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Preview: WALK! festival springs forward with creative, collaborative purpose

March 31, 2016 at 9:37 am
By Thomas Rozwadowski

“WALK! A Festival of Walking, Art & Ideas” has traveled a long way since John Schott’s initial pitch to friends a year ago.

A “wild concept” that received its share of blank stares, “WALK!” is a celebration of walking and walking art built around a series of discussions, roundtables, films, and performances from the Carleton community. And it all grew out of the simplest of curiosities—thinking creatively about a commonplace physical act.

Artists and scholars have long viewed walking as a means of deeper reflection. It is narrative and meditation. History and sociology. Experimentation and subversion.

Simply put: “When you explain the possibilities, you start to see the excitement.”

“It has one foot in the academic side, one foot in the fun side,” says Schott, a cinema and media studies professor. “The theme of walking art already feels different from the typical classroom. You’re going out and experiencing the world around you. It’s engaged learning.”

One Step at at Time

Instead of packing “WALK!” into a single weekend or two, Schott wanted the concept to breathe. It was also never meant to be a solo project. Schott reached out to Carleton colleagues, and as word spread, more added their own creative flourishes.

Among the topics to be covered throughout spring term: Walking as art, dance, environment, meditation, memoir, photography, pilgrimage, and urban geography. There will also be plenty of head-clearing exercise via guided trips around campus and greater Northfield.

Other festival highlights include:

  • Harriet Bart (Minneapolis) and Yu-Wen Wu (Boston) installing “Crossings” at the Perlman Teaching Museum. Opening April 1, the collection examines walking through the experience of a refugee “bringing only what she can carry.” Viewers are also invited to participate in the symbolic migration of rocks (which represent the weight of refugee travels) to the Flaten Art Museum at St. Olaf College.
  • Visits by two artists-in-residence: Angela Ellsworth, a professor and multidisciplinary artist at Arizona State University, and Phil Smith, a walking expert and writer (“Mythogeography: A Guide to Walking Sideways”) from England. Both will give public talks and lead regular walks during their two weeks on campus.

Ellsworth co-founded the Museum of Walking, an archive and library of walking material located in Tempe. The museum also engages in site-specific projects that foster “relationships between people, land, action, and site.”

Smith is an expert on differences in exploratory walking and has written extensively about his own travels. He is also a proponent of walking as discovery, or as Smith calls it, “walking against the grain.”

“It’s the idea that we travel on paths that are the quickest way to get from one place to another. We walk to school. Walk to work. And we learn that path so quickly, we don’t even realize that we’re walking anymore. It becomes so customary,” Schott says.

“So a lot of Smith’s social practice is about seeing the world from a point of view where walking will open your eyes to something new and fresh. Getting lost, in a lot of ways, is an ideal thing to do. You start looking around and really observing what’s around you instead of panicking. It’s ‘here I am,’ not ‘where am I?’”

Walking as Openness

Students who’ve traveled with Schott for off-campus studies programs already know that he practices what Smith preaches. Following in the footsteps of radical thinkers who took walks in Paris by using a map of London, Schott has instructed Carls to explore a foreign city based on something illogical.

While in Rome, one set of students chose to walk in the direction of a sculpture’s eyeline—imagining what it might see—only to change course once they found a new sculpture to follow. Another group walked from the point of view of pickpockets—getting close to people, walking behind them, mimicking their movements—and then documenting what it felt like.

“This whole thing is an invitation, really. We want people to have a creative response to a variety of events and imagine their own approaches to walking,” Schott says.

“It can be simple. It can be complex. It can be art. Just be open to it.”

View a full schedule of “WALK!” events from now until June. All events are open to the public, unless noted.