Walking with Dee Heddon
Image #1: A Bothy Walk. (Photo: Luke Allan)
Walking with Dee Heddon through Kelvingrove Park on a cold spring day was a great introduction to both Glasgow and Dee’s practice as a walking artist. During our wander around the park, Dee talks about: how walking became part of her arts /performance practice; the influence of Phil Smith’s ‘Crab Walks’; her search for site-specific walking arts practice by women; the ten walking interviews she undertook with Cathy Turner and walking women artists as a response to their call for walking women artists; and the walking party she threw when she turned 40, inviting people to gift her a walk.
The purpose of that [research with Cathy] was just to bring to visibility the practice that had been so marginalised if not just completely ignored but also to think through that what might it mean to be a woman walking, does it mean anything different without that being an essentializing gesture? I sort of sometimes worry that our fear of essentializing experience means that we don’t write about experience at all and I certainly think it does make a difference in a culture which is gendered to be gendered, embodied walker; you can’t ignore that, and race and able-bodied, those markers of our embodiment really. So, that was the beginning of the walking, that was the beginning of ‘Why Walking?’ and I’ve continued with that interest but I turned forty, seven years ago, and it wasn’t a research project, it wasn’t intended to be a research project it was intended as a birthday present to myself because I’d been thinking a lot about walking and doing, you know, walking interviews and writing about walking I decided to throw a walking party.
And so, I sent out forty invitations to forty different people, friends, family, folk I didn’t know, folk I knew well or folk I’d only sort of – acquaintances – that I wanted to get to know better and I invited them to take me on a walk of their choice and I spent five years gathering up those walks.
In the process of our walk, we discuss walking side by side, the diversity of walking practices, the politics of walking and ‘the occurrence of convivial walking practices’ and the way that the women ‘root themselves in their relationships’ the ‘claiming of space’ and the act of listening. We also speak about conviviality in relation to Maggie’s walks with women seeking asylum, migrants, and mothers with no recourse to public funds and walking as a citizenship practice and walking oneself into a city.
We also talk about Dee’s project with Dr Sue Porter, an academic and environmental activist, ‘Walking Interconnections’, that addressed the concerns of environmental activism, sustainability and climate change, through experiences of people with disabilities. Sue herself as a wheelchair user found her activism more difficult because of lack of access to buildings in which activist meetings were held and she wanted to use walking to demonstrate the ‘deep inner resilience’ and everyday problem solving enacted by people with disabilities in the face of continual challenges. The key method of ‘Walking Interconnections’ was walking, with co-researchers walking together and audio-recording their perambulatory conversations. Dee created an audio verbatim play using these recordings – Going for a Walk.
It was a reminder that walking is a pleasure but the type of walking you do is always differential depending on the time of day, whose body, what body and what type of space. I’ve got a sore ankle now so this is a bit of a challenge for me [laughs]. So, that was Walking Interconnections and… it’s been massively important for me because it now does make me attend to my own assumptions and my re-pedalling of those.
This is unfinished work for Dee as Sue Porter passed away recently. Dee speaks about wanting to keep the spirit of her work alive and not to fetishize walking and the foot; Sue used wheels.
Sue had gifted a book by Astra Taylor to another of Dee’s walking projects, The Walking Library for Women Walking. The last chapter of that book is a walk by Sunaura Taylor and Judith Butler, who reminds readers “We all have techniques and technicalities of walking” and “the importance of inter-dependency”. Dee proposes that in answer to the question of “how might we live together better?” we need “to recognise inter-dependence; we might seek independence but we need to remember inter-dependence”.
The last section of our walk and walking interview focuses on The Walking Library project, inaugurated with Misha Myers in 2012. We had both worked with Misha. I had been inspired by Misha’s walking practice in Plymouth with refugees. Dee and Misha set up The Walking Library as part of a festival that walked across Belgium for a month – Sideways (2012), that incorporated slow walking, sustainability, and Dee and Misha started from the basis that historically, in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, people taking long walks used to walk with books. The Walking Library was a library created for those artists walking with the festival.
Image #2: The Walking Library: Women Walking in London. (Photo: Unknown)
At the walking women’s symposium (organised by the walking artists network) in London, I went on a group walk with The Walking Library, led by Dee and assisted by voluntary Librarian Blake Morrison and she reminds me that we walked in Parliament Square, and surrounded by statues of men, that together we created an intervention, a performance, constituted by a group of women, carrying books, reading out loud to each other in a space that tells the story of men. We read from books by Doreen Massey, Virginia Wolf and Mary Wollstonecraft… Dee speaks of the relational, connective, convivial aspects of books and walking and that the book is a conduit, it has social capital and speaks of the importance of libraries and that the book is a pivot for the walking women’s library saying: it is such a familiar object we can sometimes forget its social capacities.
We returned to Dee’s building at Glasgow University, a former church and I say Thank you, Dee, for walking with me, it was a huge pleasure and note the disabled access into the building. The rain held off and it was a great walk in a beautiful part of Glasgow. Dee says ‘Thank you it was lovely walking with you.’
(Thanks to Matt Coward for excellent technical support with the sound file.)