Gabriella Grill and Krystal Ramirez
Photographs, field recordings, collected objects, text
"The rhythm of walking generates a kind of rhythm of thinking, and the passage through a landscape echoes or stimulates the passage through a series of thoughts. This creates an odd consonance between internal and external passage, one that suggests that the mind is also a landscape of sorts and that walking is one way to traverse it. A new thought often seems like a feature of the landscape that was there all along, as though thinking were traveling rather than making. And so one aspect of the history of walking is the history of thinking made concrete — for the motions of the mind cannot be traced, but those of the feet can."
-Rebecca Solnit in Wanderlust
When we were graduate students in the winter of 2022, Gail Wight taught a class to the MFA students in which we participated in an exhibition at Patricia Sweetow Gallery, taking on the topic of
climate change. Krystal Ramirez, my friend and peer in the Art Practice program, had also been working in sculpture, using similar materials to me. We instantly saw this exhibition as an opportunity to collaborate and learn from each other’s techniques and discoveries in the studio. However, as we were discussing ideas for a collaborative sculpture about climate change, our conversation evolved into one about the guilt we both sometimes feel working with raw materials.
As artists who work primarily in sculpture, we create things – stuff that exist in the world, perhaps for a finite period of time, oftentimes with the intention that these things will be saved, preserved for the unforeseeable future. Material practice produces waste: scraps and discards. Reflecting on each of our personal material practices, we wanted to create something using little to no materials, creating little to no waste.
Krystal and I collaborated on a journey: 36.7 miles,from the Stanford MFA Art Practice studios in Palo Alto to Patricia Sweetow Gallery in San Francisco.
Considering our walk a sort of small pilgrimage from studio to gallery, we initially anticipated the journey to be a contemplation on production and our personal relationships to making. Even beyond the physical materials we might generally consume to produce an art object, the journey to take art from the studio to the gallery depends on the consumption of fossil fuels. While this may be a small part of the carbon footprint to make physical art, we realized we could not truly minimize our impact while depending on the car for the purpose of a show on climate change.
For our walk to the gallery, we chose to take the route of El Camino Real for as much of the trip as possible. The road spans 600 miles and connects the 21 Spanish missions in California that were built in the late 18th century. Historically, the road was used by Spanish conquistadors led by Junípero Serra to evangelize the indinenous peoples, while forcing them into settlements, spreading European disease and inflicting violent acts of genocide on indigenous populations.
El Camino Real has functioned as a road to climate disaster. Prior to the colonization of the American Northwest, indigenous peoples had controlled burns to manage natural resources. These fires cleared the forest’s understory and promoted the growth of edible plants. Spanish colonizers disregarded these practices and furthermore, criminalized intentional burns.
The violent history that took place along El Camino Real – and in general, the colonization of the American Northwest – has upheld capitalist values of consumption and production. It has also created an incredibly volatile landscape that is susceptible to massive destruction in the changing climate as droughts and high temperatures further dry the land and air. On our walk, we recognized the dark history of the road and the cataclysmic destruction to which the road has led.
In preparation for the 36.7 mile walk to San Francisco, we were met with so many warnings. People told us to go to the doctor, to have meetings with our friend who happens to be an ultra-marathon runner. As women, we considered our safety embarking on a long tiring journey. We located our pepper spray. We started training, reevaluating our shoes, the ergonomics of our backpacks... The act of walking a long distance had become foreign to us, obstructed by dependence on technology and mined energy. And yet, it is what our bodies were built to do.
Having lived in the Bay Area for 2-3 years, we had both experienced the area from car and train, but not by foot. In her book Wanderlust, Rebecca Solnit ponders: “I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought or thoughtfulness.”
Walking along a short section of El Camino Real, we carried banners (made entirely from scrap and discarded textiles) advertising the website 3mph.site
, which redirected users to our instagram page. We purchased this domain to upload photographs and videos as we walked between the cars and businesses located along the way. In addition to the photos we were consciously taking to document the trip, we wore go-pro’s on our chests, pre-set to take a photo every 60 seconds. We also collected garbage along the way, which we displayed in the gallery alongside a timelapse of our walk.