The silent walk is a standard in the walking artist’s tool kit. It’s a great introduction to how effective live art can be and that it doesn’t always require a lot of preparation or even a budget.
The first one I went on was Kira O’Reilly’s Silent Walk which ran during Fierce Festival in 2011. She told me she’d adapted it from a Chicago performance group called Goat Island. The event was an aimless and leaderless wander as a group (or about 15 people) setting off from what was then VIVID’s space on Heath Mill Lane in Digbeth. Kira led the assembled group out of the door initially to give it momentum but after that it decided (without communicating) where it would go next and what it would stop to look at. An invisible group dynamic decides where to go next. Essentially, it was experiencing flocking behaviour in humans. I recall we stopped to look at a broken water main that was bubbling up through the pavement like a fountain, and the only time the the group stalled was outside the police station on Digbeth High Street. The group attracted a few glances but wasn’t regarded with suspicion – even by the police. There might be the occasional puzzled look as the group descended down an alley.
The second silent walk I went on involved walking round Chelsea with a similarly sized group, but this time gathered together by a large elastic band, about fifty feet long. This time the group did attract attention. People in the group took the instruction of silence as binding and questions, comments and interventions from the public outside the band were ignored. The wake of friction and confusion it left through the streets was almost as visible as ship churning up the ocean. There was separate dynamic within the group: who should support the band (it wasn’t attached to us) and how fast to walk, how to ensure everyone had enough space. At one point the group stopped and the two leaders left the band and set off in different directions. Who should we follow?
Each walking artist adds their own tweak to the game – and a slient walk should be a fun and intriguing expereince. Such a walk features in the Still Walking programme: Simone Kenyon’s Quiet Edges. It proceeds through some outlying streets around the Jewellery Quarter this afternoon, but this will not be about site-seeing. The locations will be unfamiliar to most. Simone will invite you to experience the city and the simple act of group walking in a way that may well be new to you. The first rule is “No Talking”. The second rule is lively discussion of exactly what you experienced in a warm, dry location with a drink after the event: I look forward to hearing your take on what happens!
Some tickets still available here.