4elements Living Arts has undertaken 14 years of work along a path toward community change. We came to walking out of a need to connect people back to place and to facilitate stewardship of our island landscapes and ecosystems. We did this the simplest, most accessible way we knew how: by showing up – and walking. Throughout 4e’s history we’ve come at issues of community, identity, culture and place from many different angles: curatorial projects, archival research, exhibitions, community consultation processes, school programs and outdoor art-making. We take folks out on the land through a range of creative engagements to deepen awareness of land and place via natural science, history, art-making, oral history, creative mapping, collaborative and personal art-making, and embodied engagements. This year we decided to formally engage through a curatorial theme with this ‘walking’ thread, one that has flowed through many of the organization’s projects and programs.
In April, we began The Fieldbook Project, designed and facilitated by Sophie Edwards and Heather Thoma.
Participants (an interesting group of folks that range from a textile artist to a retired accountant) began by making handmade fieldbooks, then join us on almost weekly walks to different sites and ‘fields’ around Manitoulin Island to think about walking via a number of lenses.
Our first conversation introduced a rich number of themes that we’ll individually and collectively ‘pick away at’ over the next two months: the relations between art and science and the epistemological (and environmental) consequences of their separation; our choice to use the word ‘fieldbook’ rather than notebook or sketchbook, to trigger the idea of inquiry, research, and the practices that cross between art and science (we read Joni Palmer’s chapter The Forest for the Trees: Fieldbooks as Sites of Change). We grappled with ‘the field’ of our engagements/research and walking, exploring the rich literature and scholarship that has challenged traditional (geographical and other) constructions of the field ‘out there’, a fixed and static site into which one can enter and leave with a set of defined observations and conclusions. We talked about the researcher, positionality, and relational aspects of researcher and the research/ed.
Each walk begins with a provocation: our first walk focused on being guided – by the physical terrain, the formal path established for the trail, and by the representative from Manitoulin Streams who gave us a walking talk about the organization’s work to rehabilitate the Kagawong River in the summer of 2016. We thought about how one encounters a space, and used words like ‘path’, ‘pattern,’ edge’ to observe how these inform geographical knowledge.
These elements, taken from Bloomer and Moor’s Body, Memory and Architecture help to think about movement through a space. While our context is rural, this path is built/constructed, and exists on multiple scales. At the bodily scale we experience the walking, the trail and the river in highly individual, haptic and embodied ways; at a group scale, we are in physical, emotional and intellectual conversation with each other. At a local scale, we enter in to a recreational space designed not only for locals but also for the important tourism economy and a river managed/rehabilitated because of 150 years of settler impact; at a larger scale, we walk on paths that we constantly re-produce as colonial/conquered spaces. And of course, we are observed by and cross the paths of a host of other-than-human actors within that space (deer, birds, bears).
Other themes emerged through this guided walk: questions of river management, and the nature of ‘nature’.