Slowalk at AV Festival

I don’t know why it has taken me so long to write about my experience of Hamish Fulton’s  Slowalk here. I’ve written in my journal and talked for hours about it, but I sometimes feel shy about revealing my writing to a wider world.

It really wasn’t at all as I expected. When we arrived at the site on Spiller’s Wharf there was an air of anticipation as people, dressed like us in dark clothes, were standing around chatting. Each of us was asked to stand at one end of the white line of a car parking space. Travelling to the end of it, only two or three metres, was to be our journey for the next two hours. Less a slow walk and more an imperceptible shuffle, as we all had to try and reach the end at the same time. I felt guilty for encouraging Liz to come with me. But how many other medical students get the chance to participate in artworks in their spare time? At least she had her auntie’s thick black coat. And we needed warm clothing! Down by the river the wind was bitter at times.

Liz, in the middle, on her line before the walk


At the beginning I was very conscious of the time and every tiny movement I made, hoping I wasn’t going too fast. We were advised that we should divide the line into segments, so that we would know where we should be after each half hour. I became fascinated by the marks on my line, in particular the little dancing figure I could see in the centre that told me the half way point. It was like the shapes and faces I used to see in wallpaper and kitchen tiles when I was little.

Oh to be free to move like a dancer! It struck me that we had all surrendered our freedom for the duration of this piece and how, when we are constrained, we appreciate the little things, everyday things that we normally take for granted. I was really concentratedly aware of being in that space at that time. Every little stretch to ease the growing stiffness was a significant gesture. When the sun shone it was wonderful, warming my back.

People find their way around constraint and uniformity. Though there were rules – the dark clothes, no talking, no phones, no cameras during the two hours – and we were all doing the same thing, everyone did it in their own way. The girl next to me a little faster than everyone else; the woman opposite surreptitiously pulling an extra jacket from her backpack and putting it on; the woman who turned her face like a flower towards the sun when it shone. It reminded me of de Certeau and The Practice of Everyday Life.

The dancing figure


It was strange, but the time passed quickly. I was on the edge of the car park, with my back to the river, so I had a great view of the space. There was one poor soul on the other side who was walking with her back to everyone else and must have had a more solitary experience. Though none of us spoke, the sense of solidarity was palpable, especially as we were reaching the end. We all wanted it to work, so much so that there were looks of disbelief as one person left with minutes to go. I could hear one of the AV stewards behind me hissing under her breath “Are you sure? You’re going to spoil the whole thing!” I hoped it didn’t spoil the filming.

As we neared three o’clock, I watched with even greater interest the movements of the people whose lines were converging. Would they really end up nose to nose? Some did little slow dances to avoid or accommodate the others. For a moment, I envied them that intensity of having to be so close. It would have been a different kind of challenge for me if I had stood in the centre of the car park like them. So much about boundaries and utterly fascinating!

But I wasn’t in their space, I was in mine and it was great to be able to see what was going on. Apparently, I beamed the whole time! A woman came up to me afterwards and said “ Lady in the purple coat, it was lovely to watch you smiling all the way through!”

A gong sounded and it was all over. The first few normal steps felt very strange, reminding me of the feeling I had when the plaster was taken off after I had broken my ankle. Almost as if I wasn’t sure how to walk properly. I had hoped for some sort of collective ending to acknowledge what we had all accomplished together, but the group dispersed into smaller groups and then we were asked to fill in feedback sheets. This was too soon and seemed to break the profundity of the moment, but it was good to see Tom, whom I’d met in Dunbar, and who was an AV volunteer. I did appreciate being able to speak about it to him and to Liz and one or two others we met as we made our way back along the Quayside, but being so cold and stiff and near the experience, I don’t think my words were very coherent. I was also in a space where words seemed superfluous and I was just full of wonder and maybe not quite back in the outside world. Perhaps that is why I’ve left it till now to write here!


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