User:Jahsonic/In praise of erosion: a typical desire line  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
"In praise of erosion: a typical desire line"[1]

A long time ago, I read of an artist who had a garden. And every day, maybe several times a day, that artist walked a certain marked path in his garden, until the soles of his shoes had flattened the grass and eroded a path. I guess he then took a photo of his garden with its newly formed path. Maybe he sold the photos.

Until today, I haven't found which artist 'walked' this performance.* But the fascination remained and hardly six months go by without thinking of that artist and his garden.

My interest in this work of art lies in the concept of erosion[2]. There is something about the extreme slowness[3] in erosion that is interesting. The way, for example, that a marble statue is touched by millions of visitors, and that with each instance of touching, a couple of molecules are subtracted from the sculpture. The way that a bronze sculpture, green from the open air, becomes golden again in places where it is frequently brought into contact with the human skin. The way also, that an innumerable number of soles of shoes erodes doorsteps and stairways throughout the world like in a thousand year slow motion.

The way also that natural arches are formed and sedimentary rock (the reverse of erosion) is shaped, rock-cut basins[4] and potholes[5] are pierced, how sandstone[6] and limestone are sculpted by the elements[7].

And, I find out today, the way desire lines trace new lines in old maps. Desire lines are paths that emerge as shortcuts where constructed ways take a circuitous route, have gaps or are lacking entirely. The paths take on an organically grown appearance by being unbiased toward existing constructed routes.

Desire paths manifest on the surface of the earth where original movement by individuals indicates, thereby encouraging more travel. Explorers tread through foliage or grass, leaving a trail "of least resistance" for followers.

The image of a user generated path, in seeming defiance of authority, across the earth between the concrete, has captured the imagination of many as a metaphor for, variously, anarchism, intuitive design, individual creativity, or the wisdom of crowds.

Illustration: "A typical desire line"[8] from the public domain.

See also

*A Line Made by Walking

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