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”.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cicerone

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 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”.