa (2007) and won ...

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