based in London
researches on the curatorial,  
curates still and moving images,
writes about art and life.



What is Marching

Nie, Xiaoyi

Published by Prova,
RCA School of Arts and Humanities
Research Journal 2018, 4 (2018), 86–89

Marching is moving towards the same direction and bearing time, place and distance
together. A collective march may come into existence by people sharing the same destination but
it is not a must. The essence is not about making the same choice but to move on the same road
at the same moment.

Marching generates intensity and strength from facing difficulty. Instead of strolling around
and detaching from the rest of the world, to march is to violently confront with the land, the forest,
the plaza, the street, the viewers. Let’s think about where marches usually start: petition, exile,
flee, pilgrimage, conquer, expedition… No matter if there is a promising end or not, the endless
process is arduous. Not like walkers who can always turn back, marchers are excluded from their
former and better situations. To survive the harsh moments they are thrown into, they also need
to grow tougher. Marching not only manifests the marchers but also makes the surrounded
environment appear its materiality, stillness and passiveness.

Marching means going along a single and sturdy path and through unexpected spaces and
events. Marchers interact with all happenings and the trip naturally unfolds and becomes a
narrative that eventually transforms marchers. It is no wonder that ancient legends and
contemporary stories adopted this marching model: in Odyssey, the home becomes an
unreachable point for Odysseus; in Journey to the West, four Chinese monks marches to India
for Buddhist Scriptures and becomes Buddha; in The Wizard of Oz, destinations keeps changing
but Dorothy and her companions acquire what they are longing for in the end; Kerouac uses an
accelerated writing in On the Road and instead of being ‘beat’, the image of their generation
emerged from the chaotic happenings. Maybe we can also think about Robert Frank capturing
the Americans, Alec Soth depicting the Mississippi and a dozen of Chinese photographers who
documented what they met on their trip across the infinite terra. Marching is a basic and
fundamental structure for telling and seeing.

This intensity and strength, demonstrated in marchers’ rhythm, speed, expression, make the
march as a moving autonomous zone independent from the rest of the world. Compared with
acting alone when the world and detaching from each other, collective marching reforms
individuals to form a ‘we’. ‘We’ physically occupy the space, manifest the march’s existence and
demand a reaction from the rest of the world. The large number of moving entities lead to a great
visibility and it attracts the most valuable resource in our contemporary society: attention.
To some extent, you have to drop your rationality as a human to join a march. The

wildebeests cross the African savannahs may be not aware why they risk their lives to cross the
distance but no one pulls out when they jump into the dangerous rivers full of crocodiles.
Sometimes I wonder, are they rational? (Maybe the question is insulting for animals.) But there is
no doubt that to fulfil the epic migration, the animals need a maniac collective, an irresistible
force, to conquer all rivers and predators. Marching, to some extent, is to put down personal wills
and to combine individuals’ strength to form a united force.

As a visual manifesto of the relations between individuals and collectives, marching also
reveals the diverse possibilities that how an individual can integrate into or isolate from a bigger
system. Milan Kundera described the sensitive character in The Unbearable Lightness of Being,
‘I’ cannot voice together with the other ‘comrades’ for the fear of losing the ‘small self’ and ‘I’
cannot leave the march either as the marching demands uniformed actions. Such marching in
the Soviet Union excluded the individuality. Also, the image of ‘we’ was formed by invisible
suppression and delicate calculation. By contrast, the proliferated queer pride marches in
metropolises celebrate personal freedom and call for individuals' initiatives. Like a carnival, pride
marches is composed all kinds of performances and it calls for bald imagination against banality
and social conventions. So to march collectively is to ask how to interwoven your self-awareness
into a chord? What is your position in the marching, an avant-garde or a winger? How will you
form the authority that is going to be superior than you?

Marchers may gradually lose their physical strength but the march absorbs the energy and
accumulates the inertia along the way. It is like reading aloud together, with a loose and idle start
when people hardly dare to open their mouths, gradually they find a shared rhythm, word by
word, like singing, more voices join in, the small combined voice grabs more volume and and the
voice eventually forms its own life. A marching collective brings a micro society to the most
detached places and it politicalises everyone and everything. Moving towards the same direction
is associated with not only army and war but also pilgrimage and protests. It is endowed with the
atmosphere of tension and at the same time, bringing the sense of shared mission and self-

The group of participants, the new collective, the micro society, negotiate and interact with
the outsiders and overshadow what they are marching into. The explorers to Antarctica and the
astronauts to the moon transformed the emotionless landscape into the witness of humans’
curiosity. The marchers on Women’s Day in Russell Square also imposes a pressure to everyone
standing nearby and make them ask themselves: should I join them? Should I even look at
them? To march is to be seen, to be asked and to answer the question: why you are marching?
Marching is not specific to one approach of movement like walking, running, crawling, riding,

flying… It is not necessary that every participant in the march moves in the same way or every
moment of a march copies its previous one. As marching already suggests a long distance and a
long duration, the changing and unpredictable dynamics comes together with the excruciating
process. Marching is a comprehensive method of moving together and as the participants are
united with one simplest principle, there is a huge space left for diversification of the process.
The collective march has its own image. The changing spatial orders and rhythms are
visualised by the moving bodies. Usually shot form an observation point or by a drone from sky,
the images of collective marching make individuals’ faces unrecognisable and average the
participants: male or female, young or old, short or tall, even human or not human. Inner
differences are omitted in the image to allow space for a portrait of group to emerge within the
mass. With an image of marchers, few people would question who are they but many would
wonder what they are marching for.

Collective marching is also generating conversations while creating shared experiences: seeing,
meeting new people, having food, fixing problems, making the choice of where to go and taking
care of each other. As the context of marching changes along the way and the discussions are
not rehearsed with an agenda like academic symposiums, people exchange far more richer
ideas between themselves and in return, their mutual relationships grow deeper and new
thoughts are formed on the road.