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Beating the Bounds III


October 25 & 27 2011

Phase III began on the A453 in Clifton and ended in playing fields near the A52

Beating the Bounds II

July 13 2011

'Beating the Bounds' II (Wollaton to Clifton) continued the walk around Nottingham's boundary

Beating the Bounds I

July 7-8 2011

As part of Summer Lodge 2011, 'Beating the Bounds' phase I (from Colwick Park to Wollaton) saw ten participants part-circumnavigate the city of Nottingham, performing actions along and across its boundary with adjoining boroughs.

Beating the bounds: a practice-led participatory project


Throughout my research I have been exploring how to best communicate instructions to participants in my work, be they students, colleagues or the general public. I have experimented with instructional recordings delivered via ipod, instructions written on posters and postcards, and verbal instructions, whispered from person to person. Whilst all these media have their place within my practice, all have limitations, a significant one being the lack of inbuilt facility to follow up and interrogate responses to the experiences people have undergone. Also the tension between my desire to avoid offering ‘rounded-off’ experiences and the short-lived/throwaway nature of the above have led me to return to the most enduring form of my practice, the participatory workshop. This format enables me to build a relationship with a group of people, to not only give them a more profound experience but also to glean important feedback from them as things unfold. The temporal and conceptual space offered by such a practitioner workshop allows for collective sharing of tacit knowledge of urban/suburban space and behaviour.
I have long been interested in the paratheatrical projects of Jerzy Grotowski (1973-1978) and Marina Abramovic’s ‘Cleaning the House’ workshops (1979-2003). To be able to work with a group of people beyond habitual surroundings for an extended timeframe, and to collectively re-frame experience seems to me to be a progressive model. As Deleuze (2004) writes ‘We learn nothing from those who say “do as I do”. Our only teachers are those who tell us to “do with me”, and are able to emit signs to be developed in heterogeneity rather than propose gestures for us to reproduce’.

The origins for my embodied approach and for the recurrence of walking elements of my practice are probably located in my youth. I grew up in a village and, with friends, used to go on long expeditions to neighbouring villages. In my late teens and early twenties I habitually went out for night walks across the countryside. In one of my earliest attempts at creative writing, ‘Autopilot’ (inspired by Beckett’s characters Belacqua and Molloy) a human figure was endlessly tramping the landscape, day and night. In my undergraduate degree show work in 1997 a small group of people were driven in the back of a luton van to a remote post-industrial landscape and forced to undertake a lengthy route march by a surly guide, including through the blackness of an abandoned railway tunnel. In more recent work, the photographic series ‘The Way Back’ (2011), images of paths leading forwards and backwards are displayed side by side, indicating a momentary pause on an interminable journey.

I am interested in making artwork that refuses to supply a big, recognizable ‘pay off’, akin to Peggy Phelan’s (1993:19) expression of ‘a deliberate and conscious refusal to take the payoff of visibility’ in relation to my practice. I am aware of a growing revulsion with the idea of spectacle (‘capital accumulated to the point that it becomes images’ - Debord, 2002) in connection with what I make and do. I am reluctant to create and contribute yet more ‘stuff’ to the existing pile. In failing to provide a clearly-demarcated, readily-assimilable ‘show’ I follow my urge to set up ‘human’-scale and compromised experiences, be they fleeting, frustrating, partial, joyful, or grim, made possible yet also easily challenged through the body’s limitations.

This paper presents findings and methodology of a practice-led research project ‘Beating the bounds’ that took place in Nottingham in July 2011. The participatory workshop is a medium with which I am particularly familiar, having delivered scores of them over 30 years in my roles of sonic artist and academic. Various long-standing interests (walking, thresholds, folk ritual) have been interwoven in this current project.

Research Questions:
How light a touch can I adopt as originator and facilitator of the project?
Can participants own desires, resistances and knowledge be harnessed and made use of within the project?
How might the material generated by the participants during and after the workshop be used/published most effectively?

There is no research ‘problem’ as such for me to resolve, but several areas of interest and space for development. These are grouped together under the following headings: Format, Commitment, Leadership, and What remains

Contextual review

 I find myself operating within a creative field in which considerable research has been and continues to be carried out. Whilst I appreciate the emergence of a context that appears to support my practice I am wary of fashionability. My creative endeavours have remained consistently non-commercial and resolutely marginal. I am able to identify artists and writers who articulate positions and perspectives that overlap with my own, but they are a disparate bunch and not altogether current, fashionable nor academically rigorous. All have influenced me in their own ways and their currency goes some way to corroborating my practice and providing it validity (if any were needed). And all are engaged with investigation of the challenges faced at the thresholds of human experience.

A recent publication that proved helpful when planning ‘Beating the bounds’ was Paul Farley & Symmons Roberts’ (2011) ‘Edgelands. Journeys into England’s true wilderness’. Using a poetic and upbeat writing style they convey the atmosphere of the hinterlands of the UK’s major conurbations and actually make them valid places to explore and thereby inspire one to visit them.  An interesting artistic collaboration involved Gustavo Ciriaco and Andrea Sonnberger whose ‘Here Whilst We Walk’ I participated in at ‘nottdance’ in 2007. The artists lead a group of us around the city within a large rubber band. This resulted in heightened public visibility as well as giving new perspectives, such as the painfully-intense observation as the group arrived on the scene of a timely car crash and stood facing it for an uncomfortable extended duration. We were also made to stand for protracted periods facing sites that had been redeveloped or were currently barren, on the fringes of the city centre. Being made to confront one’s personal thresholds of civic behaviour is sobering and enlivening at the same time. In the slow walks I have led around the city there is a similar frisson, and the intention to make people take a really good look at what is before their eyes.
Two further artistic reference points relevant to the aspects of my practice involving ordeal and challenges to stamina and the audience/performer contract are the Slovenian group Red Pilot (part of Neue Slowenische Kunst along with the band Laibach), whose brutalisations of their audiences have passed into legend, and Martin Burton, whose piece ‘Nausea’ I witnessed at a Nottingham expo festival in the late 1990s. This was another work in which the audience suffered, doused in stale milk as we lay prone in rows of hospital beds in an otherwise abandoned industrial building.
Author Kay Dick has long been an inspiration in her short novel ‘They (a sequence of unease)’ (1977) that proposes the rural as a place of human threat, and dwells upon the challenge to retain humanity and creativity in the face of phillistinism, all set in the deceptively idyllic setting of the South Downs.

In terms of obsessive rule-determined behaviour Simon Faithfull’s work ‘0º00 Navigation, 2008’ is inspirational, as the artist apparently walks along the Greenwich meridian following a GPS signal, passing through houses, gardens, waterways and anything else in his path. Likewise the image of Simon Whitehead carrying a table along a rural road seems to me to reflect the ridiculous nature (and thereby value) of the grandiose futile act.

Research methodology

The research methods listed below offer potential approaches in generating an effective group dynamic, thereby allowing us to pursue our Action Research fieldwork and Participant Observation at the thresholds and intersections of the city/non-city, day/night, comfort/discomfort. They involved a series of ambulant and durational workshop sessions, interspersed with daily periods of reflection, to fully and collectively consider the practicalities and implications of what has (and will have) taken place.

Walk along the boundary of the city of Nottingham as mapped by Badder & Peat in the year 1744.
Walk along the boundary of the contemporary city of Nottingham, during the day and night.
Throughout the walks various actions might be performed:
Following in footsteps
Creating sightlines
Leading the blind
Slow walk
Eye contact with passers by
Smiling at passers-by
Meditation walk
Gather text from environment
Pause at end of each street/path
Moving an object on (Francis Alys, Richard Long)
Leaving traces
Beating boundary markers
Symbolically beating or bumping one another
Action tracking (see below for explanation)
Stepping across a line in unison
Plant flower seeds
Lie prone
Link arms
Take a running jump

Action research in which activities on the walks are collectively generated, discussed, undertaken and evaluated
Participant observation
Open–ended, responsive to opportunities, diversions
Sharing of reading material prior to and during the period of workshop activities.
The use of digital recorders to assist with live note-taking
A dedicated witness role, provides validity, protection, outside eye
Live journaling
The keeping and discussion of dream diaries
Historical research, sharing of knowledge, interaction with passers-by
Overlaying of maps from different periods of history & locations 1744 map onto contemporary city centre
Consideration of the ‘map and the territory’, reading Umberto Eco text ‘on the impossibility of drawing a map of the empire on a scale of 1 to 1’
Reading aloud related texts
Emma Cocker’s studio-based eye contact workshop
Evaluate by projecting the day’s photographs and discussing key (or forgotten) occurences
Collectively watching and discussing the film ‘Stalker’ (Tarkovsky)
Participants to create their own responses to experiences of the workshop:
Group photos manipulated on Photoshop with amusing parallel narrative of the walk (Alice & Katherine)
Becie’s perfume made from flowers picked by the A453
Fern & Sally’s display of old maps

Adaptation of Action Tracking (after David Fenton cited in Haseman, B ("Rupture and Recognition: Identifying the Performative Research Paradigm” Pgs 27-34 in Practice as Research Approaches to Creative Arts Enquiry, Estelle Barrett and Barbara Bolt (eds.), I.B. Taurus & Co. (New York and London: 2007). This will isolate different ‘systems’ including smell, sound, physiological, encounters. Also, inspired by the talk that Andy Abbott gave at YSJ, a further category of thoughts/memories triggered by environmental cues.

Tasks performed whilst exploring the limits of the city (appropriate to the time and place) will draw out feelings and potentially ‘worry’ the thresholds of participants, placing us fully in the ‘Edgelands’, to better appreciate their qualities, temporal, social, physical, emotional:
Using the seemingly arbitrary lines of borders on maps to detourne participants
Observation/notation – behaviour
Visualisation – mapping
Concept/mind mapping
Notebooks & pens
Reflection in action – personal narratives
Reflective journal

Exposition of the wall (collective work) – Phoning location to colleagues to show progress along the route, a live map
Video capture (using headcam, still cameras with video function, HD video camera with night vision)
Audio using Edirol RO9s
Video document combining the wall performance with workshop documentation


In this section I shall elaborate upon the workshop findings, explain what I found, and add my own personal interpretations, again, grouped around four areas: Format, Collaboration, Leadership, What remains.

In what ways might a workshop be a more effective means of involving participants than instructional postcards?
Whereas postcards have the advantage of immediacy, the tangible object and the opportunities afforded by a well-crafted piece of text, the workshop format can incorporate these whilst offering a multiplicity of experiences and phases on engagement. The findings above indicate that the breadth of activities that comprised the workshop was welcomed by the group, including reading various texts aloud to one another, following up opportunities as they occurred and thereby going off-piste (such as in the 1744 walk when I diverted the walk to introduce the group to a ‘secret’ tunnel near the city centre, and at various points made use of my own local knowledge gleaned from my own reading and taking several guided tours with local historians). Knowledge was also shared with those beyond the group, such as people encountered en route. These included the 80 year-old lady who had lived on the Nottingham City/Gedling border for over 50 years, the birdwatcher who allowed us to view a rare owl that he was monitoring in a dead tree, Boots security personnel who gently but firmly escorted us out of the industrial complex, and the woman who invited us into her home to peruse a Victorian map of what then existed along the border between Nottingham and Beeston.
A further aspect of the workshop that proved successful was the introduction and incorporation of different approaches and extended knowledge, such as the session delivered by my Fine Art colleague Emma Cocker, in which she not only introduced her own area of interest to the group, complete with a further set of artistic and conceptual reference points, but also initiated us into the practical work involving sightlines that she has recently been engaged in with Austrian artist Nikolaus Gansterer.
A further aspect can be identified as communitas, brought about by the simple fact of putting a group of social beings into a consensual environment over a sustained period of time. A group of between 3 and 7 provided ample novelty, people getting to know and to sharing new experiences with one another, without being coerced into dialogue as might be the case with only two participants. The ‘relay’ nature of the walks, with people leaving and joining as we progressed, also contributed to sociability, as did the varied pacing, the sharing of roles among the whole group, and the varied terrain passed through, which provided ample stimulation throughout. Although this was ‘just’ a walk at times it felt extraordinary, a form of quest and thereby challenge. A common appreciation of the validity of walking as an art form, the gravitation towards thresholds as ‘interesting places to be’, and the anticipation of what might be just around the corner kept momentum and motivation high. All felt a sense of purpose, of personal and collective investment in the project. The roles were rotated among the group and no-one baulked at being given any particular role to perform, sure in the knowledge that everyone else would get their turn. The pivotal Stalker role was assumed in different ways, according to the character and mood of the incumbent at any point, but no-one abused the responsibility and all were largely sensitive to the needs of others.
When the group was in the studio the wall became the collective focal point, all reading the texts thereon and gaining insights into one another’s perspective. Studio discussions provided opportunities for dialogue around themes such as personal ethics, and offered greater capacity for criticality than independent, solitary experience.
Various challenges emerged during the workshop, largely around compromises necessary to continue to pursue paid employment during the Summer Lodge. Despite the impetus gained by fresh walkers joining during the walk, the discussions and evaluations that took place in the studio felt less satisfying when people were absent. There was felt to be a lack of time to read and discuss underpinning themes & practices. The Meditation walk I had intended to lead could not be accommodated into the schedule, and the induction process was sketchy at best for a couple of late-comers. The demands of keeping a number of balls simultaneously in the air was discussed, for example how to successfully combine documenting with contemplation and simply ‘being’. A ploy used to militate against this was to limit the particular focus of Action Tracking to ten minutes in every hour, but there was a feeling of frustration that a particular ‘state’ of being could not be fully occupied. This might be addressed by the intervention of an authoritative outside eye. Likewise, whilst in the latter stage of the longest of the walks, there was a change of focus and a sense of the walk and the requisite mindfulness having drifted off into the future and personal agendas (ie. our respective beds). A prearranged exit strategy might have been timely at this point.
The workshop period could have been extended by pre-meetings and photocopied set reading distributed beforehand. The importance of having all participants together at the outset cannot be underestimated, and realistically all need to be involved in initial discussions around personal goals and ambitions for the workshop.
Regarding the walks, other models were proposed, including a stricter version, making use of a smaller circuit (perhaps 2 hours in duration), in which the Stalker’s word is absolute and only they know where we are going. Sections of the walk might be repeated, walkers might go singly, and/or meet others coming from the opposite direction. Interesting performance actions could follow from this.
It was felt that 20 miles was the absolute maximum possible in a single walk, effectively a circuit around the borders of a small town. Five people was considered to be the optimum number on a walk at any one time, in terms of being cohesive, manageable, and maintaining responsiveness to one another.
It was felt that space should be made to facilitate engagement with people encountered en route, perhaps setting up rendezvous in advance with people with local knowledge.
During the course of the workshop we learned that capabilities had been underestimated, but also that H&S aspects need to considered more carefully, perhaps accompanied by a trained First aider throughout. Insights were gained into one another’s lives and of the lives of those in the areas that we passed through. All seems to become assimilated into the walk, passers-by, landscape, one’s own mood swings.
The workshop has demonstrated a capacity for collective action, for sharing knowledge, and as such feels to be sustainable and repeatable.

To what extent might the essential content of the workshop be replicable in other settings?
An important element in the success of the Beating the Bounds workshop at the Summer Lodge was the capability, generosity and commitment of the participants. This might be due to a number of factors:
That they are student practitioners who already know my practice and thus have effectively been inducted and self-selected.
They have an appreciation of walking as a valid medium in contemporary art practice
That in the Fine Art studios at least they are on familiar territory
They are high-performing students who have been inculcated into typical practices on the programme, such as critical seminars, and as a consequence can bring a high level of critique and awareness of diverse cultural reference points to proceedings.

That the participants were to some extent hand-picked went some way to guaranteeing their commitment to the venture. Two of the group, Sally and Fern had been in my level 2 tutor group; Effy, Emily and Katherine had done previous workshops with me; and Alice had sought my advice on various practical issues during her second year. Becie is a PhD student whose interests overlap with my own, and who participated in the Summer Lodge 2010. Thus I had prior knowledge of them all and felt they had the requisite qualities.
There are no guarantees that in another context the participants would be as capable, generous or committed. This could perhaps be established through a rigorous selection process, but running a workshop is not a risk-free activity.
Regarding the environment in which the workshop takes place, I can bring prior knowledge of Nottingham into the frame through having lived in the city for 25 years. This would not be the case in other cities and thus if I were to deliver this elsewhere I might need to involve local historians and/or shift the emphasis of the workshop to make more effective use of local practitioners. Encounters with passers by may take place in any location, with linguistic and cultural considerations taken into account. Such encounters could be pre-planned; perhaps participants could enter people’s homes by pre-arrangement (as the group entered my house and that of the couple with the map, were offered a drink by the old lady, taken into the Boots security vehicle, as well as visiting three pubs in which interactions with local residents took place).
Borders are ubiquitous and borderline activities and rituals can conceivably be devised for most settings, with the caveat of the 20-mile maximum distance achievable in a single session.

Are the approaches applied consistent with the BA/MA level of the practitioners involved?
There was a level of maturity and experience commensurate with degree-level study that facilitated proceedings. No-one baulked at taking on the Stalker role, nor engaging with Action Tracking or some of the more ‘public’ (and embarrassing) performance actions. All were familiar with the contexts for the workshop, having studied contemporary arts for at least one year at BA level, and Foundation previously. Having worked with FE students, and for Creative Partnerships in a secondary school setting I find it hard to imagine such a workshop for younger or a lower level of students. Likewise the workshop plays to the strengths of students on an interdisciplinary, self-directed contemporary art programme. I can imagine running something similar with professional practitioners from related fields of dance and theatre, and undergraduate students from other creative arts courses. That said, the students also either knew one another or knew of one another, so there was little required by way of icebreaker exercises and inductions. A stricter version could be applied, but the willingness of the students to trust one another and me is most likely down to our shared environment of NTU Fine Art. As for working with the general public, I can only envisage this working as a heavily-directed and brief exercise of a far simpler nature.

Does the combination of reading/discussion/physical activity deepen engagement?
The scope of reference material and activities engaged in during the workshop was deliberately broad, to capture all that might be of use and to retain the possibility for unpredictable connections to be made. The main impetus for this approach came from when I was writing ‘Trial’ with the performance company Reckless Sleepers and found I achieved a high level of immersion when I wrote during the day and read pre-selected relevant texts each evening. In last year’s Summer Lodge 2010 I expanded this idea, organizing my activities and those of the students into morning and afternoon sessions, one of which would involve practical activity and the other a mind-mapping ‘wall-performance’ exercise. This seemed to draw more deeply from all concerned and the results felt quite exhaustive.
In the 2011 ‘Beating the Bounds’ workshop I wanted participants to reach the point of immersion and begin to make connections and take the project into their lives and practices. Due to the constraints of time outlined above this was only a partial success, but offers a way forward for future workshops.
I would like to extend the time devoted to reading and discussion, and to keep the group together throughout, as much as possible. Collaborations took place between participants that I would have liked to push further, perhaps by getting each participant to work with all the others. Also the areas of interest/practice that each brings to the endeavour could be harnessed more systematically, with each tasked with exploring a specific angle on the activities and theories behind them.
Performing a critical group reading of a key film such as Stalker, and doing something similar with salient reading material would give a common basis to our experience, that could be referred back to in the nature of the actions on the walk. So much interesting material is now available to view via youtube.com, ubuweb.com and so on that extracts can readily be identified and subjected to a deep ‘reading’.
The wall became a repository for the text, image and scraps of found material that were thrown up by the walks, and provided an interface between the boundary of the city and studio-based activities. Some reading was performed during the walk, most notably of Kaprow by Alice at the weir, and this could be explored further, perhaps in the form of recordings on ipods, to be listened to collectively (but also individually) on certain stretches of the terrain. There was opportunity for a greater emphasis upon the folk ritual of Beating the Bounds, something I introduced the group to but that we did not actively pursue.
The 1744 walk took us around the city limits of 257 years ago and proved a revelation, practically pulling the ground from under our feet as we described orchards and dwellings that had long since vanished from the landscape. Such live readings that produce a dislocation in time (and potentially in space) are something I have played with before (including my York in Sepia series, as well as ipod walks in Somerset and Nottingham) and will explore further.

Which research methods have proved successful?
Participatory action research could be considered as the lead research method. Jupp (2006:216) writes ‘Within PAR people themselves are researchers and the knowledge generated during the research process is used to create action or improvements that benefit them directly. The role of the outsider professional or researcher (myself in this instance) is not that of an expert but a mere facilitator of the research/action process’. He warns against the misuse of PAR in which participants may be used as ‘puppets’ by the researcher. I believe I overcame any notion of manipulation by being transparent with the participants regarding my agenda.
In Action Research terms the workshop will undoubtedly result in ‘new practices (and) changed behaviour patterns’ among the participants (including myself) as arts practitioners, if nothing else. PhD student and participant Becie Gamble reflected on the workshop as ‘an excellent example of a Participatory Action Research methodology … in your writing and approach - especially by making the research process and questioning so open and in collective documentation…it is so experimental, live and fluid.’
Participant observation was another method periodically applied during the workshop, overlapping with Action Tracking to a large extent. Most of the participants were engaged in PA and their reflections reveal interesting insights into the group dynamic. However the encounters with other people en route may have provided a rich source of ethnographic material, had this been identified beforehand. As it was the focus of the fieldworkers largely overlooked this resource.

The research methods identified as pertinent at the outset generally proved to be so, and were applied effectively. The walks themselves acted as ‘containers’ or episodes in which narrative phases of activity could be readily evaluated. The sense of historical displacement and of a landscape in continual flux, were ever-present. Performance actions were successfully performed in diverse locations and in different relationships to the border. Several were devised in situ, whilst others were presented when an environment was felt to be appropriate. Certain Stalkers demonstrated more sustained interest in pursuing performance actions than others, although Action Tracking was applied fairly rigorously, almost as a default. It is a consequence of opening up a decision-making role to all members of a group that it may be interpreted in different ways, and this should be seen as a strength of the project. However if I am to repeat the workshop I may devote more time within the introductory phase to explore the function of the performance actions, and to foreground them. Of those that were envisioned beforehand and not used, the Meditation walk was the one I most regret, having the potential to bring participants into the present in a way that could have restored focus when it had apparently slipped. However I was as weary as the other participants and neglected to apply it, although it remains a valuable tool for future use.

One of the opportunities afforded by working with fellow arts practitioners is the potential for sharing knowledge of the contemporary arts and related areas. Reading material was pooled and circulated amongst the group prior to and throughout the workshop. Some texts were read aloud to the group (ie. Allan Kaprow interview in gallery text to accompany his exhibition at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1967 & Umberto Eco’s  ‘on the impossibility of drawing a map of the empire on a scale of 1 to 1’). Theoretical writing has potential to ‘come alive’ when carried out alongside associated physical activity. For example the notion of the ‘map and the territory’ was made particularly explicit. Likewise being able to watch Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’ as a group and to dissect it immediately afterwards (as well as over subsequent days when its relevance was manifest) was advantageous.
Various technical facilities were utilized with varying degrees of effectiveness during the workshop. Digital recorders facilitated live note-taking, although issues remain with the time consuming nature of transcription. It might be worth exploring software packages such as Dragon Dictation to accelerate this part of the process. And the inherent inaccuracy of the programmes might even provide interesting randomised effects. Notebooks & pens sufficed for most people, despite the difficulties of writing on the move. The video document made use of hand-written as well as transcribed text and it did seem to transmit another layer of experience. Still cameras were brought out but largely remained secreted in bags and pockets, the result being that large gaps existed in the narrative of the documentation. As each photograph operates as a trace of a performance and almost as an extension of touch, this could be seen as a missed opportunity. But as Ralph Fischer (2008) has written in relation to capturing the atmosphere of a place ‘Each release of the shutter is… a small experience of failure, a futile attempt to hold fast the fleeting moment’ and even a multiplicity of images (such as a video recording) still falls far short of the profundity of the instant(s) in which they were captured. The term ‘captured’ seems highly appropriate, as though an image in ‘captivity’ seems barely alive in relation to in its ‘wild’ state.
Video capture likewise (using headcam, still cameras with video function, HD video camera with night vision) was intermittent. Footage was often jerky and hard to watch although again, this reflected the nature of the terrain and the embodied experience of the documenter. The video document of the wall performance was similarly affected by the terrain (albeit in miniature). To operate the camera on a horizontal surface would have made for a more stable result but transferring the wall map from the vertical to the horizontal was out of the question.
The wall rapidly became a collective work, as participants plotted key moments and added photographs, bits of text and objects. These accretions made for a fascinating articulation of the collective experience of the walks and many Summer lodge participants were fascinated by it. We never got around to phoning through our current location to colleagues in the studios to chart our progression along the border though.
Other collaborative and solo works were created by participants in response to experiences on the workshop. Alice & Katherine manipulated group photos with those of locations taken on the walks and from the web on Photoshop to create an amusing parallel narrative of the walk. Becie created a bottle of scent made from flowers and leaves picked by the side of the A453 trunk road. The result was surprisingly appealing, albeit with a faint undertone of something industrial. Fern & Sally raided an old bookshop for its maps of the city from various periods in its development and displayed them on the final day of the Summer Lodge.
Action Tracking was a method borrowed from theatre practitioner David Fenton (2007) who proposed five ‘codes’ of ‘screen product, music, gesture, artefact and light’. I translated some of these into ‘sound, physiology and visual’ and they were given a psychogoeographical twist by the addition of further ‘systems’ such as smell and encounters. Emotions and memories were added, inspired by artist Andy Abbott (from his talk at York St John). Environments were mapped on an hourly basis as the participants collectively passed through them. Ten minutes was an optimum amount of time to devote to a task that could be quite intense and demanding on the senses.
It has to be said that despite really pushing for more and deeper evaluation sessions, the realities of the working environment and the consequences of our own exertions made it hard to devote sufficient time to them. The use of photographs taken earlier in the day, projected on a loop without selection to be stopped and selected by individual participants to act as foci for group discussion never happened. Thus marginal and forgotten occurrences were not subject to interrogation and opportunities were lost. This was in part due to the logistics of assembling the slide show, but also because the walks themselves were so demanding and finished so late in the day (or night) that an immediate follow-up discussion and evaluation was impractical.
Live journaling and the keeping of dream diaries did not seem to capture the imagination of the majority of the participants. Had the workshop been over a longer period it might have been more viable to foreground them. There was a slight unease at the potentially intrusive nature of these methods but all were reassured that they need not submit anything to the group that they would prefer to keep private.
The role of witness, to provide validity, protection and an outside eye to the project and the walks in particular did not fully materialize. This was partly due to the combining of the role with documenter, to which it may be connected. However it became apparent that, as with Action Tracking, one task at a time is preferable. Future workshops and walks will provide opportunities for further exploration of what this role might mean. To some extent Becie Gamble fulfilled the role with regard to the project’s research methodologies and studio practice.

Is commitment to the project deepened or lessened by its physical and durational aspects?
Commitment to the walks was sustained for long periods, but it inevitably waned and collapsed when a level of exhaustion was reached, after 20 miles and 12 hours of continuous input. Using ones body in an artwork invariably requires a level of commitment, and striding out across a hitherto unknown landscape can feel heroic, evoking tales of courage and survival; one feels part of historical and present-day humanity. Anticipation of what is to come drives you on to a point, but when one ceases to appreciate what one is confronted with a threshold has been crossed. Anticipation of that very threshold was a key part of the preparation for the walks and therefore we devoted a significant portion of the Action Tracking towards it.
It was interesting to note the lack of concern about missing sections, or even of completing the whole circuit of the city boundary. After the second phase of the walk, in Clifton, several of the group voiced the desire to catch the last bus and return home. Those who had wished to continue reflected for a short while and agreed. The group simply ran out of momentum.
Several of the participants expressed feelings of alienation from the group. For example Alice joined the first walk at 9pm and after two hours had painful feet but felt she could not reasonably complain to the others knowing they had walked for 8 hours by that stage. She wrote ‘The group are separate individuals’. Effy wrote of feeling an outsider because she was recording in Hungarian. When Emily kept asking if she was alright, the feeling of being looked after (but also watched) made her uneasy.
One of the students who signed up and attended the initial sessions feared that the physical and durational demands of the walks might be too much for her and sensibly dropped out of these beforehand.

Does communitas emerge in heterotopia?
The border of Nottingham city functions as a heterotopia (‘place of otherness’ in Latin) in which our (mildly) ‘deviant’ behaviour is well-placed. Borders are invariably contested spaces, even when considered in relation to the banalities of local government. The borderland makes an ideal home for the Temporary Autonomous Zones (TAZs), new and impermanent territories on the boundary of established zones celebrated by Hakim Bey and others. In effect our little ambulant party functions as a peripatetic autonomous zone, our mission defined by the abstract border and our collective purpose upon and along it. In a sense the psychogeographical aspects of the project are psychotopology, ‘dowsing’ for potential TAZs as sites conducive to our performance actions. The people we encounter become absorbed into our game, as Ken Kesey might say ‘part of our movie’.
‘The social needs to be understood as an embodied field: society is felt, enjoyed and suffered, as well as rationally thought’  (Nelson, R 2010:122)
Alice confessed to feeling ‘invincible’ with so many people and there was an undeniable feeling of not only ‘safety in numbers’ but of claiming something we had a right to, be it the hours of darkness or the parallel notion of the city imperceptible to others. In ‘The City and the City’ China Miéville (2009) describes a uniquely divided city in which two communities live their lives within the same physical space yet invisible to one another, and in which for one to ‘see’ the other would constitute a ‘breach’, a capital offense. The feelings of safety and threat as we wove our way around the outskirts did confirm us as being both ‘in’ and ‘out’ of place. Even as we treated the border with a certain disdain, skirting certain sections through their impracticality or our own fatigue, it took on a magical quality and to deviate from it was simultaneously no big deal and failure. We were forever in its thrall.

The initiation for this process took place in the earliest stages of the project, in psyching myself up to take a group to the zone. Induction involved many of the group, but not all, and although both people who joined us late in the evening at Moor Bridge tramstop were committed, there was a schism that only partially healed. In this instance I feel the collective anticipation and advance visualization of a liminoid experience is a significant aspect of the group experience. This is reminiscent of Clawson & Knetsch’s (quoted in Murphy 1985) five phases of tourist travel in which the initial planning phase can be ‘a most enjoyable part of a trip’.
Several participants recorded their feelings of having broken through personal thresholds and their pride at doing so. It was felt that ‘the group helped people out-perform’ themselves and for a time there was a distinct sense of ‘flow’ (Csíkszentmihályi, 1990) or completely-focused motivation. This phase is evident on the DVD (Appendix 2) when night starts to fall and the group enter the woods, approaching a threshold and bursting through it.
The mood shifted by the time the group had crossed Broxtowe Park and became disoriented and disparate, and the trail went cold. We found ourselves on a roundabout that wasn’t represented on the map and this seemed to sap our spirits. The group dynamic dissipated as people retreated into themselves, bodies and equipment felt heavier, feet became sore and the cold began to permeate everything. At this point a communal activity such as sharing a meal might have salvaged the mood. Had we considered it earlier, with expert advice (such as from the artist Becky Beinart) we might have gathered edible plants on our travels and turned them into a feast at this point.
Despite picking up the trail again, and reaching the motorway (a definite high point), what communitas there had been dissipated into a strung-out group plodding through ploughed fields, taking an age to climb over a fence, followed by an interminable practically silent route march to Wollaton and thence, by taxi and first bus, into town. Individuals started to get tetchy and became irritated by one another’s vulnerabilities. Each pursued their own journey, the most direct route to their beds and sleep. The ambulant party was definitely over.
Despite meeting again that afternoon to evaluate what had taken place, it took until the middle of the following week for the group to want to face another walk.

For how long and in what circumstances can liminoid activity be sustained?
Although the group perform a rite of passage that conforms to Victor Turner’s structure of ‘separation, transition and re-aggregation’ the performance is voluntary and playful and involves no change in social status, and therefore can be more accurately described as liminoid. Human beings seem to instinctively gravitate towards liminoid experience, in their apparent desire to play, seek out ‘thrills’ of various kinds and we are no different in this regard. Depending upon one’s viewpoint liminoid activity may or may not be subversive; endeavour such as ours could be perceived as operating within the freedoms of Western liberal democracy. Following a border more or less accurately not only draws attention to the futility of such an action but also the constructed (and hegemonic) nature of the border, and thereby all borders. Might the impact of ‘bordering’ have some longevity and capacity for social change?
Emma Cocker (2012) writes ‘Inhabiting the specificity of one liminal landscape – the border – provokes the production of new ways of operating, which in turn, might contribute to a more critical approach to the navigation or negotiation of the wider cultural landscape’ the making ‘explicit the connection between spatial and social manifestations of liminality’.
I view the line of the border as a tightrope, to be played with and upon. To perform a balancing act upon it, between territories, functions as a form of play. Whilst such actions do not cross the boundary into illegality they are questionable. To be out walking at night arouses suspicion, being difficult to place in familiar contexts (although a policemen that asked what we were up to when he encountered us at 1am seemed pretty matter of fact, as though he encountered such things most evenings).
In the evaluation the feeling was that the walks had successfully taken participants outside their familiar student perspective on the city, and their everyday routes and activities. Individually and collectively we had made connective leaps between fragments of knowledge, forming new pathways. As long as we could summon the energy to remain mindful we remained invulnerable, the border was ours, no-one else was interested.
Perhaps the state of flow comes with its own risks, overwhelming and causing us to forget our sense of purpose? Whereas we had been Action Tracking for ten minutes at a time on every hour, during the nightfall/woods phase this was deliberately discontinued by Katherine, the Stalker at that point. She resumed it when we emerged from the golf course at 11.30pm, and it took place again at 12.30am and 1.30am, only to be dropped altogether under duress and fatigue. Fern felt that some reached their limit around ten to 1 and by 1.30am public transport options were long gone. At this point liminoid activity ceased to be voluntary, all becoming liminal and vaguely threatening, or at least an irritation.
Collective speculation demands confidence both in oneself and others, and it demands energy to sustain. Energy may be derived from food and drink, but also from those around you. The role of a witness/outside eye, not combined/confused with that of documenter, might have delayed the point at which attention turned inwards and people opted out.  Perhaps new blood at key points, possibly fresh from nightclubs, might be of benefit?
It was interesting to note that at this stage nobody mourned the end of the first walk, that it was left unfinished. This betrays ambivalence between the collective desire to complete the entire circuit and lack of concern about missing sections of it, or even of completing the whole thing.
It is interesting to compare our activity with that of tourists, who like us deliberately seek out strangeness and alienation. We find joy in such regions, as evidenced by the palpable excitement (and hysteria) evident when we had threshold experiences like plunging into the woods/darkness, getting over the tricky fence, or after the encounter with Boots’ security personnel We are liminal figures in a landscape designed not for pedestrians like us but for motor vehicles and their owners (provided they remain inside their vehicle). In ‘Tourist behaviour: Themes and conceptual schemes’ Philip L. Pearce (2005:25) describes the willful separation from the individual’s ‘normal’ state ‘at home’ into the liminoid, an elective state of transition in which life is abnormal, often puzzling, and yet in which possibilities are expanded. Roles may become inverted, tourists may feel as though they are ‘king for a day’, or revert to childlike behaviour before their inevitable reaggregation into ‘normal’ life, renewed in some way by their experience.
In ‘Beating the bounds’ we too are attempting to cross the limen and pass into ‘a period and area of ambiguity’ (Turner), The border has status, as state mind, of identity, or legal jurisdiction (piracy). Whereas tourists seek out the exotic ‘other’ we seem to be seeking the exotic in the familiar, perhaps a more environmentally sustainable model?
Changes of use result in ruins, the unconscious of a city, its memory.

How light a touch can I adopt as originator and facilitator of the project?
Emma’s workshop gave me a chance to sit among the participants and let someone else dictate proceedings. Otherwise I was the authority figure throughout, no matter how much roles were shared and I tried to blend into the background.
Whilst new experiences were shared and the group responded to one another as respectful equals there was no escaping the fact that I had lived in the city for 25 years, have at least 20 more years of life experience than them, had devised this set or experiences/ordeals and am or have been a tutor to most of the participants. Had a problem arisen I would have felt compelled to step in and deal with it, despite my desire to be non-interventionist. Even during encounters with passers-by I felt the need to front things, such as explaining the walk to curious policemen. Although the students were proactive I felt a need to keep them gainfully employed, to provide them with an experience. They chose to follow me on this fruitless quest and, after all, I was testing out a participatory workshop.

I might have assigned a deputy to lead proceedings, and perhaps then I could have avoided being present for some of the walks and discussions. If a suitable Stalker was encouraged to operate on a more dictatorial basis I might be able to blend in more successfully with fellow participants. If someone with local knowledge was brought in that might conceivably take it beyond my control/vision?
Having said that, perhaps having a central Abramovic-like figure dictating proceedings is unproblematic, if their aloofness is constructive?

Can participants own desires, resistances and knowledge be harnessed and made use of within the project?
Despite the need for a workshop leader in a project of this nature, there seems to be considerable autonomy for participants. For those with the confidence to express their wishes to the group the project was very open. Several Stalkers demanded that the group perform uncomfortable or strenuous activities, such as running, or insisted that actions were performed even when participants were tired. Local knowledge was shared, creative responses were made, both collaboratively or individually. Borderline activities were conceived and carried out, encounters with passers-by took place in which various participants were active.
Again I feel it is imperative for all to be involved in the initial group discussion about what each of us hoped to get from the workshop. For those who missed this session the opportunities to steer the project were limited. Alice did write about setting aside her own ideas for a while, potentially an interesting strategy, but hopefully resulting in some sort of synthesis at the culmination of the project.
If reading was introduced at an earlier stage, and a pre-meeting set up that stressed the open-ness of the project, there would be a greater chance for those who wished to share their own reading and research, and articulate their desires.
An interesting (albeit uncomfortable) development might be of a Stalker who was not a benign guide but rather with malign (or at least mischievous) intent. Perhaps more emphasis could be placed upon the people we encounter, allowing more space to do so. But perhaps those who purport to have local knowledge are untrustworthy?

What remains
How might the material generated by the participants during and after the workshop be used/published most effectively?
The project has generated a large volume of material, the majority from participants, but some gleaned during encounters with passers by. This material is raw and uneven, making it hard to publish in a single consistent format. I have tried to overcome this by editing a video that combines the diverse threads of documentation including the results of Action Tracking intercut with footage captured with a microscope video camera of a ‘performance’ of the wall map.
The video, at over 2 hours in length, is designed for a viewer to enter and leave at any point. It has been edited without regard for entertainment value, is comparatively unprocessed, retaining as much of the original footage and information as possible. Whilst seeking to avoid the introduction of post-event, non-diegetic elements such as music I have still been responsible for creative decisions. The absence of imported materials represents my appreciation of what is already under one’s feet, the overlooked or ‘found’ object, sound or gesture. Text is cut up as opposed to being shown in a linear fashion. I enjoy the effect of dislocated text, accentuating detail rather as opposed to the big picture, the latter breaking down (ie in relation to text)
I removed sections of the original footage in which the camerawork was especially shaky or where I felt the footage to be superfluous. It is also organized according to my own personal memory of the sequence of events and their significance.
Speeded up and slowed down to represent the pace at certain points.
Included silence with image (maps) and sound with black screen, turns viewer’s attention towards the sonic, creating their own mental images
Playful, (ie referencing the ‘Meat Grinder’ section of Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’ in the run up to crossing the railway bridge) and lacking obvious climax, it feels somewhat akin to both walk and wall performance. Viewers confront their own thresholds and experience something of the walkers’ experience, lugging video cameras around.
I elected to represent the findings of the workshop participants, in particular psychogeographical aspects from Action Tracking, without reducing them to a single voice. The video provides a means of presenting a psychogeography of Nottingham’s border regions in the form of moving and still images, text, soundtrack comprising found sounds, and spoken word. In this social research, we have recorded changes of mood, responses to changing landscapes and the time of day. Invariably it proves difficult to separate systems ie psysiological and emotional. The idea is that individuals give their own perspective and these are reunited in the video.
This is a document of the wall performance using a microscope camera, including its jerky and out of focus elements, as it negotiates the landscape of the wall in its attempt to follow the border, forced to climb over nails and other obstacles. In the case of the microscope camera I required the widescreen monitor connected to it to see what I was doing, while I was in the process of documentation, like a surgical procedure. To borrow Nathan Walker’s (2011) terminology, mine was a ‘para-performance’, a document of the recording of a journey around a line on a wall map, itself a document of a walk that was an attempt to enlarge (by means of walking and being ‘present’ inside) a map of the territory to 1:1 scale. The wall map is a map for a new performance work, an approach, a new pathway to be followed. In this regard we were forensically retracing the process of the map-makers (as in an earlier photographic performance project that I created several years ago, ‘After Denison’). Of course all attempts to map anything are doomed to failure, as nothing seems to stand still for long enough.
And yet in a sense what is significant is what rubs off on us and the surroundings we pass through, including the people we encountered and/or who encountered us. We are marking the boundary at certain points, by our presence, by overwriting the line of it, committing it to memory and local folklore. My sense is that the video might also function as documentation as proposition, a spur for others to locate and potentially follow their own borders.


Since I have discussed the findings of the project at length in the previous section I do not feel a need to re-iterate them here. My impression two months after the workshop concluded and I have been able to fully process all material is that it has substantially met my aims:
Participatory experiences were designed, rigorously tested, documented and evaluated
I worked intensively with willing volunteers and offered opportunities for liminoid experience
I explored the nature of participation
Tacit knowledge of urban/suburban space and behavior was shared
Participants’ own desires and resistances were explored and utilised
Participants did create their own work in response to/within the workshop

In the course of carrying out the workshop and in the subsequent analysis of it numerous unforeseen outcomes have also materialized (described in the Discussion above), a consequence of the open-ness of the format of the workshop, the rotation of roles and the liminoid state in which we were operating.
If I were to conduct a project of this scale in the future I would aim to adopt a similarly methodical practice-led approach. This has enabled me to dig down into the findings and produce outcomes that will undoubtedly be of value in future workshops that I design.


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Andrew Brown, Open City

With thanks to:
Jim Boxall
Emma Cocker
Sally Croft
Alice Gale-Feeny
Katherine Fishman
Becie Gamble
Jon Gillie
Effy Harle
Fern Mayo
Sam Mercer
Emily Mowatt
Matthew Reason
colleagues at NTU
and all those we met en route