Taking an Object for a Walk – Post 12 – Final Post

My previous walking work, as an artist, can be split into two groups: the first being the project The City as Written by the City, and secondly collaborative work with Simon Pope – From Unspoken Landscapes, Figures in a Landscape, Postcards Home – to name a few. The drawing device from The City… and landscape from the work with Simon have been the intrinsic non-humans. In the collaborative work with Simon we were working out relationships to landscape – traditions, representations, and concepts of landscape.  I have also been exploring co-working and co-learning with children – a solution to the quandary of trying to maintain some sort of artistic practice while being primary caregiver to a small child. Taking an Object for a Walk has come out of all this work.

I also have an interest in walking as method – both in art making and research – and this is what I focused on for much of my Geography MA. In particular I wrote about the qualitative research method of the snowball as a way to gather a community while on foot. The basic premise is you start with one person, and this person leads you to the next and so on until you have amassed a network, or community which gives you insight into your research topic. Taking an Object for a Walk has this same approach to “community building” yet in this case community members are both human and non-human. We started with ourselves and the chosen object and from there traveled to other related/linked things, people, or places. The “research” enabled the walk.

Taking an Object for a Walk – a new work born out of a commissioned workshop – is the first step in a longer journey. I have some nice ideas about where this project could go. Much thanks to WalkingLab for allowing me to develop things a little further.

Taking an Object for a Walk – Post 11

These last two posts for this residency with WalkingLab are going to be thoughts and reflections about Taking an Object for a Walk in terms of some of the concepts that I have been thinking about throughout the project, and how it develops some of the ideas that have informed my existing art practice.

This has been an explicitly pedagogical project. I have been able to learn and work with my daughter through drawing together, and walking and negotiating together. I took great pleasure in watching her mind at work and seeing her “get it”. Overall she really enjoyed participating. It was a good chance to let her make decisions and lead me – her parent – around the museums and the streets.

This project has been a novel way to interact with a museum collection. At the beginning of the project I expected there to be a clear line between choosing an object that would lead us and choosing an object that we would lead on an excursion as a cicerone – a type of guide who shows visitors around museums and galleries, and who can “explain matters of archeological, antiquarian, historic, or artistic interest” offering a “type of learning and eloquence” (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cicerone). However, this line was blurry and sometimes the object was more of an inspiration to walk somewhere specific. Sometimes we did literally pretend to have the object with us, but it was never clear whom was leading whom. This was also the case with being with my daughter. The project was an attempt at enabling her, as a child, to determine which object we worked with, what its new story would be, and from that, where we walked. Sometimes this ambition was frustrated, and sometimes it worked well. In the end, I recognize that the roles of leader and follower were open to negotiation in our relationship between ourselves and with the object, as were the roles of learner and teacher.

I like to think of Taking an Object for a Walk as extending the narrative horizon of a stationary museum object; giving it momentum, a trajectory outside of the museum, imagining infinite possibilities for the object, giving it a social life, a community or human and non-human things, giving it an afterlife.

[ I wrote a bit about Object Biography in post number 8 ]

I wonder about the difference between the idea of the object and the object itself. I wonder about objects that were not intended to be in a museum (I keep thinking back to the Pitt Rivers in Oxford – an anthropological museum full of artifacts from around the world) and specifically the Blackfoot shirts which came back to Canada on loan from the museum (http://web.prm.ox.ac.uk/blackfootshirts/).

I wonder about symbolically returning objects to the places from whence they came.

This brings up the difference between the museum object that is dead, has been deposited, and then retrieved for inclusion in the museum collection and the artwork whose intended resting place is the museum. Taking an Object for a Walk could be a way of making an escape route for these “non-art” objects helping to find allies for the object outside the museum, a community, a network of resistance. Do objects have intention, or the capacity for symbolic action? (Humphries & Smith)

There is something very romantic about this work that I haven’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps it is “poetic,” in that it develops the object and its imagined community a strong metaphor for the plight of humans that have found themselves discontented from the relationships that produced and sustained them, and which had given their lives meaning.

I’ve also been thinking about the role of the walk. The walk both enables the object to “move” thereby unlocking an object’s biography (introducing the object to ourselves, other non-human things, and other places), and the object unlocks a walk. The object sends us out because it can’t move.

There is a relation here to some of cultural geographer Jon Anderson’s ideas of “walking and talking” and the kinds of things that can be learned from others when you walk “in place” with them. I wonder at whether the method that I used unlocks certain latent or immanent relationships that the object has with others – to humans and to other objects. Perhaps taking the object for a walk – albeit symbolically – frees it from the narrative constraints of the museum, and allows it to “speak” differently? (Anderson)

I mentioned in previous posts how freeing I found these walks. By convincing myself that I was letting an object determine where we went I felt very “in the moment”. They were exploratory and imaginative walks.

Taking an Object for a Walk achieves the making of a new community of people and things both human and non-human, giving a stationary museum object an afterlife, and, finally, I think this project holds the potential to do a lot of symbolic moving of items (by foot) that are otherwise “locked up” or “dead”.



Humphries & Smith “Talking objects: Towards a post-social research framework for exploring object narratives.” Organization 2014, Vol 21 (4) 477- 494.

Jon Anderson “Talking whilst walking: a geographical archaeology of knowledge” Area (2004) 36.3, 254-261

Taking an Object for a Walk – Post 10

I am nearing the end of my residency. Winter has come, and walking on a whim has become a bit more restrained because of cold temperatures. I decided to let V stay in her warm classroom and go it alone this time.

I went again to the Art Gallery of Ontario and visited the exhibition Mystical Landscapes. I was immediately taken by a few paintings of paths leading through woods. In particular I liked George Lacombe’s Forest with Red Ground, and Gastaf Fjaestad’s Winter Moonlight. Both works invited me in to walk amidst the trees. I was reminded of a favourite poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, by Robert Frost. When V was younger she had this poem memorized. We used to recite it while I pushed her on a swing. I had to memorize this poem at school and I have loved it ever since.


Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village, though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.


My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.


He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sounds the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.


The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.


Poem by Robert Frost


I decided to walk this snowy painting home to V in my memory and to tell her about it when I arrived. We also tried to recite the poem. She doesn’t remember it at all anymore.

Here we are almost at the darkest evening of the year, and the streets are full of snow. For a while now I often feel that I have miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep – the pull of obligation of responsibility.

Here’s to stopping a bit longer in those woods!


Winter Moonlight by Gastaf Fjaestad 1895

(featured image: Forest with Red Ground by George Lacombe 1891.)

Taking an Object for a Walk – Post 9

Memory of Walks – Walking to See the Lions

V and I headed to the Aga Khan Museum – a museum of Islamic and Persian art, and Muslim culture in Toronto.

For our next object and perambulatory inspiration V chose a carved ivory head of a lion. It inspired the memory of walks rather than a walk itself. This was probably a blessing as it was very cold and blustery out that day. Being in Don Mills – an area of highways, busy roads, long distances between locations of interest, walking around the environs of the museum was going to be a challenge in the first place. This is a challenge I am still interested in accepting, but maybe when the weather is a little more favourable.

The Lion’s Head is in the exhibition Syria: A Living History, and is on loan from the Royal Ontario Museum. It is from 9th – 8thc. Historic Syria, Archaic Period. It is thought to be a finial for the arm of a chair.

While living in Oxford and when V was just learning to walk one of our favourite things to do was to walk to see the lions. We would visit the lions at the Ashmolean museum and at St. John’s College on St. Giles.

St. John’s, the largest of the 38 colleges at the University of Oxford, has buildings most of the length of the whole of the east side of St. Giles. Part way along the facade of the college are about a dozen or so carved stone lion faces in relief . Each one is unique with a different expression and each one in a different state of decay. They are positioned at head height so are easy to converse with. When walking to the college or into town we would visit the lions. We’d greet the lions and imagine their lion sounds. Some have mouths open, tongues out. For some lions we would do a timid kitten “mew”, for others a a “BLAAAAAH” with tongue extended, and then attempts at the classic lion “ROAR”. For three years we enthusiastically communicated with these stone lions as we strolled by. We also introduced them to our newest member of the family – who unfortunately was too young to appreciate them, but I am sure he will visit and the introduction will be made again in the future. A photo of one of these lions was the first picture to be put up on V’s bedroom wall – a token of a newly formed relationship to this city where we had just relocated to.

Other Oxford lions we used to visit were a pair of female lions on display at the Ashmolean museum.  These lions are also carved of stone. They are lying down with heads upright and touching. Most of their facial detail has worn away, but they are definitely distinguishable as lions. About once a week we found ourselves in the Ashmolean headed towards these lions. This was a perfect place to take V when she was just beginning to walk. The objects and artifacts on display are safely protected from small curious hands, but are also made to be visible to those who are closer to the ground. I used to bring V in there, let her loose, and wander along behind her. She would lead me around. The Ashmolean is a safe and incredible place for a small person to learn how to walk – not to mention it is free.  We would drop in, see the lions, and then continue on our way.


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Taking an Object for a Walk – post 8 – Some reflections

I am just over half way through this residency. I thought I’d stop to have a quick think about Object Biography and take a moment to flesh out some ideas.

One of the methods to this work, Taking an Object for a Walk, involves taking a look into the biography of our chosen objects to find what themes and narratives emerge. Using these themes and narratives we are then inspired to travel by foot to a specific location or to look for specific things as well stroll the city streets.

Most of the time there has not been sufficient information at hand to gather much knowledge of the object’s past life, so aspects of an object’s biography often have to be imagined. On occasion V and I have “interviewed” our object and imagined the responses. We whisper towards it and wait for a response.

Object Biography is more of a social analysis of an object, rather than just facts about it’s function, dating, and style. The central idea behind delving into an object’s biography is to acknowledge how objects are transformed over time, and that objects have relationships with people and other objects – a social life. These social interactions create meaning. These meanings can change and are renegotiated over time. (Gosden & Marshall 1999). V and I have been walking with different types of objects. Some are artefacts, objects that had a different life before their current apparent stasis in the museum, and some are artworks, which presumably are quite at home in a museum as this was most likely their intended destination. What is an honour to some objects, might be death to others. Does that English Delftware wine bottle (c. 1659) really want to be sat in the Gardiner Museum? Wouldn’t it prefer to be carried about with wine sloshing in its cavity, lips at its spout?

Am I getting carried away here?

In the same institution we can find objects that definitely had a different life, far away from the environmentally controlled vitrines of the museum and some objects whose creators hoped and intended that their work of art would end up in such an institution, admired by many.

The main thing I am getting at here is, how does a project like Taking an Object for a Walk extend an object’s meaning beyond the museum walls? Some objects, a painting perhaps, were intended to inspire, instill wonder and emotion. Some artworks may be a call to action in someway. Some will inspire subsequent objects to be made – be it another artwork, song, poem, architecture. Other objects were created for very practical purposes – the wine vessel for example – and they could almost be considered “dead”, now that they are on display. Or are these artefacts just “dead” to historians and archeologists?

Does a painting come alive and a drinking vessel die in the museum? Should we be favouring the objects who were not created to be on display in the museum, so that we can extend their lives and help them break free from the museum confines? Or does the chance to be in a museum extend the life of the drinking vessel, when it would otherwise be forgotten, broken, and returned to dust?

What I have read about Object Biography has been about how to dig deeper into the social relationships of archeological artefacts. These biographies tend to end at the museum where the object is now held. There is no acknowledgement of the ongoing social interactions, of the new relationships formed by the surrounding objects on display, of how a visitor/viewer, may extend the life of an object in a myriad of ways.  Taking an Object for a Walk is a way of extending an object’s meaning and life beyond the museum walls. These new lives are produced in the minds of museum goers, and in this case in these blog posts, and on our walks. V and I are getting “social” with these objects. More on all this in a later post.

In the coming weeks: The “newcomer” experience, the walk itself, more museum visits, and some final reflections.



Chris Gosden & Yvonne Marshall (1999) The cultural biography of objects, World Archaeology, 31:2, 169-178

Taking an Object for a Walk – post 7

On a crisp clear November day V and I headed back to the Art Gallery of Ontario to find the next object to inspire us to walk.

We were intrigued by Violence Lucide (1963) painted by Claude Tousignant.  This is a large painting of a black circle on a white background.  V chose it.  We discussed rolling the circle down the street, throwing it on the ground to create a black hole that we could then jump on and disappear into.  There were some nice possibilities for taking this work for a walk, but we decided to keep looking and come back to it if nothing else struck our fancy.

We stopped at soapstone sculptures and landscape paintings.  V was open to anything, which I was really pleased to see.  She understands how an object can unlock so much if we use our imaginations.  I feel we are just scraping the surface of the possibilities, which is exciting.

We entered the room entitled “Art and the Institution”, I believe, with impressionist inspired paintings hung in a salon-style i.e closely hung from floor to ceiling.  V was immediately drawn to the paintings depicting children, of which there are a few, and she settled on Interesting Story (1898), a painting of two children reading together.  The children share a large open book on their laps, and beside them sit two more well loved books.  They are sat against large soft cushions under a window.  A very cozy scene.  They are in their night gowns and it looks as though it is an older sister reading to her younger brother.  This painting is by British-Canadian painter Laura Muntz Lyall.

V set to work studying the painting and set up a drawing station on a folding stool provided by the gallery. She took this task very seriously, stating out loud her intentions with her drawing and which parts she was working on.  She had a small audience at times.

After she was finished she joined me on a bench in the room and we had a chat about the painting:  Who are the kids?; What are they reading?; Is it a big sister and a little brother?; Where shall we take them?; Where will they take us?.  V decided that they are reading a book about clouds.  Together we decided that we should head to a library and take out picture books about clouds – so this is what we did.  V approached the painting and whispered to the children that were planning to take them for a walk to a nearby library. This is what she told me she said; although I think she said more as she was whispering to the painting for quite a while.

Back outside on Toronto’s streets we headed north up Beverly towards the Lillian H. Smith Library, also home to the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books – a perfect connection!  On the way we discussed clouds – how they are formed, what they do, what they look like.  There was not one in the sky.  V pretended that the two children from the painting were skipping along the street with us.

We took a jog down Cecil Street and then north up Ross Street to College Street.  V and I had never been in this library before.  Statues of a winged lion and griffon flank the arched doorway and welcomed us in.  We asked the librarian if she knew of any picture books about clouds.  She indeed did and was able to find three.  We read the books there at the library and decided to check them out so that V can show them to her little brother just like the children in the painting.

Painting women and children was what Laura Muntz Lyall was known for.  This particular painting happens to be one of the AGO’s most loved works of art and it has been shown in an exhibition of gallery favourites.  Lyall exhibited widely and won awards in Canada and abroad, although she is not widely known today as she was most likely overshadowed by Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven who were also exhibiting widely at the time.  She is noted to be the first female Canadian artist to have an international reputation.

Lyall seemed to have a way with children. In doing a bit of reading about her after our walk, I came across the passage below which brings things full circle when thinking about my intention to include my children in my work.

“With children, she was always at ease. Meeting then, she immediately won their affection or adoration, often to the astonishment of their parents.  She calmed some of those who sat for painting sessions by letting them join in the process.  During “rest” period she allowed them to touch her paint tubes and sometimes even to paint their own pictures.  With others, she told fairytales. …  In everything Muntz did with children, she treated them as equals, regarding the world from their point of view.”

Connecting the works of art at the AGO to books at the library, with a walk in between, would be a really lovely project to do with children – or anyone for that matter.  I am realizing that Taking an Object for a Walk could be a life long project.  It is a method for a number of outcomes – acquainting oneself with an artwork, with a city, with a walking partner, and it is a true test of the imagination. It will be interesting to see if V and I continue this in years to come, in both Toronto and other cities we visit.

Sources: Laura Muntz Lyall: Impressions of women and childhood.   By Joan Murray                                                                   Printed for Boardwalk Ventures Inc. by McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal. 2012.


(Click on image to enlarge)

Taking an Object for a Walk – post 5

There is possibly no better museum for this project than the Bata Shoe Museum. The museum has a large variety of footwear to choose from, from all over the world, spanning a history of 4,500 years.

I took V out of school again. Another lovely warm autumn day. We started with the collection in the basement as suggested by the staff at the front desk. There were so many interesting shoes to choose from. I’d like to give every pair a try.

V chose Christian Dior stilettos from the 1950’s. They are silver with a small decoration made of strands of leather pieced together into a rounded shape on the toe.

I chose Margaret Atwood’s shoes in the display case of celebrity shoes. I happen to be reading Wilderness Tips and Survival at the moment, both of which I came across while sorting through old boxes of books in recent days, so it seemed fitting. I haven’t picked up any Atwood since high school.  I believe Atwood calls the Annex home, so we were in the right locale for a Margaret Atwood themed walk – or so I hoped.

V wanted to go to the Island to try walking in her stilettos in the sand. I didn’t have the energy to do this, and steered her closer to the museum. I did wonder if any of Atwood’s characters are Islanders or if Toronto Island is a setting in any of her books. The following day I read the next story in Wilderness Tips and sure enough one of the characters lives on the island.

Atwood’s shoes are crocheted blue cotton with some green near the toes. They have a few green stones sewn on the toe and an ostrich feather positioned sideways. The heels are made of carved wood and are not very high. The caption at the museum reads that her shoes “give us a glimpse into her unique sense of style”.

We drew our shoes in our small sketch books. V also chose a dress on display in another part of the museum and added that to her drawing. V pretended that she was taking Atwood’s shoes out of my drawing and placed them on my feet and did the same for herself.  She had a practice go in her (impossibly high) heels. She calls high heels “clogging shoes”.

We waved at the man and woman at the front desk and off we went onto Bloor Street.

I asked V about her heels – “My clogging shoes feel blanket soft, refreshing, cozy! They are made of real silver and are heavy. They feel like they are giving me high energy when I walk”. Again she has a different mode about her. She is walking with purpose in an imagined reality. I swear I could hear her stilettos on the pavement!

We headed west along Bloor street. Since I had said nope to going over to the Island I said okay to going into the nearby playground for her to test out her shoes in the sand. We walked south on Huron and entered the playground. V took her “shoes” off and placed them in the sand next to a play structure. She then poured sand into her imaged shoes. Once satisfied she put them back on, and met me back at the gate to the playground.

I decided I had better walk Atwood’s shoes over to Coach House Press. Maybe these shoes had been there before, to one of their parties? We walked around the building peering into all the windows watching the presses whirling and spinning and clickety-clacking. A man was doing tai chi right in front of the entrance. Otherwise we may have knocked on the door to explain our project.

We then headed West along Bloor St. to Spadina. V played on the granite sculpture of large domino pieces at the corner. She said her shoes were going “tappity-tap”.

We strolled up into the Annex and walked around a few streets before deciding to go for perogies and a beer at Future Bakery which signaled the end our walk.

Some reflections on this walk:

After today I have realized that I need to let go of my preconceptions of how these walks should go. I will listen more closely to V’s suggestions and go with them in the future. In retrospect going to the Island might have been a good idea – although a long walk. I constrain things a bit too much, even in my choice of object. I chose something that I found intriguing, but also that I thought would be comfortable to walk in – which is a bit absurd seeing as I won’t be walking in the shoes at all. I applaud V’s choice of large stilettos – I wouldn’t be able to walk across the room in these even if they were my own size. I realize now that I am being too practical and literal. We will definitely come back to the Bata Shoe Museum. There are so many interesting shoes to choose from.

Next week a walk from our stay in the Gaspésie.



(Click image to enlarge)

Taking an Object for a Walk – post 4

V and I went to the Art Gallery of Ontario to visit the Theaster Gates exhibition entitled How to Build a House Museum. We had seen it some weeks earlier and we had a plan to take some House Music for a walk – specifically the music of Frankie Knuckles, the “Godfather of House”.

I read up a bit about Frankie. I recognize his music, but knew nothing about him. I gave V the option of pressing play on our music device and then just going where the music takes her, but after telling her a bit about Frankie she agreed with me that a walk from the AGO to one of Toronto’s other contemporary art galleries, the Power Plant, would be a good destination – the same name as one of the clubs in Chicago that he founded and played in in the 80’s

We sat in the exhibition for a while first visiting the Progress Palace – an approximation of a club. The text accompanying the show describes a club as a place “where you have permission to fully be yourself, to dance and shout, without hurting others”. V and another boy about her age did just that while his dad and I watched.

On our last visit to this show we noticed that there was no bass in the music. We couldn’t feel the music in our bodies and we thought this strange. Maybe it is because we are in an institution and not in a real dance club? The music and the experience are only up in our heads, not in our bodies. I mentioned this to the man next to me and he agreed and said that he had noticed something was missing and was not quite right. V did her fair share of running and shouting. V also did some drawing in this room.

We headed over to the Reel House in an other part of the exhibition to have a look and listen. The Reel House is an homage to Frankie Knuckles. Knuckles’s DJ equipment is set up inside a wooden structure made from a reclaimed church interior.

We took out our headphones linked together by a splitter and our playing device and clipboards and pressed play. We could definitely hear the bass now.

I came across this quote from Theaster Gates in Canada Art. I think he (and Frankie) would approve of our walk:

The AGO show is this kind of meta-demonstration of, ‘What are the iterations of what we might want a house museum to look like?’ Is the club not the house museum? Why use the word ‘museum’ at all? What Frankie needs is a club, and those albums need to keep spinning. Don’t lock that shit up. People want to honour him. I’m saying, ‘He should be honoured through our bodies. Ten months from now, you should be 15 pounds lighter because you honoured him.”

“You go to a house museum about a sergeant in Massachusetts and you are going to see the sergeant’s sword, and his gun, and you’re going to see what food implements he used,” says Gates. “All of that shit just gets fixed: it means killing it so that it can live forever. My stance is, ‘No. Let it live forever and then die. Let it live so big.’ My investment in the canon has to do with releasing it from eternal death.”

https://canadianart.ca/features/theaster-gates/             Theaster Gates Builds a House Museum by David Balzer July 20 2016   

In retrospect I wish we had had a small cassette tape player blasting his tunes. Using mix-tapes was the way in which this music was shared and discovered.

With Your Love blasting we strutted out of the exhibition, and onto the streets. Our first encounter was a Chinese dragon parade moving to the pulsing beat along Dundas St.

The Power Plant is pretty much directly south from the AGO. We walked south down McCaul Street, occasionally breaking out in a dance. We crossed Queen Street and continued south down Simcoe Street. We found ourselves in the middle of a charity run with jogging participants all around us blowing whistles.

We stopped at a patch of grass near the CN tower for a break. V was not interested in wearing the headphones anymore. She had glimpsed herself in a reflection and decided against it. We listened to the music coming directly from the device now, but it was almost inaudible with all the surrounding noise. V did a drawing of the blimp hovering up near the tower. She asked me what the city looked like “in the old days” and if the train tracks we were sitting next to would have been there and been used.

We continued south – quick stop in a play ground – then under the Gardiner and directly to the Power Plant. We entered the doors to the gallery, had a last dance, and then stopped the music. V had had enough of me going on about Frankie Knuckles. She has moments of brilliant insight, but at times is also resistant to my enthusiasm. I am impressed with her stamina and ability to walk that distance at such a pace.

I asked her what it felt like to walk while listening to loud music on headphones – her first time. She said she felt like she was in a film and that it made her walk faster.

V did some drawings of “the music”, the blimp, and a bird’s eye view of our walk.


(Click photo to enlarge)

Taking an Object for a Walk – post 3

I took V out of school to head to the Royal Ontario Museum for the afternoon to find our next object to take for a walk.

After the prerequisite trip to the Bat Cave we found ourselves in a gallery of objects from the Middle East. V pretty quickly settled on a curved boar tusk amulet. #28 Talisman with the “Hand of Fatima” or the Khamsa (Five) is from the 19th century and is possibly from Morocco. It consists of two tusks joined together by a silver band. From this silver mount hangs a silver hand of Fatima.

We set up our folding stools and drew the object. V took this task very seriously. She noticed a woman in the gallery also drawing something and declared that she too must be taking an object out for a walk.

We’ve really enjoyed the act of drawing in this project. I love to draw but am quite out of practice. Sometimes I am horrified with what I produce, but today I was pleased with the outcome. The drawings of course are not meant to be polished analytical representations, any sort of mark will do. I felt drawing was a way of getting to the know the object, to really look at it, as well to provide a tactile mode of transporting the object out of the museum. Drawing in museums and galleries is also a convention that I am used to having gone to art school – or used to be used to. Perhaps I need to have more of a think about how drawing like this is objectifying the object.

V whispered to the Talisman, “Where do you want to go?”, “What do you want to see?”. She waited for a reply and a few moments later heard it say “To a fountain near a paper shop.”, and “To look for other wild boar”. This got me excited…A fountain!…Where are the fountains of Toronto? For a split second I thought V might be channelling something from this Talisman….but then I thought about the second part of the request, the paper shop. She was leading me to Yorkville. She was leading me to ice cream.

Not much was to be gleaned from the information panel about this object. There was a short piece of text about religion and belief in something beyond what is visible or tangible and how one reaches out to those forces.

V led us out of the building and back up to the intersection of Bloor and Queen’s Park/Avenue Road.  Using her sketch pad and clip board V did a line drawn map of where we were and where we planned to walk.

She knew exactly how to get to the fountain and directed my every step down to when to step off the curb and which side of the scaffolding to walk under on Avenue Rd. We passed the building which used to house the Cumberland Cinema – where I used to make popcorn. I passed on this history to V. She told me that she already knew this information.

Along the way we also decided to keep a look out for dentist’s offices (remember the boar tooth), and jewellers.

We came to the Village of Yorkville Park with the “big rock” made up of rocks from the Canadian Shield and the fountain. The fountain is a long and vertical shape with many wires strung vertically from top to bottom. Water flows from the top down the wires and into a shallow pool along the length of the entire structure. It seemed to be a hangout for pigeons. I sat at the top of the rock (where I used to sleep on my breaks at the cinema) while V went over to the fountain to give it a good inspection. She was talking to the Talisman, which she told me was on her shoulder. Back on the rock she wouldn’t tell me what happened down at the fountain or what she was saying.

We stayed here a while. I sat on the rock while she scrambled around. She told me that she felt safe when climbing the rock knowing that the Talisman was with her. She definitely was doing some daredevil moves.

We stayed here for quite some time. Ice cream was all forgotten. We headed east along Cumberland towards Bay St. On the east side of Bay St. we noticed a bead and jewellery shop. ‘Perfect, we can make our own talismans’, we declared. We chose some beads and charms and even found two hands of Fatima. We discussed why it isn’t the best idea to use these in our new personal talisman’s but we bought them nonetheless as a reminder of our walk with the boar tusk.

It was a relaxing walk being led by V with the talisman on her shoulder. I enjoyed her seriousness playfulness. I have found that keeping an object in mind as I walk is a nice escape from my daily internal monologue. I felt very “in the moment”. It was a break from the general hubbub and chatter that can usually clutter my mind. I recommend it.

We saw no wild boar.


(Click image to enlarge)

Next week: Walking with Frankie Knuckles.


Taking an Object for a Walk – post 2


This past July I was invited to create a “walkshop” at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto for a project celebrating the ideas of urban theorist Jane Jacobs. The series of events at the Gardiner, entitled The Make It Real Project, took place in their exhibition hall. Although the events were convened in the museum itself they had little to do with the collection of ceramic objects on the two floors below. This is how Taking an Object for a Walk came to be, as a way of discovering the collection in the host institution whilst exploring the city streets. I have recently been working with my daughter on a few projects, as opportunities for “co-learning”, and this was a continuation of this collaboration.

For this post I will cover some of the outcomes of the walks made by walkshop participants, the walk that my daughter (V) and I did with our chosen object, and I will end with a few final reflections and further questions to attend to.


Notes on the walkshop

Every participant was given at small hand-bound sketchbook, a clipboard, writing and drawing tools, and a worksheet with some questions to provoke further thinking about their chosen object: the object’s name and origin, the “life-cycle” of the object; its raw materials, how it was made, where it has already traveled, and where it may go in the future.

As participants arrived they were given their workshop package, and the aims of the “walkshop” were introduced. They then set off down to the two gallery floors below for about 20 minutes of perusing the collection before heading out onto the streets. There were about dozen participants in total.


A selection of objects and walks


Owlet, 1755 – 1760, porcelain, London, England.

A granddaughter/grandmother couple chose a porcelain owl to take for a walk. They visited trees in the surrounding streets in which the owl might like to nest or perch and the girl drew them in her sketch book. They also looked for places where an owl may catch mice – a dumpster behind the museum. She drew a map of how to get to the dumpster from the museum and the exact location of where a mouse might hide.

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(photo credit: Jamie McMillan)

Head #1 by Jean-Pierre Larocque

A walk with a large ceramic sculpture of a head by Jean Pierre Larocque, described here by the participant.

“Head #1 is definitely leading. Its’ not liking the noise of the city.
We went to the Korean Pagoda Garden down Charles Street. I have
never been to this place so I am glad to let Head lead me to the quiet
places I also prefer. Then we came to an oak tree dedicated to the
reconciliation in Korea. The oak leaves were like this…Head knows
everything about Oak leaves and trees. Head would like wearing a
wreath of oak leaves and I did rather think I should make him one.
(I think Head could be a “he”). We continued past the Isabel Bader
theatre to a pretty shaded garden with two birch type trees and also
saw a statue of a crucified woman. Head and I both found this a sad
piece and sadly symbolic of women’s journey the past thousands of years…
Head lay down for a while under a bush. He feels there is
so much intensity of energy in the city and he experiences it like an
antennae for the exchanges of people and technology. The cool ground
is so soothing for him. I wait around the garden. Walking we discuss.
Head is so ancient and seems to carry the memory of many civilizations
within his fibres and textures. ….Head says he has a permanent place at
the Gardiner and is glad about that as it is a fairly controlled environment
and no one can touch him. Calm, and cool, and cared for. Far from the
madding crowd. I know I can come back to visit as I have formed a
bond or resonance I will be back to visit with my new old friend….
So glad I am able to meet and renew a resonance with the ancient existing
in the now….”

Two Ducks – effigy vessel

A woman with her two young children chose an earthenware duck vessel made of two duck shapes that come together as one vessel. They decided to look for doubles and pairs. Some things they noticed were: sisters (themselves), a double decker bus, bicycles locked together, mailboxes, couples eating and drinking, parents holding hands with children. They went to find the ducks some water in the fountain in Yorkville about a 5-10 minute walk away from the museum.

“We were grateful to have our light weight water bottles on our walk; modern day vessels!”

“The ducks are like two sisters. They were hugging”

“The ducks would probably want to have ice cream. Usually they want bread or fish but it’s so hot today.”


Cos Lettuce Tureen, porcelain, 1755, England.

This participant drew her object and then went to find lettuce in grocery stores and lettuce like vegetation in parks and gardens. She photographed and drew what she found.


Model of a Child’s Head, Red Stoneware, 1711, Germany

This participant chose a small stoneware sculpture of a child’s head as his object. He then looked for other sculptures in the museum that may symbolize the life of this child – he found two lovers and an older looking human face. When out on the street he imagined walking like a child and made a film using his phone held at child’s head hight to get the perspective of what a child might see and contend with as they walk the city streets.


Rose Box, porcelain, 1755, Chelsea, London, England

My daughter, V, chose a porcelain bowl with a lid in the shape of a rose. She chose this piece because “It looks nice”. We had some close seconds, but the Rose Box was the preferred choice.

We both drew the object in our sketch books. I asked V where we should take the Rose Box and she suggested that we take it to find other roses, to introduce it to a rose garden, to let it be with its own. So we set off to find roses. We recently read The Little Prince, and I am now wondering if the choice of the rose had anything to do with this story.

We didn’t have to go very far to find more roses. We found roses in the lobby of the museum. Out on busy University Avenue we decided to walk north towards Bloor Street. Next to the Gardiner Museum is the Lillian Massey Building a University of Toronto building at 125 Queens Park housing the Department of Classics and the Department of Medieval Studies. Around the door are rose shapes carved in relief. V stopped to draw these.

We continued north and crossed Bloor Street at the lights. On the north west corner we came to small Anglican church, The Church of the Redeemer, out front of which is a rose garden. We went to smell the roses. At this point V complained she was hungry and could go no further. We made it half a block from the museum, but managed to find three instances of roses to introduce to our Rose Box.

The Rose Box came with us for lunch. We carefully cradled it in our hands and on occasion balanced it on our heads. On the way home V became fed up with looking after the precious ceramic specimen, so without a thought of the consequences she threw it up in the air. I gasped in horror. She assured me that she threw it all the way back to the Gardiner and that it was safely back in its case in the environment controlled museum.

A few things to take into consideration when collaborating with a 4 year old: Attention span, bladder capacity, and metabolic rate differ between adult and child. She is, however, extremely patient and surprises me with the seriousness at which she accepts the tasks involved in the project.

Other objects at the Gardiner that we’d like to walk with are: a small porcelain figure or a pilgrim taking a rest, small comedia delle arte figures, ancient chinese vases with a painted scene of scholars – we thought nearby Philosophers Walk would be a good place to take the scholars.



(Click images to enlarge)


Some reflections and further inquiries

On the whole the participants really enjoyed having these new parameters for walking and exploring the streets. They went to new places, and set themselves the task of noticing specific things related to their object – sometimes self-similar to their object, sometimes not.

The participants had to essentially create their own walk – often improvising it as they went – and were not a passive audience for a walk led by the artist. The walk couldn’t happen unless they really used their imaginations

I was asked about how this walk was useful for imagining new futures for public spaces. I will address this in a future post. I will also look into the role of the Rose and the rose garden in The Little Prince.

Next week: Another walk with V from a Toronto museum and a link out to some photos and drawings.

Taking an Object for a Walk was commissioned by CRAZY DAMES, as part of the Make It Real Project at the Gardiner Museum. CRAZY DAMES: We Built This City, was a “playful and clayful approach to engaging diverse publics in envisioning our public spaces in ways that will animate, change, and improve our everyday experiences”

Taking an Object for a Walk – post 1


KEYWORDS: walking, object biography, newcomers experience, co-working and co-learning with children.


This is the first post for my residency at WalkingLab.  From October through to January I will be posting reflections and outcomes from a walking project undertaken with my four year old daughter.   This first post is an introduction to the project’s key themes.

In the spring of 2016 I was invited to plan a walk for a series of events at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto.  These events were part of a larger project celebrating the ideas of urban theorist Jane Jacobs,  (and coinciding with the opening of  a new community space at the museum.)

Following in the vein of my recent work – co-working with children – I designed a “walkshop” with my daughter.  Our project is called Taking an Object for a Walk, and it is this project that I will further develop for the duration of this residency,  enabling both a more extensive engagement with museum collections, and greater reflection on the project’s methodology

Once a week we will visit a museum or gallery and choose an object to take on on a  walk.  We will produce a series of trails which follow the connections between a museum object and other objects, people, and places in the city.  We will trace existing but latent connections between these things, and forge new ones.  We will learn as much as possible about our chosen object and decide on an appropriate course of action.  We might lead the object, or the object might lead us.  This process begins with the object being drawn in situ. This drawing will act as an aide memoir as we walk looking for connections between the object and the city. New drawings will be made of each new related-object as we encounter them.

The object’s journey is influenced by its biography – its production, exchange, ownership, use, how the meaning of the object has been transformed throughout its history and what its future life might entail.  Most likely, it is the first time these objects have been out in the city streets, so we will ask ourselves how this newcomer to the city might feel in this situation. Where might it want to go?

Taking an Object for a Walk will enable co-learning as we – as adult and child – explore the city together led by the museum object.  This is an opportunity to engage the city, navigating it in new and unexpected ways; a series of new encounters for all concerned.  While this is primarily an active co-learning experience with the object as socratic guide, or cicerone, we hope that the trails will have the potential to be re-traced as instructional itineraries.

 This project is part of a larger, long-term project that involves co-working and co-learning with children (Crafternoon 2013- 2015 in Oxford UK; residency at the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford), as well as my past and present interest in walking as both method and practice explored through art and geography.

Three main themes to this new walking work are Object Biography, Newcomers Experience, Co-working and Co-learning with children (my daughter).

Next week I will publish reflections on the Gardiner  “walkshop”.