Content type: Presentations and WALKING

Credits: Alice Twemlow (Design Lector at KABK and associate professor at ACPA, Leiden University), Justin Bennett (tutor in Institute of Sonology at KC and member of Interdisciplinary Research Group KABK, KC and ACPA), Rebecca Dunne (alumna, MA Artistic Research, KABK), Sophie van Romburgh (lecturer at LUCAS, Leiden University) and Stephanie Springgay (director, School of the Arts, McMaster University, co-director of WalkingLab).

Year: 2021

On 9 March 2021, the Lectorate Design organised an online event as part of the Leiden University ACPA Art Research Convergence series. A panel of artistic researchers working in different media explored the cross currents and the points of differentiation between their various approaches to walking as a research method.

Among the strategies and tactics discussed were: writing, mapping, image-making, archiving, sensing, speculation, listening and place-making. Meanwhile, themes emerged such as: rhythm, public space, climate crisis, the Anthropocene and slowness. The session invited a discussion on how walking could be situated more critically in what theorists Stephanie Springgay and Sarah E. Truman have labelled a 'more-than-human' methodological discourse, with the potential to engender 'solidarity, accountability and response-ability’.

You can browse a PDF of the Walking as a Research Method publication or write to to order a hard copy.

About art_research_convergence (ARC)

ARC logo

ARC is an outreach initiative of Leiden University Academy of Creative and Performing Arts and the University of the Arts The Hague for the active communication of artistic research. ARC hosts exhibitions, installations, lectures and performances every second Tuesday of the month. The idea is to enable a space of communication and action where artist-researchers can show work in progress (or finished work in need of feedback) and discuss it with the audience.

Alice Twemlow

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Edited transcript

Welcome to this Art Research Convergence event organised by the Academy of Creative and Performing Arts at Leiden University. I am Alice Twemlow. I'm connected to the Academy of Creative and Performing Arts at Leiden University as an associate professor. I’m also a research professor at the KABK, the Royal Academy of Design at The Hague.

I try to nurture a robust research culture within the KABK learning environment and via the channels that connect it to Leiden University. As part of that mission, I'm working to identify and share a range of research methods that use art and design’s tools, approaches, and capacities to create new and surface existing knowledge. Some of the methods we're looking at include prototyping, materials and matter drawing, mapping and sensing. It's not my aim to provide encyclopaedic definitions of these methods but to find ways to share how, why artists and designers engage with them and with what results.

The first research method I selected for investigation is walking. We know walking as a well-theorised and familiar qualitative research methodology in the social sciences, especially geography. But walking has also been adopted and adapted in design and artistic research. It can be a means of exploring and understanding surroundings, as well as exploring and understanding ourselves.

KCCM (Krijn Christiaansen and Cathelijne Montens) are public space designers who also teach field research in KABK Interior Architecture & Furniture Design. About a year ago they came to a Design Research Club meeting and told me about a speculative urban planning project they'd done in Saga City, Japan. The city has an extensive system of ancient waterways that had fallen into disuse. The designers wanted to reactivate them. Krijn and Cathelijne told me their research process included archival research, mapping of waterways and conversations with residents. They also told me it involved wearing waders and climbing into the waterways and walking along them for days. They put a video camera in a basket that floated along the current on the river beside them, and they picked up objects and plants they found in the mud. They made rubbings and photographs of structures on the creek banks and talked to people they met on the way.

I was intrigued with how, before they intervene in any public space or a landscape, these designers will walk its borders, meet its inhabitants and put their bodies in the research. We made a video interview with them and a an exhibition in a pair of cabinets in a hallway in the Royal Academy of The Hague.

We launched the exhibition with KCCM and their students and invited artists and musicians to talk about their approach to walking. The radio producer and pianist Guy Livingston prepared a silent listening walk, taking us around The Hague. After the exhibition, I put out calls to find out which students and tutors were using walking in their practices. I was encouraged and surprised by how many responses we received.

We made a book that includes these projects and reflections from artists and designers on their use of walking. We use keywords to organise things with quotes taken from a whole range of famous walkers. Niels Schrader and Martijn de Heer designed the book and created a bespoke typeface based on blueprints of the KABK building from 1938.

Over the past year, many of us have rediscovered our local environments through our bodies in motion. Those privileged enough to be able to walk for pleasure have rediscovered how walking might figure in our work as artists, designers, researchers and teachers.

When it comes to walking, there's a spectrum of intentionality and structure. Map or no map? Continuously walk along one line or repeat a particular route? Follow the path, or trespass? What shapes will you make? Which senses will you tune into or allow to dominate? And then there is the documentation. I find everyone has a different take on this. Do you write, sketch or photograph during a walk? After it? Not at all? Or is the walk itself the document?

And then there are the shifting temporalities of walking. Where does it occur in a research process? For some it's done at a preliminary stage, as a way to gather information. For others it comes later, as a way to share your research.

Now I'm delighted to introduce the first of tonight's speakers, Justin Bennett, who teaches in the Sonology Department at the Royal Conservatoire in the Hague.

Justin Bennett

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Edited Transcript

Today I’m going to talk about how I develop an audio walk. These pieces are usually narrative. They combine a narrator with other voices, field recordings, music and sound effects.

When I work in a place that's new to me, walking is the most important activity. There are, of course, considerable differences in walks depending on the city. With its Haussmann boulevards, Paris is different from London, with its villages that melt into each other. There are some cities, such as older mediaeval cities, that you can only explore by walking. Whereas exploring huge cities like Istanbul or Guangzhou on foot gets difficult—but still, it's interesting to attempt. If you try to walk in a city designed for cars, you start to notice things like the distance, difference and separation between neighbourhoods.

When I'm working on an audio walk, I start by taking some spiralling walks in an intuitive way out from a centre point, trying to figure out how that point fits the city around it. Once I've done that, I'll start to take longer walks, crossing the area in different directions, often between areas or sites that could be interesting.

Sometimes the city resists you. I've become so lost in the Medinas of Arabic cities. But I discovered another strategy for walking: follow somebody. Choose somebody who is obviously on a mission. They're out shopping or delivering a package or working. You usually get even more lost, but you get shown places that you wouldn't see otherwise. In the end, somebody will always lead you out of the maze in some way. It's close to a mime exercise, where you follow somebody from a distance and try to copy their walk. If you do it exactly, you start to feel the size and the shape of their body, the way they move, even how their shoes fit or how heavy their bag is. Walking becomes a way to feel the terrain almost through somebody else's body. It becomes a bodily way of engaging and through somebody else. It's strange to do that. While doing these walks, I'm trying to identify interesting places, borders and movements through the city, which I can feature in the audio walk.

Another strategy is to walk with somebody who knows more about the city, maybe someone who knows the city from a completely different point of view. I tend to drift, and walking with another person helps me focus and reveals insights and histories that would be invisible to an outsider.

It's important to say that all this walking around is carried out while taking photographs and notes and recording environmental sounds. In between, I'm creating music or sound effects and writing, and the writing can involve imaginative, speculative writing. While I'm discovering the city, themes, narratives and musical development occur.

They grow along with discovering the city. They get embedded in the city for me. My notes are about places and walks, and they start to include fragments of stories and references to all kinds of things—all mixed up together.

Then I come to the point of composing a route. This is a crucial step because the root of the audio walk defines the timing, narrative and musical form. At this point, I might have to shift everything. Sometimes I have to rewrite things. I have to, perhaps, find another starting point, bend the route to include something interesting I've discovered. Then the rest of the work is more technical and predictable. I may walk this route, make an audio and video recording of the whole course to allow me to edit things and get the timing of it right.

I record my voice or other people's voices. Sometimes I record voices while I'm walking or at specific locations because it's nice to occasionally get away from this omnipresent voice, which is cinematic and works quite well. It's sometimes nice to break that up in the end. I also include directions about how to walk.

One of the important things about walking in the city is that it brings out the difference between this rational map view and the actual experience of being on the street. The texture of the pavements, the vibe of the place, the everyday sounds, colours and rhythms of the street are important. Because I write and compose between or during the walks, the stories become embedded in the city. It doesn't make sense to publish them in written form; they are made to be spoken, heard and understood in motion and specific places.

I was reading Henri Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysis, and he writes about the necessity to get somewhat outside of rhythms to grasp and analyse them. Then he suggests the balcony is the perfect place to analyse the rhythms of the street. Even though he talks about using the body as a measuring instrument, he chooses to remain above and outside the action, which I find strange. He resists plunging into the life of the street. Maybe he's worried that his objectivity will be lost forever. I wonder if this choice between walking and standing on your balcony is a difference between kinds of research. Maybe standing on the balcony is scientific research and walking in the street is artistic research—but maybe that's a total cliche...

AT: Thank you so much for letting us peek inside your notebook to see your research process. These fragments of stories that weave themselves into a whole may get 'reduced' into a digital map for a moment. But they explode back into the imagination through participation.

Our next speaker is Rebecca Dunne. Rebecca graduated last year from the KABK with an MA in Artistic Research. Her practice embraces performance art, theatre, poetry and visual art. Like Justin, her work also engages with storytelling in relation to place. In Rebecca's case, it's usually in a rural landscape. She uses walking to experience the land in the present tense while acknowledging its layered histories.

Rebecca Dunne

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I’ve been walking the land my entire life. I'm from County Kill, near Dublin, where my family has been involved with small-scale farming and crop growing since I was young. The land is relatively flat and mainly bogland. When I was growing up, I walked the land, hearing stories about land ownership on a national scale as a former colony and a personal, familial scale, especially from my father, a great storyteller.

I was usually walking on peat; a really compressed earth and a fossil fuel. I was always intrigued by the layers in it. They’re like a layered archive. They’re compressed, tangible material things. Peat is non-replenishable and it’s burned every winter. It was getting up close and personal with peat that I realised I had responsibility to peat and to the Earth.

During my BA, I worked with sound walks and audio to explore ideas about right and wrong places. By the right place, I mean our idea of where we belong, somewhere we feel at home. This place might not exist at all, or it’s a sense of belonging that’s always in flux. We might romanticise it or identify it in other locations in time and space. These audio walks often prompted interaction amongst strangers and created conditions for disrupting or alternative readings of the area. The sounds were often recorded and mixed with fictional histories of the space, and they started to bring together voices from different times.

I initially saw walking, sound and writing as distinct aspects of my work. But they began showing themselves as intertwined or even as the same—forming themselves together almost organically. When I came to the KABK, I continued to think about place and space, what we carry with ourselves, how we move in space. I had a writing practice that was created through or alongside walking. I don’t write while walking but just after. Like Justin was saying, when I go to a new place, walking to make sense of it is the first thing on my list.

When I came here, I walked to get a sense of the place, to know where I was, to understand the material of the land and to get away from not knowing where I was or what I was doing. I sometimes walk with colleagues, sometimes to exercise, other times to discover the place or run an errand and sometimes to purposely walk for the sake of walking. Over time, I began sharing notes and texts with the people with whom I walked. We shared things that we might try to work through while we were walking.

Various types of walks happened all at the same time. Gradually, I arranged small collective readings with people, made scores and wrote prompts for walks. The scores usually came from prose or poems that I wrote, keywords of ideas. There was a sense of transmission implied or explicitly stated. My walking partners could record, photograph, draw or collect something. They could write something during or after the walk and share it with someone, or they could create their own score and then pass it on to someone else. I experimented with different forms and left everything quite open to the participants themselves. Sometimes I collect sounds, rarely photographs, but there is no plan in documentation or in collecting those.

When I was writing, I considered ideas like the meaning of a place and how we bring our own context to it, how we might change our perception through walking and sharing, speaking and writing. In particular, I was thinking about ownership of the land, the words and images we use to describe it, inheritance of the land under language, particularly thinking about how Irish knowledge or words have been lost or changed and how power is imposed on it.

We inherit the way we describe the landscape, and we have a responsibility to consider what that language might impose on or provide to the land. I thought about being in public, being on the Earth, and being confronted with the human and non-human. I'm coming from a rural perspective or a rural rooting in my mind. But there is the non-rural that I tend to live and work in.

I’m thinking about land as an archive, how we carry it with us and in us, turning the body into an archive. For the first years of my life, my legs were mainly in plaster casts and various braces to train them and to set them to counter hyperactive joints and underactive muscles, and I had surgeries. So I walk with a limp or a noticeable and distinctive gait. So walking, for me, is a fully conscious action, both in the sense that sometimes it can be self-conscious and the idea of somebody following me and maybe trying to mimic my walk. I have to be consciously present while walking because if I focused on anything else and there was a rock is in my path, I’d fall. Awareness is something I thought about in writing. All of these ideas came through in the writing, walking and sharing.

I'm interested in the activation that someone else might bring to the score I share with them. If they decide to walk with the score, they might talk about that walk to one person or an audience of listeners. They become a participant in transmitting a flexible idea or experience. The activation of walking, writing and speaking makes space for what’s possible. Many of my pieces come from my family history and ideas of inheritance. Yet things are in a strange place. I guess we're already experiencing a distorted perception of time, space, place and the boundaries between public and private. Walking in some spaces is extremely limited, while free and open in others.

AT: Thank you so much. I'm especially interested to see if we can track this notion of struggle. It's a good that you bring this to the table. We need to remember this idea of ownership and inheritance of the land.

Our final speaker is Stephanie Springgay, the director of the School of the Arts, McMaster University Canada. She’s a leading scholar of research-creation. Her research focuses on walking, affect, queer theory and contemporary art as pedagogy. Along with Sarah Truman, she's co-director of WalkingLab, an international network of artists and scholars committed to critical approaches to walking methods.

I was so glad to find the book that she and Sarah Truman edited, Walking Methodologies in a More-than-human World. After researching this topic for a while, I was getting a little tired of all those solitary, white, contemplative, male humans doing all the flaneuring, deriving and communing with nature. Stephanie's book and practice remind me that walking is never neutral. It can be about both refusal and solidarity. She creates situations for walking with Indigenous, black, queer and trans artists and scholars to work through a whole range of concepts related to the land and exploitations of land and people. We are in good hands with Stephanie Springgay.

Stephanie Springgay

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Edited Transcript

Thank you Alice and the speakers who have presented before me. It's fantastic to be in a Zoom room with 100+ other people interested in walking. Thank you for converging. I am presenting from Tkaronto, which is the Indigenous name for what is currently called Toronto, Canada.

‘Research-creation’ is the term used in Canada to describe artistic research. The term has specific nuances in Canada. It’s a term used by our largest academic funding body. One also has to recognise that it's tied up within neoliberal notions of institutionalism.

I want to start with some of the ways in which WalkingLab has been orienting its walking practises. The first, as Alice mentioned, is the critique of the common trope of the flâneur, which ignores race, gender and disability.

This is a project commissioned by WalkingLab from the Canadian artist Carmen Papalia. It's called White Team Amplified. Carmen identifies as a non-visual learner. In his performance and walking projects, he often replaces or modifies his white cane. For the piece he did for WalkingLab, he replaced the cane with a megaphone. Throughout the performance, he says into the megaphone, ‘I can't see you. Can you see me?’

The photo was taken in downtown Vancouver, in a highly urban, dense area. He's walking towards an artist-run centre where he later gives a talk on various projects. But, of course, he needs help manoeuvring cars, traffic and other pedestrians. In the video, this creates a real sense of anxiety and defamiliarisation as the viewer watches and witnesses many cars that don’t stop for him without the standard understanding of the white cane.

We wanted to disrupt this notion of the flâneur, this isolated ableist white male walker by thinking about group walking practices. We wanted to think about an ethical and political intention. We often draw from feminist materialism and post-human scholarship, science and technologies. We also wanted to think in anti-racist, anti-colonial and anti-ableist ways while bringing our own queer, feminist perspectives. We drew on several scholars to create the sense of walking-with.

The walking-with is not additive. It's not me walking with a flower or a dog or my partner. This witness is the ethical, political intentions that we bring to bear on walking. One of the crucial things for WalkingLab is walking with place. Rather than thinking that walking happens in any place and the context doesn't matter, we focus on the ethical consideration of where walking happens. Thinking about the place where one walks has been significant.

There are several ways that WalkingLab practises walking. One of them is something that we call Queer Walking Tours. We start these tours thinking about the place where the walk is going to take place. Then we think about how we can turn the place into a critical concept.

In this instance, we were in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Lancaster is a place, but it's also a term affiliated with various migration and militarism. The walk became a way to think critically about concepts related to the place instead of narrating a more conventional tour—that usually provides state-sanctioned public information about places.

We invite popup lectures by artists and scholars to happen during the walk. Usually, they will be people already located within the place. In this case, the walk was part of a Lancaster conference, so the concept was Lancaster from oblique angles. We don't ask people to give a presentation specifically about a place. We usually know what their artistic research or their academic research is about, so we know that they will approach the topic of militarism or migration or geology depending on their own specialisation. These popup lectures obliquely cut across a place.

We also organise an artistic intervention that can be executed during the walk. In this case, I drew the three militarisms we identified as the Lancaster militarism and screen printed them onto cardstock. Red embroidery, floss and needles accompanied these postcards. Participants on the walk could stitch their own responses and reflections as they listened to the lectures or as they walked. Because of the history of the Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania and the Lancaster Treaty that was signed there, we collected the squares to create a large quote-like installation at the end of the walk.

We've done similar queer walking tours in Hamilton, where my new university, McMaster University, is located. (That's about an hour east of Toronto.) This was on queering the trail. We've also done a walk in Edinburgh on queering deep time. The last one that we could execute before the pandemic hit was called ‘The Bank, the Mine, the Colony, the Crime’. It was in the financial district of Toronto.

In addition to these queer walking tours, WalkingLab also commissions curatorial projects. This is a piece by Toronto artist Camel Turner, and it takes place in the Grange neighbourhood in Toronto. The Grange area is where several slave plantations were in the 1800s. Slavery in Canada is rarely included in national histories. Not only did we produce most of the world’s slave ships in Newfoundland, on the East Coast of Canada, we had slavery 57 years longer than the United States. The myth taught about Canadian consciousness is that we were the end of the Freedom Railway, that enslaved peoples came to Canada to be free. It‘s true that enslaved people were free in Canada if they were freed before crossing the border. But we had slaves. We had slave owners. In fact, our founding fathers brought their slaves from the US.

This was a live performance called ‘Black Gange’. It also exists as a self-guided walking tour on our website using Google maps. It's told through this idea of a fictional time traveller who has been able to come back from the future where black lives are free, where they're surviving and thriving.

It pieces together some of the Black diaspora histories in the Grange neighbourhood. There were also absolutions, rituals and performances by performers and participants. If you walk around this area in downtown Toronto, you don't have any sense of the history of Black lives. The Art Gallery of Ontario dominates the Grange neighbourhood, surrounded by fancy boutiques and gentrified restaurants. This is, for instance, the first Black Baptist Church in Toronto. There's no plaque. You wouldn't know anything about this church because it's hosted many other denominations over the years.

When the pandemic hit and we went into lockdown, we didn’t know what to do at WalkingLab. Our practise isn't about individual walking. It is about ethical group walking. We thought about how to collectively walk during COVID while maintaining social distance. One of the first things we did was create a series of podcasts, turning some of our academic text into sound bites that you can listen to and go for a walk. You can now walk with WalkingLab wherever you are. Then we launched our Scores for Walking Research-Creation Project. The website gives you instructions on how to get your own score. We have twelve scores printed on postcards. There are 100 postcards per score, so 1,200 participants can join us.

We’ll send you the score via snail mail. Sometimes it's nice to get something in your postal box. On the front of the postcard will be your score, and, on the back, an invitation to do a walking research-creation project in your own neighbourhood, in your own place and context, and then to return some kind of ephemera. It could be a bag of sand or a photograph, for example. We’ll be curating an exhibition on the website and also publishing an artist book around these pieces of ephemera.

Note: These transcripts have been edited for clarity and focus.