Wednesday 27 August 2008

acts of public dreaming (1)

Starting in early September, two friends - Donna and Tim - are walking 222 miles in 21 days, from London to Dartington College of Arts in Devon. It is the mirror image in reverse of a walk Donna first made in 2001 as part of a remarkable final-year student project. Donna and Tim have invited others with a connection to Dartington to share sections of this new journey with them: ex-students, existing and former members of the teaching staff - their perceptions, memories and associations will be gathered in conversation en route. The final arrival at Dartington, timed to coincide with the opening of this year's MA Festival, will involve a collective farewell, for Dartington is changing, merging, moving - metaphorically and literally.

Here is an extract from a letter of invitation sent out to a wide range of people by Donna:

The walk is a reverse-tracing of the route I took as a third-year theatre student in October 2001. In the context of the, then very recent and, dramatically disorienting events of September 11th, I decided to walk home. I was exploring the idea of walking as a measure of space and time - a way of negotiating both geographical and social landscapes. And so along the way I asked those I encountered; "What is Important to You?” Collecting these voices as a measure of feeling and opinion at a very confusing and troubling time.

Seven years later Dartington College is undergoing a major transition. Officially it has already merged with [University College] Falmouth; within two years Dartington College of Arts, at Dartington, will cease to be. Like many others, I feel a need to acknowledge this ending/transition, to reflect on what Dartington is, and has been, and to try to better understand what a change like this means.

It is difficult to know what will be lost and what will be transplanted; it is difficult - not only because of the political and practical complexity of moving an institution - but because Dartington is so many things; its multiplicity and contextual specificity are essential to the experience of its students and intrinsic in its pedagogical approach.
And so, walking back ‘home’ to Dartington, we will be asking our companions; "What is important about Dartington College of Arts?" perhaps by simply asking people like yourself "What IS Dartington College of Arts?"

We would like to invite you to join us for a day or a morning to walk and talk about your experiences of Dartington and the significance of the college from your own unique perspective. With your permission we would like to record these conversations to use in an installation at the Dartington MA show at the end of the walk (25th – 27th Sept) and with a view to later using the material as part of a documentary film about the college.

I have pasted below a schedule outlining our route. If you are able to join us please suggest a day that would be best for you, and if possible a second choice in case everyone suggests the same day!
On the last day (Day 21) we are expecting a fairly large group to walk with us. We will arrive at the college in silence and perform a simple collective action, as a gesture of goodbye. This will coincide with the launch of the MA platform and we will encourage our fellow walkers to stay and see the MA work. You will be very welcome to re-join the walk with us on this last day – please let us know if you would like information about this final event.

Very much looking forward to walking with you.

All best,
Donna and Tim

Prelude: Rotherhithe - Westminster
Day 1: Westminster - Heston 11.5 miles

Day 2: Heston - Runnymede 11 miles

Day 3: Runnymede - Bracknell Forest 13 miles

Day 4: Bracknell Forest - Hook 15.5 miles

Day 5: Hook - Overton 15 miles

Day 6: Rest

Day 7: Overton - Longstock 14 miles

Day 8: Longstock - Salisbury 14.5 miles

Day 9: Salisbury - Fovant 11.5 miles

Day 10: Fovant - Shaftesbury 12 miles

Day 11: Shaftesbury - Horsington 11.5 miles

Day 12: Rest

Day 13: Horsington - Illchester 14 miles

Day 14: Illchester - Crewkerne 12 miles

Day 15: Crewkerne - Fordwater 10 miles

Day 16: Fordwater - Beer 12 miles

Day 17: Beer - Sidmouth 9 miles

Day 18: Rest

Day 19: Sidmouth - Starcross 11.5 miles

Day 20: Starcross - Kingskerswell 14 miles

Day 21: Kingskerswell - Dartington MA Show 10 miles

London to Dartington route: - 222 miles

Amongst those who have accepted Donna and Tim's invitation to walk with them are members of Propeller and Deer Park (Donna was a founding member of the latter company), Alan Read, Gregg Whelan & Gary Winters (Lone Twin), Dan Gretton & James Mariott (Platform), Emilyn Claid, John Hall, Simon Persighetti, Misha Myers, Josie Sutcliffe, Peter Kiddle, Simon Murray, Joe Richards, Claire Donovan, Alan Bolden, Tracey Warr, Jerome Fletcher, Sue Palmer and me. That's quite a collection of feet. And there's a substantial history of walking as part of a creative practice at Dartington over the years.

Unfortunately my old friend Ric Allsopp, who I've known for almost 25 years - he was one of the core reasons for my own return to Dartington from Australia in the late 1990s - will not be able to take part; he's working elsewhere throughout this period. Yesterday Ric emailed me a copy of his response to Donna's invitation:

Dear Donna, Thank you for your invitation which David also had mentioned to me. I had hoped to be able to join you to walk and talk - but I'm afraid the dates just don't work out for me. So - best of luck with the project. I'm not sure if I actually have anything to say about Dartington - a thirty year involvement in the College leaves me with the feeling that it is time to walk on. 'Dartington' will remain as it always was - an unstable set of ideas and acts of public dreaming; an opportunity to engage with some extraordinary people who more than occasionally managed to share a radical educational and arts ethos and way of doing things which gave rise to challenging, absorbing and uplifting work - work that will continue to define and disturb and resonate with contemporary arts practice. Best wishes, Ric

Today I received a map of the route from Sidmouth to Star Cross. Mainly along the South West Coastal Path - past Chit Rocks, Tortoiseshell Rocks, Big Picket Rock, North Star, Otterton, Aqueduct, The Warren, South Farm, Nature Reserve, Budleigh Salterton, Otter Cove, Dangerous Area, Straight Point, Sandy Bay, Orcombe Rocks, Conger Rocks, The Maer, The Point, and finally the ferry across the Exe (floating over something underwater in mid-estuary called Great Bull Hill) to Starcross ... I'm looking forward to these 11.5 miles already.

In the winter of 1973-4, Werner Herzog undertook a three-week solo walk from Munich to Paris, in order to try to prevent his friend the film historian Lotte Eisner from dying ('Our Eisner must not die, she will not die, I won't permit it. Not now, no, she is not allowed'). When he finally met Eisner at the end of his journey, he said to her: 'Together, we shall boil fire and stop fish ... Open the window, from these last days onward I can fly' (Of Walking in Ice).

During September, I'll post more about Donna and Tim's walk as it unfolds across southern England. I wish them big skies, energy, cool feet and open hearts.

P.S. I've just been to the local village library to drop off a book I've had for over a year and still haven't read. It's an eccentric library, locked in a previous age; and it's dominated by a surprisingly large crime section. No computer, no library membership card, just an elderly volunteer hunched over a desk in the old school room - she records transactions longhand in a ledger. You tell her what you've got, then your name, and she flattens out the page of the ledger with a papery hand before writing it down very very slowly. The name of the woman in front of me in the queue was Julie Andrews; Julie had an Ian Rankin novel called Exit Music. And the previous borrower, as registered in the ledger, was D. Copperfield, who had taken a book called Wild Walks.

© David Williams

Photos: top - Blundstones ('since 1870'); middle - tech rehearsal of Deer Park's see you swoon, Junge Hunde Festival, Antwerp, 2004; bottom - Joseph Beuys, La rivoluzione siamo noi, 1972

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