Studying walking and my practice

I’m currently participating in the Walk Exchange’s Walk Studies Training Course, a six week online seminar which “takes the form of a walk that facilitates interaction with the city through the lens of critical readings and examples of artistic practice”. Now I don’t do performance or play, let alone self-identify as an artist (at best a curator/formidler), so it’s all a bit tricky. (For more on tours as performance or artwork see B_Tour’s Imagining new spaces for an urban society through artistic guided tours | full lecture.)

From my course application:

The trigger [for my interest in walking as a practice] was moving to Denmark, which for me has not proved to be a fairy tale. Key factors are the homogeneity of Danish society and what I have come to call ‘Danish scale’ – Danes do not often dare to dream.

Walking (in a city which worships the bicycle) has played a key role in coming to terms with this. Brought up in an Edinburgh suburb in a walking family with dogs as constant companions, daily walks with my two beagles, a questing breed, have led to an intimate knowledge of Hvidovre, the suburb I live in. Weekly excursions to Copenhagen, in the main the less touristed parts, are illuminating in making connections with my life experience in a range of UK urban environments. Overseas trips provide further input – maintaining a holiday methodology in Copenhagen makes it almost feel like being on holiday once a week.

After 10 years in Denmark I still feel adrift – but it’s been a rewarding process getting to know the city better.

As far as walking in Denmark and writing about it goes, it’s a very different culture. There is, however, a wave of site specific work going on over the summer, spotted first in the shape of En landsby på højkant on Amager (reviewanother | Byens NetværkReumert-salon):

My aim in undertaking the course was primarily to put a stop to going down rabbit holes and work out what my walking practice is all about, so I can move onto a more productive phase. Here’s the course process:

  1. Read the attached text and the website linked above.
  2. Look through the walking exercises submitted after last week’s walk. Pick a few to try out during your walk.
  3. Complete this week’s walk along with a few of the exercises developed last week.
  4. Create instructions for a walking exercise that reflects your walking experience. Make sure this instruction could be completed by a solo walker, or a group of walkers. Include your instructions in the comments section below.
  5. Add any reflections, thoughts, writings, photographs, ideas, etc. to your personal page.

It’s an odd thing, with the reading a very mixed bag and the requirement to create a walk and integrate others’ into the next week’s walk representing a further challenge. Plus it feels quite anonymous – compared with a MOOC it’s not very social.

Of the other participants the Edinburgh Walking Workshop, founded in January 2016, is obviously of interest. From performance corner (see founder Jeni on on walking as a creative process), where walkers can engage with the prompts/provocations in any way they like.

Looking through their work so far I enjoyed Jeni on The Esplanade and Account of a group walk to Musselburgh, plus Kay Cur’s Purposes of walking to the airport. And, just seeing the placenames (Crags, Hermiston, Oxgangs…).

I find responding to the exercises hard, but rewarding afterwards, and it’s highlighting some key issues to unpick.

Full posts to come, but for now here’s a quick overview:

  • week 1: territories in transit – a solo walk to Hvidovre’s former centre, now a transit zone (text and photos)
  • week 2: pigeon patrol – a beagle led walk in the garden to reflect on cultural approaches to nature in the city (text)
  • week 3: going for a walk – a drift through shared space and its associated obstacles (text and photos)
  • week 4: the last walk/invisible walking – a drift on Nordic taciturnity and the designing out of personal contact (text)
  • week 5: soul experiments – hitting a dead end (text)
  • week 6: walk anywhere anytime – from oppositional practices in everyday life to the articulation of cultural narratives (text and photos)

Post-course reflection: I only actually went a specific WSTC walk in week 1, which ironically featured the least creative response. In the other weeks I used the exercises as a kick-off for my own walks, with mixed success. The exercises helped create a focus, however my issues with walking art remain. See Debbie Kent:

Does there really have to be a big gap between walking art participant and someone who takes a country walk to look at the landscape or who goes on a tour to learn about the history of a place?

She suggests that “the artist’s walk might tend to have the intention of affecting the participant or the audience in some way, whether by involving them in an unusual activity or shifting the way they perceive and process the world”, but is this specific to walking art?

 

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