sport or art

In 2015 I finished a Phd THE PROBLEM OF REPRESENTING THE ‘BOULDERING’ EXPERIENCE AS IT EXCEEDS CONVENTIONAL FORMS OF REPRESENTATION in which I hope I argued relatively successfully that bouldering was in fact an art form. 

Since that time things have inevitably changed. Currently there are people practising bouldering as an art form consciously and often less consciously that is still a fact. Yet a much higher percentage of boulderers are now participating in a sport and maintaining the growing fashion of calling themselves athletes.

What is the situation right now? It depends on how and from what point you look of course. However if we ask this question and our research is a scan of current trends and media coverage, on the internet and social media platforms then the answer is that it is definitely a sport. In actuality you would be hard pressed to find much evidence suggesting otherwise.

The problem that is emerging here as I see it is that the sport that is being practised is largely derived from the art. This is a one sided relationship and I think it is fair to claim that the sport doesn’t add much to the art. What does art give the sport then? Namely creativity, opening new boulder problems outside being the primary example. Secondly indoors the contribution is both problem setting on walls and in the problem solving from the climbers. It is the creativity that ties these acts together, it is the creativity that nurtures the sport. If however there is no support or recognition of the role of creativity in this practice/activity/sport, then what will happen?

Route or bloc setters, I would hazard a guess have all climbed outside and have bouldered at places like Fontainebleau, Magic Wood,Rocklands, Bishop to name a few top class venues.. The knowledge they gained from this experience they then bring inside into the climbing walls and gyms and into the creation of the problems/blocs. What will happen when these bloc setters retire, give up. Problems will then be set by a younger generation who have climbed extensively or predominantly inside. Their knowledge of movement, their creative understanding of what a bloc can be and how their body fits with that bloc will be derived from an increasingly narrow field. Ultimately this will undo the sport, making it increasingly anodyne and boring, well at least for those people that understand bouldering as art, or even the people who have a flickering remembrance of an experience that constituted more than a blob to blob hop skip and jump.

It is this kind of  imbalance in the media of representations of bouldering that I have tried to address in my Phd and through the occasional foray into the world of digital platforms and publishing.

This week I uploaded my thesis to https://independent.academia.edu/AndyWhall?from_navbar=true 

Initially I had thought I could publish it, then I moved to France, started a family and lost interest in all things academic. Tentatively I began re thinking this position and thought after the OLympics and the steepening curve of athletic terminology creeping into the climbing world. Plus what I began to see as an existential crisis developing in the climbing world. I thought it was time to stick it on the web. This blog post is also a small step in that direction too. 

So once again you too can read it all here   https://independent.academia.edu/AndyWhall?from_navbar=true

*Blocs, a modern term, denoting a boulder problem, confusingly though it also is used to refer to boulders. It is therefore possible to have a bloc on a bloc. Personally I think its’ a stupid term.

The recalcitrant

IMG_2093With some spare time on my hands, well a little bit of time, a new baby tends to suck most of the time away. I decided to make an attempt to think about my climbing, with as much of an objective perspective as possible.

I have two very similar tendencies or preferences if you wish. I say to my wife, I’m going training, this means going to my shed for an hour or so, sometimes a little more, here I listen to techno, I do a few dead hangs on increasingly smaller holds, a few assisted pull ups, standing on a bucket, then I do three (warm up) problems in escalating difficulty, if I flash them all I move onto three harder problems, one of which was a project for several months, basically these are three maximal effort problems. After that I try one of maybe two on-going projects, I fail to complete the projects, both of which are over a year old. Then I go back to the house.

Outside I mostly go to one of three or four same venues and try and fail on one of my four or so projects in the area. Occasionally I make progress, but if I’m honest I’m some way from finishing them off. Now and again, a few times a year, I clean and climb a FA, grade wise I look for 7’s, if the FA is a 7B+ it might take a half a dozen or more sessions, less if it’s easier. To be fair on myself I do sometimes finish a harder project, more often it will be a FA. It’s just that the last time I did this seems some time ago now, maybe it’s what happens as you get older or maybe I like the process too much or maybe I’m just lazy.

It’s clear my training and bouldering is limited, maybe not in imagination and dedication, but in terms of breadth it is limited. My training I suspect if analysed by a professional isn’t even training. However I justify to myself that I am in fact training for circumstances that I encounter in reality, for example a single boulder project, isolated near no warm ups, its often cold. So my ‘training’ in the shed is I think specific at least. This specificity is revealed when I try and do something broader, like a long boulder problem or visits a bouldering wall with blobs and compression and roofs and not a 45-degree angle with small holds in sight. In these contexts I’m rubbish.

So I ask myself what do I really want from my climbing and training. I think I like doing what I do, it’s a habit, it’s a routine and it’s a comfort, it’s a meditation and sometimes a philosophy. It’s also an embodied practice; I’ve been doing more or less the same thing for twenty years. But and it’s a big but, I would like to finish one, at least one of my projects.

Next time I have some spare time on my hands and I don’t go to my shed to train, or drive to a project and fail, I will try and write up some ‘objectives’ or some ’thoughts’

down by the river

Down by the river. A large mouse crawls out of the undergrowth oblivious to my presence as I sit motionless. Over the summer spiders have colonised the cracks and holes in the rock, brambles and ferns hang over the lip of the boulder. Out of the half dozen or so moves that I tried I couldn’t do any of them. Is this a meditative practice or a huge waste of time…I expect I will never know.

sector 28 Laramade

 

Sector 28, for want of a better name. There is a bit of a sector not far from the main area at Laramade. It does seem that there is quite a bit of potential in this valley, last year I found https://andywhall.com/2017/04/22/aftermath/  and in another sector, after a bit of a clean, this very good arete emerged, starts hard and gets easier; ‘Scully’ 7B/+ or thereabouts I think. Very close to this I cleaned up another good problem, more like 6C ish. This area has been climbed in before, there is an old hard project from a few years back, with a video lurking on the web, but the area has quite a bit of potential. I have a few projects on the go some stupid some realistic.

aftermath

My last post was about a project…well it took a few sessions, but I’m very pleased with this problem. It pushed me a a bit, struggled initially to climb past my seven move limit/block. In the end it went easily though. I’ve spent a year in the Ariege looking for new problems but it was only in the last couple of months that the searching started to pay dividends, the bare trees of winter probably made the difference allowing glimpses into the trees that finally revealed the potential. Should be more to come!

project

I looked in the woods and I found a very promising unclimbed boulder. I came back with brushes and a ladder and cleaned the moss and dirt from the boulder. Revealed beneath was a prow of granite, hidden in the trees, a thing of interest a thing of desire. On my second visit I began to piece the moves together, complex yes, but everything seemed to be in the right place, every move was powerful and interesting. I’d found a beauty.

It’s now a project, it’s harder than I thought. Thirteen moves long, none easy a mid way crux and a difficult finish.

Ohh but the joy….

burnt toast

I went for a long drive to go bouldering; in the end I didn’t climb much at all. After crossing the Pyrenees I drove across vast tracts of empty arid Spanish landscapes, boggling in its scale and occasionally marvelling at its detail. I had plenty of time to think on this long journey. Bouldering has for a few weeks lost some magic, relentless failure and snow has left me jaded, the pursuit of projects had numbed my desire. The trip was cut short, just too much snow, I was back home and today drove out to look at some recent discoveries and to try an old project. Exploration and newness left me refreshed and invigorated, this is what bouldering for me has always been about, the creative, unknown, the possibilities.

One night whilst away I drank a bottle of wine in a white plastic hotel room and watched on rolling news the unfolding spectacle that is Trump. I’ve been completely out of touch from mainstream news media, only getting the endless second hand horror from Facebook. Are we moving into an un-theorised phenomenological era? There has never been TRUTH, any event or happening or experience is always represented and mediated, always serves a specific discourse, there is always a transition and an impossibility to represent the act itself. A ‘post truth’ world, of ‘alternate facts’ and ‘falsehoods’. The FB’s, the tweeters, the instagrammers, are a generation of experience seekers, their lives documented and sprayed for all to see, nowadays a life or experience without mediation means nothing…Beuys and Warhol in different ways prescient…and in principle the contestation of truth is a good thing. This directly leads us to a world where politicians are celebs, the message is a massage, the desire for popularity, success and winning comes at a price. That price is mass idiocy. An opinion, is an opinion is an opinion and we get Trump and Brexit.

Let’s build a bridge across the Atlantic, a wall to divide America from Mexico, let China suffocate, all the animals are dead, the world is too hot, burnt toast is bad for you…

cornwall, rain and reading

I’ve had a FB exchange with a climber, who has been visiting Cornwall and has been in touch for details and directions for the problems in the ‘Treen’ video. It felt strange, for it’s the first time since moving to France in March that I can honestly say I missed Cornwall. At the time I wrote…… and we came to a landscape bare of light and life, fields and paths of mud, earth and animal…two years later I leave the same landscape… of granite, wind and sea…  But right now I remember the wind, sometimes constant, sometimes a storm, the moist wet air, the drizzle, the mud, the stinging cold. Snatched blues skies, intense, between squalls or rain. The rain that falls for days, the rain that falls and the rain that comes from the sea, and the storms, I miss the storms.

 

Meanwhile from a shuttered room in the heat of Southern France my current reading and research…

IMG_2690

 

A wet Sunday in the Ariege

So you live in the Pyrenees, its raining, you have no training board, what do you do? Well it just so happens that I stumbled across a bit of steep limestone, sandwiched between Lidl’s and a Carrefour Express, easy parking and three minutes across a field. This has a kind of urban feel to it. It felt like I was back in the UK, just bouldering nothing fancy, in the drizzle.. Being France though it’s all very peaceful, by a river and really quite nice. No one has bouldered here before, there is no chalk and no white arrows. The cave has harder linkups and plenty of potential to keep me busy until I get a board built.