dinsdag 18 oktober 2016

Report from Art and Humanities in Environmental Crisis: a Walking Workshop

Guest blog post by Anna Kaijser and Martin Hultman, Department of Thematic Studies, Linköping University

On  October 3-4, a group of eleven artists and researchers within the humanities or social sciences gathered at Vårdnäs, a village south of Linköping, Sweden. Each participant had brought a question, incited by their own work and related to understanding, acting upon and living with environmental crisis. These questions, we brought with us on a hike through the countryside, intended to accentuate embodiment and movement and evoke a sense of the own body’s place in nature. In pairs, we walked through forests and meadows, and along the Stora Rängen Lake. The sun was shining and the landscape sparkled with magnificent autumn colours. Most of us had never met before, and thus were introduced to each other’s work through the questions. Every 40 minutes we stopped to change conversation partners. This is slow intellectual speed dating, somebody joked.

At  the end of the walk, the entire group gathered to share insights and reflections. Overall, the accounts were very positive. The participants commented that their talks had turned out quite differently than they would have in a seminar room or office. Several reflected upon the role played by the particular places that we passed trough, and by the non-human actors that were present, in the conversations. Someone said that they longed to do the same exercise during a longer and more demanding hike, curious to see how the physical challenge would affect their thinking. Quite a few said that they did not talk that much about their question, but that this did not matter. Some felt that they had to repeat their question too many times.
In the afternoon we had time to immerse even more in the surroundings. Some of us had a very close contact with the lake close by and the sauna made it feel pleasant even though the water was cold. The discussions centred around how having these types of experiences together makes a difference.  
The following day was grey. We spent the morning inside doing collective writing inspired by the walks. Many found this exercise very inspiring. We layered in our own text with others and realised the possibility of actually writing a text together that makes sense from the beginning. The resulting texts were put together in a shared document, for us all to use in our work. In the afternoon we split up in pairs again for another walk, wrapping up the experiences of the workshop and discussing future collaborations. As we came back to the house, it started to rain.
As  presented here the elements around us made big impressions on how we discussed and acted. How does it influence us to most of the time sit inside compartmentalised seminar rooms to discuss the world? On the other hand, what kind of knowledge do we create when we are more focused on the surroundings than on our computer screens? 
The Walking Workshop was intended as an opportunity for networking and collaborative reflection, and an experiment in walking as a method for conversations. With inspiration from this successful experience, we will continue to organize walking seminars with colleagues and students at our department and beyond.

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