The Walking Project

The Walking Project

The Walking Project was an interdisciplinary performance, mapping and cultural exchange project collaboratively developed with US and South Africa-based artists during a series of residencies in Detroit and KwaZulu-Natal from 2003 through 2006.

Hilary Ramsden, Llandysul, United Kingdom

The Walking Project – Evolution and Process
The Walking Project was an interdisciplinary performance, mapping and cultural exchange project collaboratively developed with US and South Africa-based artists during a series of residencies in Detroit and KwaZulu-Natal from 2003 through 2006.

We explored the paths, or ‘desire lines’, made by people who walk across vacant lots in Detroit and across fields in South Africa - and what connects them.

What started off as a bike ride home along paths through abandoned housing lots in Detroit led to a series of walks along these ‘desire lines’ in neighborhoods in the City and KwaZulu-Natal, generating conversation, photographs, stories and connections between the two places. We looked at how people make their own paths; how and why people’s paths cross; how they are formed through culture, geography, language, economics and love; and how changing patterns of movement alter perceptions, attitudes and lives.

We shaped a series of performances, workshops and improvisation sessions around the themes of walking, geography and place. Our First Steps Detroit residency in 2004 integrated two work-in-process performances with a weekend of related events including: Paths We’ve Walked - an installation by elder artists from Hannan House tracing personal histories of Detroit, Walking Detroit - an interdisciplinary performance workshop exploring the techniques used to create the performance piece, The Walking Project Jam Session - a free form jam with musicians, djs, poets and the Walking Project cast improvising together on the theme of walking, Night Walking - a dance party with Detroit djs spinning South African, Detroit and walking-themed music and Walk the Walk – a voter registration drive.

Our subsequent residency in South Africa in summer 2005 continued the collaboration with artists and communities in KwaZulu-Natal, creating further links and opportunities for events such as an outdoor performance of ‘Next Steps’ with artists from Detroit & KwaZulu-Natal, local isiscathamiya and gospel performances, a print exchange, a an open-mic cabaret night walks led by primary school children and by Walking Project performers.
This was followed in February - April 2006, by a full-scale festival in Detroit which included events at different sites in the city as our partners developed their projects alongside the premiere of the finished performance piece and visual art installation at the Boll Family YMCA.

Hannan House Elders created a CD of original Walking Songs with spoken work poet, David Blair; we held: an arts and humanities symposium with keynote speaker, writer Joseph A. Amato; public walks in the city, along desire lines and along sidewalks, another Walking Project Jam session with local musicians, spoken word poets and the Hannan House elders, artist receptions in people’s homes; workshops for community groups, churches and universities on themes of mapping, community development, physical theatre and performing personal stories; Mapping our Neighbourhood workshops with urban planning students at University of Michigan and Wayne State University and we gathered walking stories during many, many conversations with people who walk and talk.

The project stimulated discussion and debate on themes of walking, modernity, technology, locality, identity, place and space – and the differences and commonalities between cultures and people, such as how a Zulu farmer may have more in common with a rural white Texan than an African American from Detroit. A favorite example of collaboration is an overlap of the Hannan House writing/walking workshops for elders and the late night Jam Session. The elders in their 70s and 80s, wrote a collaborative “Walking Blues” and performed it during the Jam Session, accompanied by a group of musicians and DJs in their 20’s and 30’s improvising with them . The audience was equally diverse and grinning from ear-to-ear!

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