Footwork Fog

Before the Where to? Steps Towards the Future of Walking Arts Symposium  at Falmouth University, Cornwall, Walking Artists Network (WAN) held their fourth Footwork research residency, this time in Hayle, Cornwall.

Themes to walk and talk through during the residency and to be addressed in the symposium were:

1.The growth / interest in walking art practices: its visibility, breadth and range, which became: ‘New practices, platforms, technologies and cultural sensibilities promoting walking (art)’ at the symposium in response to the proposed abstracts and accepted papers.

* What dynamics in art theory are promoting walking’s popularity?

* How do these relate to wider cultural sensibilities and structures of feeling?

* How are ideas of placed encounters with walking globally circulated and reproduced?

* How are mobile and located technologies promoting new platforms and audiences for walking art practices?

2. Regional particularities in walking (art)

* How does the act of walking take possession of landscape and/or articulate the identity of the walker with the place (and vice versa)?

* How can we challenge ourselves as walkers in a passive landscape/backdrop: how do the animate and inanimate act upon one another?

* How does the act of walking connect places? Connect times/ communities?

* How is regional identity communicated or marketed (nationally and internationally) through the appeal of walking?

3. The politics of walking (art)

* Who is marginalised or left behind?

* Who is walking? Who isn’t walking?

* Are the resistances of walking over-stated?

As the first day of the residency in mid-April 2015 was going to end with WAN walking the Hayle Churks mobile phone app wearing headphones, the morning needed to be spent on conversation and exploration so that the group felt comfortable with each other before the more immersive solitary app experience.
Two of Footwork’s research themes were useful in the planning of the first morning:
* How does the act of walking take possession of landscape and/or articulate the identity of the walker with the place (and vice versa)?

* How does the act of walking connect places?

In order to set the scene for the afternoon app walk in Hayle, which is a post-industrial coastal town experiencing rapid redevelopment, I decided to start the day six miles around the bay in St. Ives, an ex-artist colony, fishing harbour and now a popular tourist resort.

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Not only are the towns of Hayle and St. Ives visibly connected by water, road and rail, public and private events and stories connect the towns. There are, however, significant contrasts. Observation of buildings, for example, in each town reveals the perceived value of each town. Which town gets the national Tate Gallery and which the cheap supermarkets? Which town is the number one British holiday destination and the place Brits long to live? Which town is described as deprived?
During foot, train and bus journeys between Hayle and St. Ives and back, I wanted walkers to seek out examples of contrasts and connectedness by observing and talking to people, looking at the architecture, the shops, businesses and development. How is heritage dealt with in each town? Who lives here? Constant reflection on the town on the horizon would be needed to keep both in mind as we walked through, between and past one or the other.

But the horizon disappeared. The sea fog crept in.

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The Big Beach House and Chyreene Court had been selected for us to stay for the view of the bay from Hayle across to St. Ives. Instead the water’s edge was hardly visible, the golden sand and land curving around the sea to the town on the other side impossible to make out.

Unable to get accurate information from our eyes we needed to broaden our senses. While waiting for the train, we started with an exercise learned from Alistair Duncan during a geo-poetic walk on the South Downs. The brain’s selection of what is listened to is challenged or usurped by tuning into sounds that have been pushed into the background.

Rather than seeing the turquoise bay open out during the train ride we rattled into an impenetrable abyss. Godrevy lighthouse to the right, inspiration for Virginia Woolf’s ‘To the Lighthouse’ and the approaching old buildings on St. Ives harbour to the left could only be described and imagined. The bright rather than dull glare of fog through dirty train windows and the window flung open of Naomi Frears’ studio on Porthmeor beach was the only hint that the light still attracts artists to St. Ives.

‘What am I supposed to be seeing?’

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We picked our way across coast path, towan (dune in Kernewek/ Cornish) and beach back to Hayle – familiar companions became unsettling revenants as they disappeared and reappeared unexpectedly in the fog. Washed up Ghost Gear, lost or dumped fishing waste that murders and traps creatures, haunted our path as well as the sea.

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Afternoon – using a device to reveal invisible layers in the landscape.

Footwork afternoon themes were:

* How are mobile and located technologies promoting new platforms and audiences for walking art practices?

* How can we challenge ourselves as walkers in a passive landscape/backdrop: how do the animate and inanimate act upon one another?

* Who is marginalised or left behind?

* How does the act of walking connect places? (And connect times/ communities/ us to landscape?)

Before starting the app we walked to the ASDA car park. While looking at the recently restored but, as yet, not functional sluice gates, I explained why having another supermarket in Hayle and on this location mattered. Built on historic South Quay the supermarket has put the future of the Cornwall and Devon World Heritage Site into jeopardy. UNESCO visited Hayle in March 2015 and the whole region is waiting to hear whether the World Heritage Site status is secure, whether it has to remain on the endangered list until certain conditions are met or whether the region will join only two other global sites that have lost their World Heritage status.

Heritage in Hayle has a history of being demolished, displaced, decontextualized or ignored despite vocal locals. To illustrate this we walked up Plantation, a hill that raised us up to look along the river mouth and Hayle estuary (heyl in Kernewek/ Cornish means estuary). From the hill top, despite the fog, a panorama of building projects moved and clanged, just visible. Plantation is a folly built in the 1800s by Foundry owner Henry Harvey on the site of an Iron Age fort, probably the earliest fixed Hayle settlement and still waiting for archaeological exploration. Standing upright and fixed into a wall next to a path is the Cunaide stone from approximately 470AD.

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The Cunaide Stone is obscured by lichen.
The Latin translation is on the stone on the left with visible lettering.

Workmen originally discovered the stone four feet deep and lying horizontally in December 1845. Less defaced by lichen, a replica of the stone is set next to it with a (contested) Latin translation that reads: ‘Here in peace has rested Cunaide. Here he lies in the tomb. He lived for 33 years.’ One of the most important early Christian burial remnants in Europe, Hayle Heritage Centre is raising money to try to remove, investigate and preserve the stone.

With images and impressions of St. Ives as well as South Quay and Plantation in their minds, the Walking Artists Network took out their phones and put on their headphones to start the Hayle Churks app.
The app draws from the collection of over a hundred oral histories recorded & written as part of the community Hayle Oral History Project that I coordinated between 2008 – 2010. Walks were assembled by juxtaposing local experts’ and personal research, archive photos and gathered oral histories for the ‘Churks, Clidgy & Doodle-Dashers. Hayle’s Tales and Trails’ book, which sparked the idea to use locative media – audio and images triggered by walking into (invisible) GPS zones. After a period of embedded research; walking, talking, speaking, listening, researching, observing and recording, the app was created.
Released from the confines of the archive building, walkers experience oral histories as hauntings as they walk on the edge of Hayle. Walking through memories from different decades while the moving body remains in the present distorts time and space. The app reveals and locates both public and private stories from Hayle’s past and present in over forty locations in an abstract experience rather than an organised tour. Could this encourage the participant to think about the future and their legacy? At a time when decisions on local planning are being devolved to local town and Parish councils through Neighbourhood Plans it’s important that we understand the significance of land that can, in Hayle’s case, look derelict or be in the process of rapid redevelopment, but is historically important and holds stories and secrets.

During redevelopment decisions and process the community’s disembodied voices, rich with accents and vocabulary from their home, whisper the significance of the location to us intimately through headphones, as we pass by… and will continue to do so as long as the GPS and mobile phone technology remains accessible.

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