7 Walks

A research project by Vermeir & Heiremans and Luke Mason

7 Walks is a cross-disciplinary project by artist duo Vermeir & Heiremans and legal philosopher Luke Mason. The project questions how re-imagining legal concepts can contest the absoluteness of property ownership. The artists and Mason argue that understanding property relations in a more stratified way, is essential to better protect both natural and social commons. Overall this could contribute to more sustainable and equitable practices to govern natural and artistic resources.

7 Walks is a site-specific project. It is strongly anchored in different local situations where the walks take place: the spa towns that sprang up throughout Europe, and their surrounding 'therapeutic' landscapes. The ambition of this research trajectory however is to contextualize local practices of ownership in a broader social, legal and political reading. This will become manifest in the different editions 7 Walks intends to generate in a variety of places and contexts. The different instalments can be distributed in formats such as conferences, publications, exhibitions, performances...

Spa towns are unique physical witnesses to Europe's scientific, social and cultural history. The towns were often considered territories of peace and their tolerance was conducive to diplomatic meetings. They have made an important contribution to the formation and development of the civic fabric that formed the basis for a democratic European society. At the same time, they were exclusive notable locations for international political assemblies, conferences and exhibitions.

7 Walks connects the ecology of the arts with a natural commons: water. The project focuses on water sources as specific case studies and develops 'walking' as a performative methodology. Walking being part of the cure next to drinking water, 7 Walks treads in the footsteps of historical walkers. These past visitors to spa towns are selected on the basis of their often outspoken ideas on ownership. The project is an invitation to a wide audience, and to experts from different disciplines to reenact these historical walks to water sources together. Starting from a specific point in the history of a site, the walks aims to trigger a true 'clashing of minds' on a variety of questions related to ownership.

Walking has an extensive philosophical, literary and artistic history. As a way to physically traverse the property structures that are being discussed, it allows the examination of apparently fixed ideas. Walking generates a sensory experience and creates a new shared space. This radical space of imagination puts artists, experts and participants on an equal footing. As a research method, it generates 'situated knowledge' and makes the public not only a participant but a co-producer. It allows them to generate new ideas – themselves also forms of property – which can then be shared as radical formulations of new ways of owning and living.

After the walks, all dialogues are subsequently collectively discussed, structured and made visible through concept mapping. Concept mapping abstracts conversations. All concepts are negotiated based on a joint oral report of the walk, participants co-creating the maps in a non-hierarchical way. The different maps can link key concepts from different conversations playing out throughout the different 7 Walks editions.

The dialogues that will take place during the walks are recorded with the participants' mobile phones. Hiking has become a quite different experience with a smartphone always in your pocket. Google and all kinds of apps not only generate a constant flow of information, but also extra surveillance: our data and where-abouts are continuously tracked, collected and offered for sale by big tech companies. The property relationships in question therefore not only concern the water sources and the land on which 7 Walks operates, but also the data generated by the walks.

7 Walks originated in Spa, a small Belgian city from which the word 'spa' derives. 16th century Spa was already famous for its healing ferruginous water sources. Since then the waters of Spa have been bottled and exported throughout Europe and beyond. Spa became known as the 'café de l'Europe', a kind of a present day Davos for the European elites of the past. Visited by kings, tsars, artists, politicians and philosophers it was a place where contrasting artistic and political visions were informally debated.

7 Walks will be developed in different localities internationally. In this regard the number 7 is a symbolic reference to the most important water sources in the city of Spa but it is no specific indication of the number of walks that will be performed.

Instalments of 7 Walks to date:

7 Walks (from Albisola to Silkeborg and Læsø) (2020)

Public moments to date:

From Albisola To Læsø, A Re-enactment of a Historical Walk to Asger Jorn’s House (Læsø, Denmark, February 2020)

The Radical Politics of Jorn, Artistic Reflections on Value, Economy, and Property. Performative lecture at Kunsten Museum of Modern Art (Aalborg, Denmark, February 2020)

Researching sustainable practices through art & law: Walks (a reenactment in Spa), Intersection of Finance and Society, London (December 2019)