A Wander is not a slog

26 Nov

During the last month, I took part in two walking exchanges with Blake Morris, post-doctorate researcher and one of the founders of The Walk Exchange, who is nearing the end of his A Wander is not a slog project.  This involves completing all 54 of the walks in Clare Qualmann and Claire Hind’s “Ways to Wander” book, itself a collaborative effort collating walking scores from around 50 different walking artists.

The walks we did were:

43 – created by Vanessa Grasse , dance and multidisciplinary artist

45 – the city as a site of performative possibilities, Kris Darby, pedestrian performer/researcher

Our responses, authored jointly, are published on Blake’s blog here and here.

In this meta-post, I am reflecting on the experience of the walk exchange and adding a little more detail to my responses to the walks.

Blake lives in London, and I live in Shrewsbury, and for various reasons of cost, available time and convenience, we did the walk remotely in our home locations, but used a combination of phone calls, SMS text and email to share the experience in real time and retrospectively.  Our responses were gathered together quickly within a day or so.

The walk itself did indeed feel like a shared experience, and the self-imposed time restrictions added a sense of urgency and intensity.  The need to share and reflect on the experience heightened my attentiveness during the walk.  There were many possibilities for making the exchange using digital technologies, and we could have opened out the event to more people.  Indeed, Blake has done this with some of the walks in the project.

22nd October 2018 – Walk 43 by Vanessa Grasse

A walk in four sections in which we explored the town as an urban performance space in which movement and relationships are considered to be choreographed.  I observed the human, non-human/inanimate participants .  It was as if, each has a multitude of tiny filaments which continuously latch onto other agents and unlatch as connections form and dissolve.

In the first part, we were encouraged to identify discrete “performances” and to determine their conclusion – so considering the scope and duration of performance.  In doing so, one quickly notices the overwhelming stream of details, movement and interconnections that are going on at any one time.

One of the performances:

DSB

Sunlight streams directly along the bridge towards me

A dog down by the river bank scrabbles in fallen leaves

Leaving a deposit for its two owners to find

A cyclist in black sweeps smoothly along the wide pathway from my right

Intermittently appearing/disappearing behind trees

Then passing by the end of the footbridge a few paces before I reach it

Further up the hill opposite, the buzz of a leaf blower starts up

Like an aggravating gnat, increasing tension in the moment

On both sides of me, ripples shimmer

A silent crescendo of colour

A swan flaps, wings slapping against the water surface

It surges towards another swan which swivels and moves away aloof

The dog walkers pass in front of me, a man and woman

In a hasty almost surreptitious movement, they lift the lid of the dog bin

And clang, the bag is gone

In the second part, we focused on one interconnection, which we decided would be between “an inconsequential thing and a tree of consequence”.  Of course, under the gaze all things, however ephemeral and inconsequential, gain gravitas.  I walked between a water hydrant, connected to Conduit Head, a historic water supply to Shrewsbury since Tudor times and a horse chestnut tree in St Alkmund’s graveyard.  Although this is in the busy centre of town, the route between follows narrow shutts or passages in which one is forced to experience the town more by hearing and smell than visual observation.

I reflected on my two things tied, gripping into the earth linked by dog-legged pathway, a  connecting path burnt into memory, the space holding an invisible thread in perpetuity that only I can sense.

The third part was about following and participating in the performance.  Keen to avoid following people, fraught with questionable ethics, I went to Doctor’s Field on the edge of Shrewsbury where cattle and horses are often kept on grazing land.  Ironically, however, I almost immediately needed to hurry past a woman to avoid an awkward moment.

My following formed a linked sequence:

Long tailed tits gathered in a crab apple tree

Their sharp ticks prickling the air with conversation

A jay flew overhead then dipped low

A burst of speed for me to head towards the large ash tree

Zig zagging diagonally across the meadow, I sped after a great tit,

Its looping, dipping flight finishing in another apple tree

A magpie emerged to pull me further on into the field

High above, an aircraft took me at steady pace

Until buzzards appeared

Three of them, piercing shrieks from a clear blue sky

They circled, soaring on late Autumn thermals, for five minutes or more

I allowed myself to drift, handing over control to the birds

Driving me steadily to the hedge at the edge of the field

Briefly I let myself be nudged by a soft breeze

Feeling ever lighter as I tried to catch up with insects caught in the sunlight

My attention was interrupted by sounds of hammering and chainsaws on a distant building site

I moved towards them until my route intersected a desire path

Meandering back across the field, through long grass to the river bank

The wind rippled the river surface as I slowed my pace even further to match the river’s flow

Sensing the pull

Feeling impetus

Recognising the changes in pace, in rhythm, in direction

Tethering

Being with

Connected

Just for the moment

I re-emerge into the street as a cyclist passes

I accelerate but cannot keep pace

And there is a cat, young ginger

We circle each other

Wary, tentative

Growing comfortable in each other’s company

The cat settles, stretches on the tarmac

It curls up in the sun

And drowses off to sleep

Finally, returning to the place I finished my walk (i) in the morning, I stayed still to explore my visual frame.  Over time, the visual gives way to other senses, but I also gain a greater sense of the overall pattern of movement within the frame.  A frame which at its extremities includes deep blue sky, structural cabling high above the concrete pedestrian footbridge before me, and footpaths stretching away to my right and left.  My feet are planted on stone paving, obstructing my contact with the earth.

I begin to map the rhythms, character, scale, speed, direction, proximity of the different types of movement, noticing that in the urban terrain, these are dominated by human structures and routines.  These repeated movements are choreographed.  But below this fundamental human pattern of movement, there are more subtle, less predictable traces of movement by non-human participants: birds, insects, cats and at other times of the day, there may be foxes, rodents, squirrels and other creatures.  Then there are the trajectories of wind blown leaves and litter, shadows from lampposts moving with the sun.

The performance space is illuminated by the afternoon sun, but I look for the streetlights and reflect on how the feel of this constructed space will change dramatically under lighting.

 

 

10th November 2018, Walk 45 by Kris Darby

With Armistice Day the following day, we walked to our “tree of consequence” via war memorials.  Like the previous walk 43, this score had a number of options for groups, pairs or individuals.  We opted just for the shadow and light score in which I stuck to the shadows and Blake headed for the light.  This became quite challenging as, in our respective places, the weather alternated between sun and rain showers.  So we needed to be more creative about what were light and shade.

I walked in the shadows of:

  • The black cat
  • trees
  • war
  • bridges
  • confusion
  • narrow passages
  • greatness
  • memory
  • myself
  • life
  • death

Keeping to the shadows altered my spatial awareness on the walk a lot more than I expected just from reading the score.  I was constantly aware of the sun and the weather conditions, the orientation of streets, the heights and positioning of the objects/buildings en route, whilst attempting to navigate towards a destination.  The location of light/shadows caused me to divert on a more circuitous route quite often.  The nature of keeping to the shadows meant that I sought out narrow, confined and quieter spaces, so in fact, I did in a way complete two other parts of the walk 45 score i.e I became more agoraphobic shying away from open, well lit spaces, and my destination is actually positioned in the quietest part of the town.  Also I was forced into walking differently, crouching, slinking along walls etc – it certainly felt like a performance.

As for future performative possibilities, I began to think about how the route of my walk could change at different times of the day and even at different times of the year.  A midday walk in Summer might offer very little shadow, whilst the sunny late afternoons of Autumn and Winter offer greater freedoms.

So thinking of a destination, keeping to the shadows and noticing how the route and way of walking changes at different times of the day or year could be one possibility.

I also began to think about how being in the shadows felt colder.  Certain areas of the town can “feel” warm (perhaps because they are more sociable spaces or near places like pubs, libraries, theatres, bakeries, cafes) or cold (because they are more austere like churchyards, banks, characterless offices and bus stations) so perhaps another score might be to walk noticing the temperature gradients, perhaps keeping to the warm or cold zones, or starting from a cold place attempt to navigate along a gradient of increasing temperature.

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2 Responses to “A Wander is not a slog”

  1. Jennifer November 29, 2018 at 3:16 pm #

    What an interesting project! Going for any sort of walk is not my idea of pleasure so it’s interesting for me to see it being used this particular way.

  2. maintenantman December 5, 2018 at 9:00 pm #

    Interesting, richly detailed. Thank you, Andrew.

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