Walking for stealth? Deconstructing tracktivism as pedestrian performance practice and meandering medium for eco-activism in rural landscapes
'Tracktivism' is a neologism I have come to regret. Intended to describe my nascent activist performance practice in rural landscapes – walking along tracks with activist intent – the term was first conceived as a deadpan antidote to 'slacktivism': '[participating in] feel-good internet campaigns that don't actually [...] have political impact...[;] pretending to care while sitting on your butt in front of a computer' (Urban Dictionary 2014). In contrast, I was naively hopeful that sustained and substantial walking (art) in rural landscapes could be used to facilitate meaningful encounters with strangers; seeding non-confrontational conversations that could meander along usefully political lines. How might the embodied commitment to walking long-distance routes - with an overarching aesthetic, shape or rules borrowed from the tradition of walking art, but tempered with an ecological theme - render activist commitment legible and ecological concerns tangible? How might the resulting conversations facilitate change, by issuing a provocation partially concealed by the surprise of unexpected performative encounter? Could 'walking into' such encounters really constitute such a thing as (I'd once proposed) an 'activism by stealth' (Allen and Penrhyn Jones 2012, p. 215)?
Of course, three years of doctoral practice as research have proven it to be rather more complicated. It is easy, when neologising, to imaginatively over state the claims for performance/art, over-estimate the efficacy of activism, lionise the heroic solo walker, and instrumentalise or appropriate an entire field of arts practice (walking). It is far harder walking a neologism in(to) the field (lit.).
What I propose for Where to? is a ten-minute Tolkienesque Pecha Kucha: A there-and-back-again journey. Half-deconstruction (on the outward leg), half-reconstruction (on the return) of an activist performance practice, I will attempt to arrive back at a (transient) resolution of my troubled relationship with tracktivism, its current positioning within the fields of walking-as-art, performance-as-activism and where it might meander next.
Allen, J. and S. Penrhyn Jones (2012) Tilting at Windmills in a changing climate: a performative walking practice and dance-documentary film as an embodied mode of engagement and persuasion. RiDE: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 17 (2), pp. 209-227.
Urban Dictionary (2014) Slacktivism. [Online] Available at: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=slacktivism. Accessed 14/10/14.
Jess Allen is an aerial dancer and walking artist with a yurt, a horse and a dog. She is currently doing a (second) PhD in walking and moving in rural landscapes as an eco-activist arts practice, with a President's Doctoral Scholarship from the University of Manchester. She uses walking to create unexpected performative encounters in unusual locations. Originally a biologist, she gained her first PhD from Aberystwyth before re-training in contemporary dance, latterly at Coventry where she was awarded an MA in Dance Making and Performance. She has worked as landscape officer for local government, dance lecturer (anatomy/improvisation), arts facilitator (AHRC Multi-Story Water) and as an aerial performer for Blue Eyed Soul (UK/US), Full Tilt and everyBODY dance.