What is the future of the wild in a walled Europe?
Could we walk an inquiry? Could we walk a research question? How do we engage critically with the geography around us and with others while in motion? In approaching the Future of Wild Europe conference at Leeds in September we realized we had a unique opportunity to experiment with these questions. In the confines of our office in Stockholm we talk a lot about walking and we utilize walking approaches in our research work, but this was the first time we submitted a walk to a conference in lieu of a paper. This brief summary is an outline of our process, the task of the walk and the results and interventions from each group.
It would seem impossible to talk about ‘wild’ without practices of enclosure and restriction that characterize much of contemporary public life in Europe. But how could we encourage some fifty participants of a conference to do this within an hour and a half? We decided to divide the conference participants into five groups according to colored stickers we placed on their conference badges. Each group would take a different route through the surrounding campus. The workshop itself began under the trees outside the Music Hall on the Leeds campus – with sealed envelopes of instructions and maps greeting each group.
Before we dispersed, we provided an introduction to the workshop themes. We invited participants to activate the intelligence in mind and in feet while also asking that we remove name badges and deinstitutionalize for the remainder of the walk. In the text we said, ‘Some of Europe’s most pressing tensions exist in between the fenced in (spaces, environments, landscapes) and fenced out (people, cultures, non-humans)’ and the walk encouraged people to explore the campus as a microcosm of these tensions. We asked in particular that we all ‘reflect on what it means to participate in building, maintaining and dismantling both the wild and walled.’
After our introduction, each group collected the envelopes, opened their map and walked off into the campus. It was exciting to see each group stride into the experiment. It brought to mind Donna Landry’s position that ‘walking means aligning oneself to some extent with a rebellious reclaiming of common rights’. It was rebellious, a bit, to walk a conference session, well away from the confines of a lecture hall or seminar room, while simultaneously reflecting the conference topic through a different prism.
Once groups reached the space indicated on the map they were instructed to open their envelope and read the first set of instructions:
- 1) Take a moment in silence to breath and look around your area.
- 2) Working in pairs, select a question from your Part 1 envelope. Ask the question together as you traverse the terrain. Don’t forget to activate your senses (smell. sound. touch.), exploring the varied aspects and scales of the space (up. down. across).
- 3) Regather as a group and share your experience.
In composing this walk, we wanted to create a structure where the task was clear. This structure, we hoped, could then provide participants the support they would require for an open ended exploration into Wild // Walled. Divided into pairs and with limited time, the addition of a specific question would help guide their walk. Examples of the questions given included:
What are the manifestations of wilds and walls? How do they work and for whom?
What are the transitions and overlaps between the wild and walled? What does this reveal about the categories?
What processes of building, maintaining and dismantling of walls and wilds do you perceive?
How do walls and wilds in this space shape the way you think, sense, move, engage?
These questions helped to set a tone of inquiry and receptivity. They also gave people varied elements to discuss when they regrouped before Part 2. If Part 1 was inquiry and exploration than Part 2 was active intervention. The next instructions read:
Whether we wish to or not, we are always participating in and contributing to the production of wilds and walls.
- 1) Take the two words that are in your Part 2 envelope. Read together.
- 2) In your group, as a group – decide on a conscious intervention you will make to the space based on your words. Use whatever you find. Bodies. Organic matter. Voice. Found objects. Ideas.
- 3) Document your intervention.
The words provided were various combinations of: Build, Dismantle, Maintain together with Wild, Walled e.g. ‘Build’ / ‘Walled’ or ‘Dismantle’ / ‘Wild’. Each group created a fleeting, transitory intervention, we think having a lot of fun while doing so! Here are some examples:
The documentation provided by each group could serve as a foundation for further walks, workshops, inquiries and interventions. Participants found that talking a walk outside changed their perspective on the questions at hand. One participant got an idea for an article on the move! Another said she understood the concept of walking as a method for the first time. Others appreciated the chance to engage with the situated location on foot and to materialise some of the more abstract concepts we were grappling with back inside the conference venue.
We hope others will be encouraged to try out their own walking experiments in this wildwalled world. For as Anna Tsing has encouraged, ‘What do you do when your world starts to fall apart? I go for a walk…’
Irma & Anne.