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‘walk with me’ is an interactive work set in different cities. It consists of one to one walks that start at a small convenience store or kiosk and lead to an iconic building or a landscape that defines the city. Currently, equidistant routes (60 min walking in Johnson paces) in Beijing, Cologne, Shanghai, Xiamen, Taidong (Taiwan) and Berlin have been established. As Solnit writes, 'walking for pleasure between two points returns the space between into a garden, a 'public garden without walls' (Wanderlust. 2002: 167). ‘walk with me’ invites local inhabitants and visitors to participate in a one to one walk with the artist. Though the route is pre-determined, each companion defines it afresh in his or her response to instigating prompts handed out at intervals. Each walk is divided into 15 passages and each passage has a specific question or task assigned to it. The intervals between passages are intervals of thinking, of standing still, of putting ephemeral moments into words. These 'human writings' are gathered together in an archive ‘Composition of the Ordinary’.
By applying a tight structure with set rules (as in a game), ‘walk with me’ provides a territory that is potentially free from ideology.
Any walk with a stranger is outside the established order and contains a state of possibility. During the walk, our identity of being strangers to each other transforms to one of becoming familiar and in doing so we incarnate commensality. ‘walk with me’ asks: ‘What possible forms can arise out of this experiencing together?’
In 2011, Cologne Cultural Office invited me to devise an art project in recognition of the 25th anniversary of the city partnership between Beijing and Cologne. A city is made by the people that live in it. ‘walk with me’ creates a shared territory planted with fleeting moments of the everyday.
Resume Summer 2013
Most of my walking companions enjoyed not having to make decisions about going left or right. Sometimes I experienced that a walking companion felt pulled in another direction in order to show me, the stranger, something off the given track. Sometimes walking companions insisted they would take me on a route they had selected. Drawing from these experiences I developed an alternative approach to finding a route, an approach that would give us both, artist and companion, a sense of patronage as well as enhance the experience of joint discovery.
Now my walking companions let a piece of string that represents 60 minutes walking time fall onto a prepared map of the city we intend to walk together. The string has 14 equidistant knots that mark the intervals. A knotted string was a common tool for land surveyors in ancient Egypt. The route the string casts on the map is the line we are taking for a walk. We follow it as closely as we can. Often, sections of these walks layer on top of each other; sometimes walks cross each other. Instead of deepening a line with experiences and memories, this approach makes visible a surface woven from of a crisscrossing of senses.
Petra Johnson
‘walk with me’ has been supported by the Cultural Office, Cologne and the Mayor of Cologne; the Goethe Institute, Beijing and 'homeshop', an artist collective in Beijing; Anja Goette, sinologist and curator, Berlin; NRW Kulturstiftung, Germany; the Shanghai Biennial 2012/3; the Zhongshan Park Project and Equality Art Centre, Xiamen, China; Taitung Cultural Department and Taidong Art Museum, Taiwan.