Walking with Volker Gerling, Portraits in Motion
January 24, 2011
I went on a mission today with German flipbook artist Volker Gerling to explore the five end-of-the-line Skytrain stops in Vancouver proper. We began at the Millennium line terminus station, VCC Clark, and walked around China Creek Park, which was, 125 years ago, the eastern shore of False Creek. From there we went to the final Vancouver stop on the line at Rupert and walked around the big-box and film studio neighborhood, where Volker had his first encounter with WalMart. The store has everything, it seems, other than flipbooks. We spent far more time, however, at a prop and set dec store across the street. Volker noted a sign reading: “Unattended children will be sold to the circus.” It was a half-hour walk uphill to the Joyce-Collingwood station, the final eastern stop on the Expo line. By then it was dark. We decided to hit Waterfront Station and Marine Dr., the southern-most stop on the Canada Line, on another day.
During this three-hour adventure, I got to know a little bit about an artist who makes a life’s work out of walking, meeting people, camping and sometimes encountering that perfect subject for a portrait session, capturing 36 rapid-fire frames — the essential number for one of his exquisitely shot flipbooks.
Gerling has walked 3,000 km in Europe. In 2003, he walked from Berlin to Basel, Switzerland, over the course of three months.
He told me he usually walks 20-25km per day for five days, which ordinarily takes him from one town to the next, camping in the forest in the evenings. Then he spends two days in a town or city, talking to people in bars and cafes, looking for subjects, and taking donations for his art and offers of places to crash or camp. Performances at festivals such as PuSh — he brings Portraits in Motion to Club Push on Feb. 3 — constitute a significant part of his livelihood.
“I never take any money with me on my walks,” he told me over a few beers on Commercial Dr. “This forces me to talk to people. On my first walk, had 8 Euros with me when I left Berlin, but by the time I got to Leipzig (190km away), I found that I could survive by donations so I gave the 8 Euros to a guy on the street.”