As a PhD Student following the practice as research model (PAR), I find myself exploring the significance of in between spaces very frequently. My research focuses on my own experiences of walking with my wheelchair. I often refer to this process as walking without footprints. I’m finding it fascinating that my own creative practice as a Performer, Poet and Writer is becoming more influenced by moments and events that take place when I am not formally working or researching, on my way to performances, or whilst I’m away from a campus environment, in hospital, or on a train to give a few examples. Often walking is regarded as a transitional activity, we walk to get from one destination to another. We focus on getting there, we want to get there quickly, and when we tell others about the day’s events, we focus on the function of the destination rather than the logistics of actually ‘getting there’.
As someone who was born premature, I rely on carers, family members, doctors, and medication to live my daily life. Traveling to new places can often present access issues and logistical difficulties. Therefore, the process of walking in order to ‘get there’ often requires a lot of careful planning and consideration. Sometimes a more refined google or website search reveals a certain event is not accessible to me and I have to accept this and move on. Whenever this happens, I’m reminded of Gertrude Stein’s provocation, ‘There is no there there’ as my computer mouse slowly moves towards the red ‘x’ at the corner of the laptop browser window.
Therefore, to be invited to Trailing Identity by South East Dance in April 2018, was not only a breath of fresh air for me, but a welcome break from the stress of having to scope out and sort out access requirements for myself. Everything I needed would be available and taxis booked, all I had to do was turn up with a warm heart, open mind, and be ready to meet some new people.
There were so many poignant moments that happened during the day, more than I could ever express in one single blogpost, but I’m going to focus on one unexpected, transitional moment that has stuck with me and is continuing to inform my artistic practice even now.
Throughout the day participants were required to move between several different venues in the Brighton area. Picture a multi-coloured huddle meandering along the uneven pavements, purposeful yet vibrant. With many pairs of feet and many sets of wheels sliding seamlessly through the streets. The huddle reaches a pedestrian crossing, patiently standing in the shadow of the stoic red man. Enter in the space invader, a middle-aged woman pushing her bike across the crossing.
The encounter went something like this…’I’m sorry, I know there’s a lot of you but could I get past?’ Naturally, I broke formation, walking with my chair in reverse so that she could pass by. It took me a couple of minutes to realise that I had just witnessed an embodied mirror image of my own experience of walking the streets as a space invader. The woman pushing her bike had unknowingly played the role I commonly adopt when walking through spaces that are dominated by those who use bipedalism (two feet) to walk. The woman with her bike felt awkward, may be even intimidated by our presence and the way we were structured in space. She didn’t make eye contact with us and the bike caught on an uneven part of the pavement as she tried to rush past us, her head and heart clearly set on her destination.
As she passed, I felt a surge of empowerment and happiness that myself and this wonderful group of radical, energetic, artistic bodies, had disrupted the status quo. We were seen, we were strong, undeniably and unapologetically ‘there’. This moment, alongside the scheduled performance events of the day, made me reconsider the positioning of my own body in space, how does it perform? How would I like it to perform? How do I want my body to talk and what do I want it to say?
In my role as a Poet, my practice is driven by the words that I write and say. Until I experienced Trailing Identity, my primary focus had been the types of text which could be generated when I consciously and physically walk the busy streets or quiet country lanes. However, I’m now also investigating the unspoken processes of walking without footprints and how I can bring these into performance using other forms outside of linguistics. In her book Wanderlust, (2014) Rebecca Solnit describes walking as a ‘continuous experience’, like a piece of fabric woven together. The more I read her work the more I realise that when exploring a process like walking, the research takes place in a continuum with my own body inside the inevitable progression of time. The in between spaces are just as important as the predetermined or anticipated destinations. We must try to capture these.
It is my hope that exploring these transitional moments will add a new dimension to my work as a Poet and Performer. After all, standing in front of a microphone whilst reciting a poem can sometimes be very daunting. It can be very difficult to get people to listen to you. But if you walk the streets as a proud, purposeful space invader, nobody can ignore you.
Kay Channon is a Performer, Poet, Writer, and PhD Student based in Chichester (West Sussex). Her debut poetry collection The Dark Side of Light was published by Bardic Media in February 2017 and is available through Amazon:
She is currently focusing on her experiences of walking in nature using her wheelchair as part of her Doctoral research. Some of her more recent poems have been published online by the London Progressive Journal: http://londonprogressivejournal.com/user/view/6712
You can follow her progress on Twitter at @KayChannon.