To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, filmmakers, designers, and performers to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2019.
Jon-Kyle Mohr is a designer, programmer, and musician from Los Angeles. Part of the team behind the personal publishing platform Cargo, he’s the creator of Hardly Everything, a tool that creates personalized feeds, and the app Kawara. He’s lectured at events for Peer-to-Peer Web Los Angeles.
Assembling a comprehensive list is an impossible task. So many people, so much good work. The Walker would need to update this page with infinite scrolling. Instead, here is a small list of personal experiences over the year. With this also being the conclusion to the decade, it’s centered on time.
WALKING THE PACIFIC CREST TRAIL
I’m part of the first generation who grew truly up online, constantly connected. Disconnecting for more than a few days is almost lobotomy, severing synaptic pathways dependent upon a constant ability to Google this or that. So I decided to go for a walk—one spanning four months across a continuous 2,650 mile line following the Pacific Crest Trail. Beginning at the border of Mexico, traversing the western United States by way of three major mountain ranges, five national monuments, five state parks, six national parks, 25 national forests, 48 wilderness areas, and ending at the border of Canada. Undoubtably the defining event of my year.
Instead of disconnecting, I found myself equally connected. You can only go so many days contemplating the path a Cliff bar traced to get into your hands before any romanticized notion of nature within the Anthropocene fades. Although I wasn’t staring at the flat surface of a screen I was just as dependent upon all the infrastructure. Only the interface had changed. Less finger-taps a screen, more footsteps on the ground.
As time passed, and the durational quality of the walk set in, thinking about time filled the days. That is to say: endless time to think about time. The time passed walking. The time left to walk. The repetition and cadence of the days. It’s difficult not to compulsively dwell on geological time while trying to fall asleep again on granite uplifted thousands of feet into sheer air, folded end over end over millions of years. Your sense of scale drastically shifts.
Another mental motif was that of looking at a continuous line—a single form—for months on end. The trail perceived through a sculptural lens immediately evokes the work of Richard Long. Specifically A Line Made by Walking (1967). “My intention was to make a new art which was also a new way of walking: walking as art.” My steps, and the steps of everyone else on trail, became some monumental and accidental continuation of Long’s gesture.
In 2020 I highly recommend everyone go for a walk. Perhaps not as exhaustive, but when reaching the rational point at which you consider stopping, continue instead for a while longer.
(An end-of-year-list for the time on the PCT would feature running water, dry shoes, and peanut butter.)
Shortly after arriving back in Los Angeles from the PCT I caught the premier of two new films by James Benning at Redcat. His work is durational, framing landscape as a function of time, asking the viewer to sharpen their perceptual faculties through the practice of “Listening and Seeing.”
The first of the films, L.COHEN (45 minutes, 2017), observes an unremarkable field, but in the distance looms the snow-speckled peak of Mount Jefferson. It was almost immediately recognizable. I had spent hours staring at the dramatic prominence while walking across the proceeding flatness, of which the PCT in Oregon is largely composed.
For me, James’ work hits on something profoundly visceral. The depth of the landscape is flattened, now two dimensions, and projected on a surface. It’s a lossy pictorial compression, but the time captured in the work passes at the same rate as time spent watching for the viewer. Emphasizing time in this way asks the viewer to see differently. It can be a little uncomfortable, as you notice time passing, or seemingly standing still depending upon your disposition. In a culture of images like our own, cultivating a better sensitivity to time feels like a worthwhile aspiration for the next year.
In appreciation of the unbounded patience my girlfriend showed supporting my months of walking we organized a trip to Japan. One catalyst was the Setouchi Triennale, underway throughout 2019. The program is centered in the Seto Sea, scattered on several small islands.
After riding out a typhoon in Tokyo we made our way to the port of Takamatsu to board a ferry to Naoshima, the hub of our visit. Traversing the island we opted for electrically assisted bicycles. By the end of the second day we had seen most of what the island offers, or at least what was contained within museums.
Everything “Art with a capital A” is relegated to the east side of the island, and there are no landmarks depicted beyond the port on the provided map. Looking at my own mapping app I could see single road leading beyond that to the far side of the island. We hopped on our bikes.
After slogging up a climb, doubtlessly made easier with the electric motor, but still an effort, we began descending to the far side against an increasingly steady stream of uniformed workers walking the road.
The landscape rapidly gradated from foliage to intricate networks of pipes and runoff drainages. Instead of arriving at the northern beach our progress was inhibited by a large gate and private security for Mitsubishi Process. It’s the world’s largest processor of “E-Scrap”—components from discarded consumer electronics—annually refining 110,000 tons of gold, silver, copper, palladium, and other valuable metal. It felt very cohesive. The iPhones used to capture images of Walter De Maria’s polished granite sphere (Time/Timeless/No Time, 2004) on the other side of the island will ultimately arrive here, returning to discrete elemental form. Just another strange morphological process.
Four months of continuous walking through landscape changes your relation to it, and your understanding of position within it. The contrasting land use on Naoshima encapsulated so much. It was also nice to see 60 Minute Walk by Richard Long at the Benesse.
RITME JAAVDANEGI, MOHAMMAD REZA MORTAZAVI
Often when describing time I fall back to metaphors rooted in music and percussion. While on the PCT I didn’t put my headphones in for the first 500 miles—around a month. The only sounds were environmental. The gravel crunching beneath my feet became a drone—a continuous sound all day, every day. During one particularly grueling climb in Northern California I needed some assistance and decided on Drumming by Steve Reich. My footsteps became part of the repeated polyrhythmic phrase, one measure of 12/8 long. The extended absence of music made the physiological effects of consistent auditory cadence totally shocking. In retrospect the climb felt to have finished before beginning.
Mohammad Reza Mortazavi’s release on Latency Records succinctly imbues these same qualities, and was a favorite this year. Ritme Jaavdanegi weaves in and out of 11/8, a metre which sounds to be continually catching up with itself. The track Riding Time stands out specifically with the extreme amount of compression exaggerating the ambient sounds of the room between strikes of the tombak. Whatever the equivalent of tasty is for hearing, this is that; immediate sonic satisfaction.