In regard to poetry, modernist poet Ezra Pound repeatedly urged his fellow practitioners to “Make It New.” Working in counterpoint to the tradition of the guided city tour, my participatory walks take their cue from poetry, where writer and reader collaborate in creating and gleaning new meanings for the world. Tuning in to the nuances of the everyday, we might make visual poems on the sidewalk with found objects, a duet with light, or monuments with our bodies in response to civic statues in public space.
“Pipe Dream” is a new walk debuting at MoMA on Saturday, November 16. It’ll take us down seldom-seen Museum hallways, through the Magritte exhibition, and outside into the sensory tangle of midtown Manhattan. Drawing from Surrealist techniques, we will create within, and rediscover, a neighborhood often cast off as one that only serves big business and rigorous consumers. But since the walk is essentially a set of prompts and reveals, I don’t want to give away too much! Come experience it for yourself.
You can also experience “Pipe Dream” as part of Into the Participatory Walk, a three-session workshop at MoMA that begins on Thursday, November 7. There, we’ll explore poetic decision making and figure out how to create a participatory walk together. I’ll be hosting a “dress rehearsal” of “Pipe Dream” when the Museum is closed as part of the workshop.
I’ve been leading participatory walks for 10 years, arriving to this form after studying poetry and sound. Over time, my poems increasingly strained against the confines of the page and became more like musical scores, so I had to create a new medium. I discovered the work of the Acoustic Ecology movement and their soundwalks, which facilitate active listening in the environment. Adopting some of their techniques and applying a lot of my own creation, I led my first sound-based walk in San Francisco in 2003.
In 2010 I founded Elastic City, a New York–based non-profit organization that commissions artists to lead participatory walks throughout the world. I quietly collaborate with the artists, many of whom work in visual media, and help them to adapt their talents to the walk form. I might assist the artist in solidifying a walk concept, planning a route, shaping the arc of the walk, or tweaking a particular moment.
Every artist, every medium, and every object or situation we encounter offers a multiplicity of contextualizing frames and potential lenses with which to look at them. My walks try to get us inside of as many frames and to use as many lenses as possible to get at a whole new reality, if only momentarily. We all have the ability to rearrange our relationships to the world and to one another. After leading “Fabstractions” (see the video above), I’ll just say that I now look at telephone booths very differently.