In this week’s landscape surgery we are taken on a tour of London organised by the ‘Urban Detours Guide Team’ (Cecile Sachs Olsen, Hattie Coppard and Jonathan Moses). They invite us to take part in a ‘walkshop’ and explore urban space in alternative and creative ways, as we play with its meaning, content and context. The tour takes the form of a ‘sound-walk’, walking silently through the city in order to embrace sounds and experiences as they happen. We are given three rules:
- No Speaking
- Follow The Instructions
- Play Along
What follows is a series of text and images that attempt to document part of our experience as we delve into the various textures, smells and audiovisual registers that the city produces.
We leave the safety of Bedford Square behind and head towards Russell Square. Following our guide, we snake our way past cars and trees. The crunch of a leaf underfoot. The distant sounds of children on a school trip.
We spiral around the park. Onlookers unaware of our expedition into the sensual fabric of urban space. Disgruntled pigeons cooing to our strange ballet.
We move our way through the echoey halls of the British museum. A man taps a rhythm on the counter of a coffee bar.
We are led back outside, through streams of tourists and passers-by. We walk past a cart selling roasted and caramelised nuts, the sweet smells piercing through the rumbling noise of traffic. We finally stop on the corner of Adeline Place in front of the Tottenham Court Road car park.
Here we are each given a blindfold and told to grasp the shoulder of the person in front.
We slowly march. Our sight absent, the smell of petrol, smoke and damp prevail. The rhythmic march of our collective feet.
We emerge into an underground car park. Here our blindfolds are removed and we are each given a torch. We are told to go off and discover what we can about the underground city.
Dust. The gentle hum of stale air.
Course textures. A crack in the fabric of space. The ghostly webs of past lives.
A map of the world above. It ignores all traces of the underground space in which we now exist.
Metal bars protect an underground window.
A vent. Its texture the skin of the city.
After we have been given a chance to explore, we are presented with another task. This time we are given a mirror and asked to hold it just below our nose as we walk around the car park. This way we experience the world that lies just above our heads. Our movements no longer correspond to the path we see in front of us.
Using the mirrors we are led back up to the surface. Each step goes through a pipe, a vent, a floor… that’s not there. The ceiling and floor become one. Once we emerge we head back in silence towards Bedford Square.
Once we arrive we are blindfolded. This time we walk through the noise of the street. Sound and smell our only evidence of the world. The snap of a paper cup under foot. The background and foreground movement of sound as cars drive past. Individual voices ring clear for several moments. And then they are gone.
Seemingly at random our blindfolds are removed and the mirrors are returned to us. Our tour continues around the central green space. This time our vision grants us access to the park. The fence is deleted by our inverted sight and the treetops emerge as the way forward.
As we finish our journey we head back towards the room at Bedford Square and reflect on our experiences. It was clear that our journey created an alternative and often overlooked experience with the urban space around us, highlighting the interconnected relationships between the body and its other senses. The denial or subversion of vision at various encounters offered a way of engaging with the spatiality of sound and its relationship to the urban environment. However, some found the loss of sight claustrophobic and isolating as it denied bodily autonomy. What also emerged was an odd sense that the surrounding environment once listened too was not as noisy as expected. Instead, many sounds were clear and distinct rather than a deafening cacophony. As a method of exploring the city, most agreed that engaging with different perspectives and intricate spaces illuminated many of the overlooked and hidden aspects of everyday life. Either way this week’s ‘walkshop’ has been thoroughly stimulating and entertaining. A special thanks to Cecile, Hattie and Jonathan for putting the ‘walkshop’ together.
Images Courtesy of Ed Crookes and Nina Willment