The Second Annual Denis Cosgrove Lecture: Dee Heddon

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Photo: Ed Brookes

Walking Aesthetics and Performing Landscape

by Ed Brookes

The second annual Dennis Cosgrove lecture was presented by artist and researcher Dee Heddon. Dee is professor of contemporary performance at the university of Glasgow, and author of several publications including ‘Autobiography and Performance’ (2008) and co-editor of a new book series for Palgrave on ‘performing landscapes’. Her talk entitled ‘Walking Aesthetics and Performing Landscape’ invited us to explore walking as an art form, and uncover its potential for performative, social and environmental encounters. She invited us to reflect upon three main questions:

  • What walks would you gift to a friend?
  • What book would you take for a walk?
  • What supports your walk?

Recounting her own experience on her project ‘40 walks’, she discussed the relations between walking, space and friendship. The project started by her asking her friends to ‘gift’ to her their favourite walks as part of her 40th birthday. Spanning a total of 4 years, the project took her across the country, presenting walking as collaborative medium, through which wisdoms, knowledges and creativities could be shared. Walking became a collective ensemble of performance, opening up new ground for cultivating ‘friendscapes’.

She moved on to discuss her ongoing project ‘The Walking Library’ as she and artist Misha Myers ask what it is to take a book out for a walk, setting up a dialogue between texts and the environment. The project has seen her travel across Belgium, carrying over 90 selected texts, including ‘Travels with a Donkey’ by Robert Louis Stevenson, ‘A field Guide to Getting Lost’ by Rebecca Solnit and Kathleen Jamies ‘Findings’. She highlighted how walking as a cultural practice has a long history  involving the carrying of reading materials; it is that which inspires her to think about what books people carry when they walk today.

The audience was invited to take part, each presented with small library cards and badges they are asked to write down a book they would most like to walk with. These books may then make it to future walks with ‘The Walking Library’. She discussed how a walking library offers new ways of engaging with landscape, texts and place. It becomes a mobile reading venue, as it gathers people into a congregation where stories can be shared or consumed in isolation.

She concluded by talking through her final project ‘Walking Interconnections’, in which she and collaborators question the framing of walking as a universal environmental experience. Using interview accounts and her experience with The Walking Library she discussed and acknowledged the value of the lived experiences of those who may walk differently. ‘Walking’ therefore is not about putting one leg in front of the other but a process of moving through space, of engagement with the surrounding environment, coupled with distinct social processes of shared experience. Her vibrant and at times humorous accounts provide a valuable insight into cultural practices of walking. She ended by bringing us back to the three questions she presented at the beginning, encouraging us to reflect upon walks in our own lives and their potential for performative discovery.

Photography: Ed Brookes

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