Walk & Talk

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This week, Camilla Palestra interviews artist Scott Schwager about his work with Lucy Orta resulting the workshops she ran with graduates from across UAL and in collaborating with students from Calgary College of Art + Design. The project was presented during the Nuit Blanche 2014, an annual all-night arts festival in Calgary.

CP: You are just back from Calgary, Canada where you were invited to present your project Walk&Talk for the Nuit Blanche on September the 20th. Could you tell us about this project and how it feeds back in to your on-going research at the University of the Arts London?

SS: Walk&Talk is an ephemeral, live sculpture that explores the nature of temporary sculpture and performative, social art. Artists and participants co-create talking, morphing three-dimensional forms, using their bodies and voice, that weave through the surrounding public and space. This creates an unusual situation: where artists and participants get to know others, co-produce, and develop ideas through experiential knowledge. Walking while talking also instigates a particular dialogue between people and place where artists and audience members participating experience Calgary in an unusual interactive way.

My research at University of the Arts London investigates the process of collaboration through looking at disciplines, including walking and talking, and cases of two-person co-authored collaboration, with Lucy + Jorge Orta as the prototype case study. The opportunity for Walk&Talk to run in parallel with the process of Orta’s piece, for the same festival, has allowed me to concurrently draw from the process of Lucy Orta’s workshops and working together toward Walk&Talk in that context. One challenging aspect in presenting my research has been how to explain the relationship and benefit of using two methodologies: action research and case though multi-disciplinary practice. The concurrence of Walk&Talk as action research with multi-disciplinary work by Lucy Orta has clarified this.

CP: As you mentioned, the early conception of your project is the result of a series of collaborative workshops run by professor Lucy Orta around her work Symphony for Absent Wildlife | Spirits of Alberta, commissioned by the Nuit Blanche Calgary. How did working together with Lucy and other artists from University of the Arts London and Alberta College of Art + Design inform your project development?

SS: The project emerged from an engaging series of workshops led by Professor Orta and these framed its background in spring. Because I had not been to Calgary, my initial research of the area was to better understand and contribute to Professor Orta’s work there, and my contribution to this was introduced in her workshop as a ‘research strand’, alongside other graduate students. Professor Orta considered Walk&Talk to be more than just a walk, as some might see it; that it has a sculptural aspect and potential to be a separate collective project at Nuit Blanche Calgary. This is how it was brought to the curator’s attention, and subsequently included which sheds light on one way an established set of artists, curators, and researchers can introduce strands of work from another group to the field and international audiences. Also, in early conceptions, the possibility for Symphony for Absent Wildlife to stretch out of the Nuit Blanche’s center further into Calgary was explored.

Walk&Talk, without requiring equipment or security, was able to take participants several kilometers through the urban landscape including inspirational spaces for dialogue, such as outside Fort Calgary, where many local participants seldom venture alone at night, and in some instances literally extended the dialogue sparked by exposure to Orta and other artist’s work into the wider city area. It also enabled participants who went on Walk&Talk to relate that experience to Orta’s and other work in the Nuit Blanche. In developing Walk&Talk, I corresponded with Professor Orta, including when she was working at a glass blowing factory, and other collaborators in Calgary, and on reflection I think this illustrates an instance where collaborative and collective work surreptitiously inform creators’ thinking, at least my own. Ultimately, this challenges both the artist and audience, I think, in complex ways to consider many voices involved, and to be effective draws on critical roles in curation, reduction and direction by the artist.

CP: Lucy Orta’s practice is firmly grounded in the belief that art is a critical force in recounting and addressing the emergencies of contemporary living. Do you see the engaging and participatory format of Walk&Talk as a tool for change?

SS: I absolutely see Walk&Talk as having the ability to contribute to change. I think it encourages people to look differently, slowly, carefully at their surroundings – both immediate physical and through conversation, their wider environment. This is particularly the case with urban space/issues where some people tend to move quickly concentrating on where they are going or something removed such as content in a mobile phone/music. The slow rhythmic action of walking frees the mind and talking with others with a changing, dynamic background sets the stage for ideas, action and to create change. It’s a very egalitarian democratic activity. It does not rely on specialist knowledge, expensive equipment, or previous accomplishment. Almost anyone who is interested can walk and anyone who is motivated and enthusiastic on a Walk&Talk can add and take away much and influence others. People can take decisions and power into their own hands and make a difference in things that matter to them; Walk&Talk brings this idea into action in real life. Walking and talking together massively increases the chances to address some issues that matter to some of us and also provides a crucial, trustable check for the rational and methods we may employ to create change.

CP: What comes next?  

SS: My main focus is on completing my post-graduate research, where I’m currently particularly excited about looking at how Walk&Talk affects future creative work, both my own and others. Walk&Talk at the Nuit Blanch Calgary heightened my interest in, and experiential knowledge about, bees and trees; a snow storm had felled many trees before we arrived. I think exploring these organisms in the context of this stage of my research fits well with my process and content foci: working together and acting sustainably, over generations. I went on a Tree Walk Sunday and am considering how to combine interests in a new collaborative project, using a collective process, which will include objects related to the temporary, sculptural format of Walk&Talk. It will link my object making and collaborative temporary practice with essential considerations about relationships and the environment.

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Scott Schwager is a New York-born artist based in London. His multi-disciplinary practice uses painting, drawing, workshops, and walking while talking. His artwork explores urban anonymity, relationships with artists’ legacy, privacy and public space and presents reductive observations of his experience and environment. He is interested in the contribution walking while talking makes to other work over time. This artwork is also part of his research on two-person co-authored collaboration, as a graduate student at CCW, University of the Arts London, supervised by Director of Studies Professor Chris Wainwright and Professor Jane Collins. He has organized walking and talking art projects with others in the UK, Spain, Switzerland and Canada.