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Walking Stories audio walk. Alexandra Park Hastings, 28 September 2013

Walking Stories audio walk. Alexandra Park Hastings, 28 September 2013

A walk in the park with a difference

In which Chris Connelley gets down and dirty for an arty walk in the park, as well as taking in an Open Studio.

A good park helps give a town texture and definition, and Alexandra Park, a popular jewel in our Hastings crown, is undoubtedly up there with the best of them.

Mixing and matching the formal and the untamed, it offers a multitude of pleasures, with an old-school rose garden placed next to a new-age peace garden, the timeless, multipurpose toytown bandstand reconstructed as its centrepiece and with the obligatory stripped-back café as its anchor, turning out scores of free-range fry-ups under Cath Kidston bunting for the hipster young parents out walking tousle-haired toddlers.

This weekend, Alexandra Park was also the setting for the Coastal Currents middle weekend headliner, Charlotte Spencer’s Walking Stories, which, in four sessions over two days, quite literally invited groups of us to take a distinctive hour-long walk in the park.

Casting off whatever had thus far defined our day, we were given permission to commune with nature and each other in an all-embracing sensurround happening that totally captured the joyous, exhilarating, occasionally giddy, and sometimes unsettling power of simply being there, in the moment.

Having checked in at a desk laden with high tech-booty, we were issued with giant headphones and paraded over to our start-point near the war memorial, where helpers fitted us up with colour-coded MP3 players, which we were told to deploy as our guide for the duration.

After some short samples (weather reports, radio links, slightly distorted ambient tunes that might have been lifted from something played during the early hours on Radio 6 Music) we headed off, taking a lead from our personal narrative, which, in my case, asked me to variously hang out with, then hang back from, the rest of the group, form a tower of beautiful found objects, link it to other members’ finds and then form part of a moving circle, accelerating through different speeds and moods to culminate in a full-on whole body spin and sky gaze that, on completion, catapulted me into a momentary, disorientating, and slightly nauseous whirl that absolutely demanded a period of concentrated stillness to recalibrate and recover.

Passers-by were bemused by what was going on.

And then I was off again. Listening. Hiding. Capturing memories in hand-held imaginary cameras. Etching memories on bark in an impromptu hiding-place. Imagining the dying of the light and of finding my way home. Before finally reconfiguring my mental map in order to tune out and re-enter the world as found.

It was evident that my narrative offered a particular take, operating as just one of a number of differentiated options, with at least one strand, according to my 11-year-old son, offering little more than back-to-back music devoid of any specific direction. Which saw him spend his hour trying to make sense of group actions without the benefit of a script, through random acts of mimicry and improvised togetherness.

What to make of it?

A peroration on time and being, a hymn to the transcendental power of the great outdoors, a reaffirmation of the human imperative to be social, or a postmodern refutation of any universal discourse.

Whilst perfectly credible at some level, all these accounts struggle in their attempts to capture singular meaning for an event that defies simplistic categorisation, and overwhelms the usually assertive analytic form to assert the triumph of feeling.

Put simply, you had to be there to be part of it, to be shaped and moved and shaken in what was a moving and immersive participative endeavour that was part nature trek, part team bonding experience curated by Adam Curtis and choreographed to a soundtrack by the Polyphonic Spree.

Road protest chronicled

Trees formed the backdrop for Walking Stories.  They also majored in the compact and compelling photo exhibition at The Old Bakery in St. Leonards, Chronicle of A Road Protest: Combe Haven in Context, which displayed Oxford-based photographer Adrian Arbib’s poignant images of actions at Solsbury Hill against a previous wave of road-building.

Framed by an elegant essay by George Monbiot, the black-and-white snaps captured the intimacy of protest camp life high up in the trees as dedicated campaigners held out against the combined forces of the bailiffs and the police, routinely encountering casual contractor violence along the way.

One shot, of a moustachioed young protester caught full-on, moving towards us suspended on a rope swing, like a circus acrobat caught mid-manoeuvre, remains with me. Stark and unsettling, it is quite simply majestic and magnificent.

 

All photos by Alex Brattell.

 

Posted 17:48 Monday, Sep 30, 2013 In: Performance

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