British Artist Talks About Walking, Mapping the Sixth Ring Road for Psychogeographic Project
Fewer things could seem worse to most Beijingers than spending more time than necessary on one of the city's ring roads. But one of the capital's newest residents is taking that nightmare scenario to the next level – he's walking around the entire Sixth Ring Road, and mapping out the route.
While we may balk at that prospect, Gareth Wood lives for it. Better known by his art alias Fuller (which he uses to showcase his work around the world) and hailing from London, Wood recently arriving in Beijing on a two year artist residency, Wood doesn't paint portraits or sculpt but instead creates illustrated maps that are meant to capture a city's personality and geography. The form is called psychogeography, and before his current Beijing project, Wood drew his hometown, the resulting "London Town," using the same method. It looks like a cartographer's acid trip, with sprawling, billowy black and white iconography spilling out all over the British metropolis' landmarks, and was striking enough to be acquired by The British Library and Museum of London for their permanent collections. How Wood interprets Beijing as he traverses the city by foot has yet to be seen but to watch it slowly unfurl will likely give a glimpse of a world on the periphery, and one few of us rarely see. Below he tells us about getting the project off to a start.
What's the most inspiring thing you've seen so far during the first few days of your Beijing walk?
The walk is an inspirational overload, but in particular the colossal size of the factories are making me appreciate the size of industry. Although many outlets here won't be manufacturing for global markets, their continuous presence up close helps you understand the size of consumer markets. Every night hundreds of small vans can be seen dropping factory workers home. They each look shattered.
How did you decide to come to Beijing? Why not another city?
I had a brief romance with Beijing in 2014 and promised my self I'd come back and ignite the flame again. Back then my good friend was studying International Relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and we decided to cycle around the Great Wall. After five days of mountain riding we headed into the heart of Beijing to explore. It blew my mind and I started to fall for the city – like a teenage crush. China's capital is booming. Its rich cultural heritage and super modern development offers up a melting pot of ideas for my art. It's important for me that my series of works follow a narrative behind the scenes, and Beijing came to me as much as I came here.
Tell us about your last project, the "London Town" psychogeographic, what you enjoyed most about doing it and what kind of reception it got.
"London Town" is my largest art work to date. It was created over a 10-year period, I dipped and in out of drawing the work. It contains a unique social commentary for the city. Just like I'm doing here in Beijing, I explored much of London by foot and cycling. I was delighted to have prints of "London Town" acquired by The British Library and Museum of London for their permanent collections. People instantly relate to the piece and enjoy creating their own stories or sharing memories they've had in city.
How did you get involved with psychogeographic maps and why do you find them fulfilling?
I've always been an explorer and as a contemporary artist. I borrow certain rules from cartography to create the works. Instead of drawing with any intended accuracy, I'm mostly depicting the feeling of a place and its culture. The works contain many emotions that one relates to the environment they live in or pass through. I specifically find fulfillment in creating map art as it becomes a documentary style story that everyone can access and hopefully appreciate.
How are you making this Beijing walk work logistically?
I did very little planning for the Sixth Ring Road walk. It's still quite dense out here with plenty of supplies readily available, and the local people are very helpful. The day I left I told a friend I had my flip flops and a bunch of bananas. That was close to the truth! My phone has been my navigation tool, especially for finding hotels. En route I'm really looking for what life is like this far out and what lies beyond the throb of central Beijing. I'm keeping my eye out for landmarks or interesting things as I walk along. If I'm very honest, as someone who is so new to China, everything is blowing my senses, so having an itinerary seems fairly pointless. I feel like I've gone back to nursery school.
Fascinating stuff. Anything else you'd like to add?
I've done up an overview of what I'm working on here in Beijing:
This walking exploration, playfully titled #walkinprogress by my friend Martin, is an art research project. The objective is to circum navigate Beijing using the Sixth Ring road as a marker to explore the outer regions of the city. Following paths, tracks and road that run close to the express way and dipping into near by towns, to understand and determine the gigantic scale of this world mega city and it's forever changing geography. The project was hatched from a feeling of nessessity. Along the way particular attention will be paid to the communities, development, transport, industry and curiosities. Walking deep into the night will offer a glimpse of a city that certainly never sleeps. It's an education.
You can see Wood's London Town project here. You can follow his journey in his WeChat group at the QR code below.
Photos: Gareth Wood