Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cause & Effect

by Drew Martin

Yesterday morning I woke up at 3:30 (an hour earlier than usual on weekdays) and did 700 sit ups, then lifted some light weights. At 4:00 a.m. I hit the road running. I had one run to, and across, the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan from my house 15 miles away. I also wanted to do it at a pace of six minute miles, which is a decent trot for me and which translates as running 10 miles per hour for 90 minutes.

It is hard not to have that length of time on one's mind during this current obsession with the World Cup: every soccer game is at least 90 minutes and many of the players run for a good portion of the game; granted, they also have plenty of time to rest including a half time. So part of yesterday morning's run was simply a test: run as fast as you can for 90 minutes...and forget about a ball, yellow and red cards, stadia of fans and beer advertisements...just run.

Most people would refer to such a dash as merely an athletic exercise but I make no distinction between what I do along the road and what someone else does in a gallery or museum. Because I typically run so early, I especially like how few people are out and what that means for more individual exchanges.

It is interesting how athletes, who are particularly good at their game, are called artists. What is hinted at in such a reference is a craft beyond pure athleticism and sheer skill. The pain and suffering of endurance sports is often central to a performance artist such as Chris Burden with works that included Shoot (1971) where he was shot in the arm and Trans-fixed (1974, right) where he was crucified to the top of a Volkswagen Beetle. Pain and suffering is joined at the hip to tolerance and patience, which we also find in the work of Marina Abramović.

Aside from these more obvious parallels is a deeper conceptual art in which I find my runs and rides more akin to earthworks such as Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty (1970), Walter De Maria's Three Cirlces and Two Lines in the Desert (1969) and especially Christo and Jeanne-Claude's Running Fence (1976, below). It is not as simple as saying that I want to consider everything I do as an act of art, but I certainly do try to approach something as elementary as a run with thoughts of the line I am drawing with my movements and what someone is experiencing and thinking when I cross his or her path.

The route I ran yesterday is a familiar bike commuter route to several other men in my community who take up the laboring trek to work of the 50+ round trip miles. One of the riders was tuned in to what I was doing and sent me a link to my route, which is the top, introductory graphic.

What happened yesterday was also pure minimalism: stripping myself of all the equipment and wheels that I relied on for so long. The most profound part is that I was still able to cover the same distance in twice the amount of time as a disciplined pace line of men on racing bicycles.

My commuting by bike was quite an accomplishment: I rode in and out of the city every working day for six months, rain or shine, in 90 degrees weather as well as 17 degrees. When the guys made comments about my performance as a cyclist, I always responded that it was performance art. On a conceptual level it was for me. In six months I covered 6,000 miles, roughly the distance of riding out to California and back. Instead of thinking of the distance I covered, strictly in the seemingly endless loop I was actually doing, I drew it out in my mind and stitched them together as a round trip, transcontinental ride.

I like how walking, running and cycling are abstract and how many related human-performance events take advantage of that. Several years ago, when I was really training, I took first place in a 10K Run for Hunger. Now you can walk, run, ride for Breast Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis and a long list of other causes. I find that link quite encouraging; that humans can take something as simple as walking and use it to raise awareness and money for a good cause.