For 112 days Sara Morawetz retraced the 2,000 kilometre journey of two 18th century astronomers, tasked with defining the length of a metre.
On 24 June 2018 artist Sara Morawetz started walking. In sturdy leather boots and a broad-brimmed, blue felt hat, she headed south from Dunkirk, France’s most northerly town. For 112 days, over 2,000 kilometres, Morawetz negotiated exhaustion, monotony, blisters, anxiety, self-doubt, 100-kilometre-per-hour winds, 37°C heat and the Pyrenees. She walked from the North Sea to the Mediterranean. On 13 October, she arrived at her destination: Barcelona.
The walk (étalon, 2018) is a performance in homage to an earlier journey. In 1792 Napoleon ordered two French astronomers, Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Delambre and Pierre-François-André Méchain, to determine a new universal standard unit of measurement. They journeyed from Dunkirk to Barcelona in order to measure the curvature of the earth. It took them seven years. The new unit was a direct result of the data the pair accrued and the calculations they made: one ten-millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the Equator, one mètre-étalon, one metre.
Delambre and Méchain worked in partnership, and throughout her walk Morawetz was accompanied by a succession of artists and writers. Each day, Morawetz and her collaborator took measurements using a GPS receiver, a laser range-finder, and a purpose-built target made of alternating black and white segments. ‘A metre is a distance between two points,’ explains the artist. ‘Throughout the walk is this idea of two points of contact that need to be maintained.’