‘The Most Interesting Things Are Right Under Our Noses’ written by Emma Lloyd

How do you distinguish the everyday? It’s the direct environment around you. It is the objects, the people, the literal space and even your own ‘self’ that create the everyday atmosphere in which we occupy and immerse ourselves in daily. And it is these physical and psychological notions of the ‘everyday’ that Andrew Brown uses as implements to perform and reflect during his artwalks.
In 2006, Brown founded Open City, in which artwalks take place across varied terrain, in cities, towns and rural areas and all involve a level of 'performance' and reflection by those taking part. This might take the form of games, meditation, devising and enacting ideas, mapping, collective discussion and documentation. On the 6th October 2012, Brown organised a rural walk in Colwick Woods, Nottingham. The instructions on how to get to there and where to meet were rather vague and ambiguous, especially for those who hadn’t visited Colwick Woods previously: ‘Take a bus and meet by the bus stop’. I wondered if the ambiguity was the introduction to the walk, setting the tone, almost like a riddle or a ripped pirate map – not giving too much information away; yet then again, it could be nothing more than a simple, yet blunt set of directions.  
We eventually gathered outside the bus stop, our first instruction was to remain silent during the walk unless told otherwise. Brown expressed the importance of staying calm and to reflect on our surroundings using all of our senses – not just sight and hearing. In single file, we walked to the entrance of the woods where we were told to walk for 30seconds up the hill, only to slow right down until we were barely, (but still continuously), moving. I walked slowly up the hill and gradually prolonged my movements until I focused on every part of my body – where the movement was coming from, trying to control it, sustaining it in a limbo of neither animate or inanimate and suspending the logic of cause and effect. I believe Brown want us to question our relationship with reality through emphasis and amplification of that reality. He does this with an almost ‘negative’ approach, through interruption, rupture and deconstruction of our daily expectations.
Although this was a group activity, I fixated and reflected on my own individual experience at all times. I had no awareness of where anyone else was and at stages, I had forgotten that there was anyone else at all. The performance felt very melancholic, almost deathly, as if I was invading yet evading space. There was plenty of time to think and plenty of time to be vacant as I dipped, seemingly, in and out of consciousness. I lapsed in and out of moments of deep introspection and formidable frustration, as my mind prompted me of the seemingly infinite and tedious journey still ahead.
At times, I wondered why I was putting myself through the pain. I felt obligated to carry on, because not only did it feel like a personal test; but I felt that I was now part of the art. I couldn’t leave or give up – it would be rude. My muscles shook and threatened to seize up as I forced my body to play this outwardly serious take on a childish game. Brown is transfixed with our acceptance and understanding of the human condition, the inevitability of fatigue and burning out. A grim humour underpins his artwalks as Brown effectively explores and plays with this notion.
I feel this singular performance of the artwalk was most successful and memorable. It distinctly demonstrates a liminal space that I believe Brown’s artwalks situate within; always balanced on the boundary between two contradictions: tedious and thrilling, subtle and barefaced, temporal and spatial, conscious and unconscious. Brown states he “flirt(s) with collapse” and that the possibility of collapse excites him. This is not surprising, as since the early ‘80s, Andrew Brown has been musically involved in free collective improvisation. Positioning himself, artistically, on the threshold and teetering on the edge of collapse, Brown creates possibilities of the most interesting things occurring. It is not that collapse will happen, but the possibility, which makes Brown’s work so intensely captivating.
Brown’s notion of defamiliarisation through over-familiarisation is most evident, (also), in this performance, as my responses were a timeline of the familiar and unfamiliar. I noticed around me the contrasting sounds and smells of the city and the woods; thunderous trains passing, bustling people, and the toxic smell of petroleum cars, juxtaposed with drops of rain falling against and through the leaves, creaking groans from thick branches of trees, and at some moments, silence. However, what seemed for long periods, I could not place or contextualise myself in the world, as if time had stood still, during which I intensely engrossed myself in staring, blankly, at one miniscule fragment of the earth. The earth became an abstract form as I no longer recognised or understood it for its purpose in the world; I only encoded its shape, colour and configuration.
 “Demystification is my agenda.” Brown’s ‘agenda’ in fact mystifies me. I believe there is no clarification in defamiliarisation; however, is it through defamiliarisation that we become clearer about the physical and psychological roles we ‘perform’ within our world, and therefore in turn, want to challenge them? Does Brown believe our society is too familiar with our surroundings and own physical and psychological place within the world? It feels as if these performative actions have a political nature to them, as if they are some sort of protest against the fast-paced and assuming world. Brown’s artwalks and interventions with everyday life are intended to be witnessed live. The work is not in designed to be encountered through the documentation. By watching the documentation you get a very limited experience – you have to immerse yourself physically and therefore mentally. In this sense, the performances are exclusive to both the people who choose to join and the unsuspected ‘audience’. “I am not interested in making art which is commercial or accessible for the masses.” I feel this is a vital and essential element to the politics within Brown’s work; it is only to be seen/experienced by the ‘lucky’ few. This leads me to question whom these performances are really for. Are they for the participants to fully submerge themselves in first-hand and therefore directly question the world in which they live; or are they for the onlookers – passers-by who witness and encounter this somewhat ‘strange’ and out-of-the-ordinary act to disrupt the monotony in their everyday lives? Is Brown merely using his participants to realise and communicate his own political ‘agendas’ by suggesting and tempting the volunteers to believe they will have their own (false) ‘epiphany’ of self? Somehow, I don’t think so. Though I do believe these ‘exclusive’ artwalks are as much for the unanticipated audience that is the everyday world, as they are for the participants.

Archive