Walking Together, Apart
A collaborative project by Katie Huckson and Alicia Hunt
Funded by the Canada Council for the Arts (Digital Originals Grant)
Alicia Hunt and I (Katie Huckson) developed Walking Together, Apart from 2020-2021, partly as an excuse to work together again, partly because most of the time we spend together involves walking on and/or around Baawaating (Sault Ste. Marie) where I live and where we met in art school, and partly because I had planned to travel to see her (in Kjipuktuk/Halifax) in spring 2020, but the pandemic put that on hold.
In grad school, we both began experimenting with performative methods of art-making, developing projects that incorporated walking as performance. We shared readings, artworks, and ideas about site-specificity, ritual gestures, land-based investigations, and walking as a medium. We stayed in touch during my MFA at the University of Windsor and Alicia’s MFA at NSCAD. Whenever we returned to Baawaating at the same time, we would meet for a walk, often along a shoreline, a river, or a train track.
Walking Together, Apart was intended as a means of exploring the new, heightened significance of daily walks during the COVID-19 pandemic. We thought of it as a way to engage with the idea of isolated connectivity (working together while physically separated) and localized attentiveness (being with the land) through semi-structured, ritual daily walks. Focusing on this commonality, where walking had become a sort of refuge and daily constant, fostered a sense of connection between us and offered generative space for processing a global crisis from our specific social, material, and environmental contexts.
Our shared ideas about performance art and site-specificity are grounded in inter-activity and responding to other people or cues from the land and living beings. In our individual performance art practices, we both tend towards ritualistic gestures that involve the public and/or landscape and which hinge on the indeterminacy of exchange with people and places. It was important to us that our approach for Walking Together, Apart involved sensitive and attentive observation (of how we felt, of what we encountered on our walks) and place-responsive documentation (of when and how to note, capture, or hold on to these feelings and encounters).
Despite an openness to exchange, this project was born out of a restrictive and isolating sociocultural moment, and we wanted this to be reflected. To do this, we initially set a fairly rigid script and parameters outlining how we were to conduct these walks. These parameters included what sensory experiences to focus on and which medium we should use to document our walks. We separated the project into thematic “phases” of two weeks, mimicking COVID restriction protocols.
Walking Together, Apart
Phase 1. Consider the sensory experience of your walk.
What do you smell, see, taste, hear, feel?
Capture the sensation(s) with field audio recordings, rubbings and/or drawings.
Phase 2. Seek out an object or thing you find particularly interesting.
Why are you drawn to it? What is unique or treasured about it? Where/what is it from?
Can you carry it with you? Should you take it with you?
Document with photograph(s), or if possible/appropriate/safe, bring the object(s) home and scan them.
Phase 3. Seek out something (sense, feeling, object, living thing) that is unfamiliar.
After 28 days of walking through similar spaces and places, can you identify something new?
Try to document this unfamiliarity with written field notes and/or video recording.
Each day, we were to perform a walk independently, with the specific phase’s parameters in mind. We intended to virtually meet three times weekly to share our observations. However as the project progressed we became much less obedient to the outlined structure and parameters. Each week, we shared all the media we recorded during our walks in a shared cloud-based drive. Through these documentations (audio, photo, video, drawings) we were offered glimpses of one another’s walks, the similarities and differences in the landscape, the light, the sounds and forms of the places, the cadence of one another’s footsteps.
We noticed that as restrictions changed, as the season changed, and having framed these walks as obligatory and structured, our relationship to this daily ritual changed too. We were somewhat resistant to the obligatory restrictions around the walks. We would sometimes take more walks in one day, and none on others. We used visual media for weeks where we were supposed to capture audio recordings. This breaking of rules also played into the compilation and collaboration phase; making artworks after the performative/research period of conducting the walks. We stalled, we put off the creation phase and found ourselves in wintertime reconnecting over the project, pooling the bits of plant matter, found objects, videos and audio we had collected. We started putting pieces together and taking them back apart. This back and forth process reminded us of the waves of fear/anxiety and apathy that we waded through during re-openings and mandatory lockdowns - which were often not aligned since she was on the east coast and I was in Ontario. We had a breakthrough when we took the remnants of the collected debris from our second phase back outside, and photographed it in the snow. In the winter of 2021, I (Katie) created the third phase video work and Alicia created the first phase audio works independently, retracing the walks we’d taken, together but apart.