James Trainor

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Walking the Walk: The Artist as Flâneur

Walking the Walk: The Artist as Flâneur

In one city a man leaves his house in the morning and aimlessly roams the streets of a working-class district, dragging behind him what looks like a homemade toy dog on wheels.

Border Crossings, Issue 88, November 2003

In one city a man leaves his house in the morning and aimlessly roams the streets of a working-class district, dragging behind him what looks like a homemade toy dog on wheels. The clattering pooch is made of magnetized metal, however, and as the man makes his way through the chaotic and dirty streets, he slowly begins to collect the cast-off metallic flotsam of the city through which he passes. In another city, a second man appears in a public square. He is impeccably attired and cuts a dashing figure. He too is accompanied by a small pet on a leash, in this case a live lobster. The man graciously adjusts his pace to that of his crustaceous companion, his stroll through the formal walkways slowed to near-glacial immobility. The eccentric perambulations of the two men, one in Mexico City, and the other in Paris, appear, at the telling, to be somehow coordinated, but are in fact separated not only by geography but by an irreconcilable gulf in time as well. The first, the Belgian-born artist Francis Alÿs, began his street-sweeping walk in Mexico City in 1991. The second, the romantic poet Gérard de Nerval, had a bit of a lead, performing his head-turning promenades through the open-air arcades of Paris's Palais Royal in the 1840s, a full 150 years earlier.

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