‘In black lies the possibility of hope.’ Derek Jarman
Urban walk performance series / Berlin, 2014 / Paris, 2013 / London, 2013 / Tokyo, 2012 / Field Tripe Project Asia, ongoing
Screenings and group exhibitions:
People’s History Museum, Manchester (2016)
Where to? The future of walking arts, Falmouth University, UK (2015).
Beyond Contamination, Performance Studies International PSi Conference | Aomori Museum of Contemporary Art, Japan (2015).
Body in the Contemporary City, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona (2015).
Hagiso Gallery, Tokyo (2013)
Onca Gallery, Brighton UK (2013)
Parlour Showrooms, Bristol UK (2013)
HD & SD video, voice over & sound, photos, texts, maps, drawings, posters, linocut prints, linen flags, stick, costume, animation
“I know why you do this. You’re completely depressed because of the political situation in the world.”
She approached me as I walked along the path of the old Berlin wall. She walked with me for a minute or so, telling me that she heard about the horrors of war every day in her work with Syrian refugees. When she told me she knew why I walk with a black flag, I’m convinced she understood, even when I hadn’t fully grasped my own intentions in repeating this action. It was the 9th November 2014, the 25th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall, it was also the day I walked the Wall’s trace with a large black flag in my hand.
Black Walks is a series of urban walks which I began in 2012, involving participants and interlocutors. The question that occupies this durational walking practice is about opacity, the unknown and illegibility. How does the outsider become a citizen of the polis and enter a space’s political field?
The first Black Walk happened in Tokyo in 2012. I walked approximately 30 kilometres from east to west, taking a zigzagging route that went through market streets, temples, parks, and right past a nationalist protest on the issue of the Kuril Islands. Dozens of protesters were waving the Japanese hinomaru and chanting. I confused them with my blank banner. The policeman who came running after me a moment later, immediately assumed I was Russian — because Russia has claimed the Kuril Islands for itself. For lack of obvious markers of allegiance, I must be the opposition.
Since my arrival in Japan, I’d learned the term gaijin, alien or foreigner, applied to my presence as the outsider. In my case, a foreigner from nowhere, or everywhere. I was faced with a constant reminder of the need to define one’s allegiance, or face alienation.
The black flag that marks the walk, adapts Malevich’s painting Black Square in order to adopt its radical break with all forms of representation. And Kazimir Malevich’s call to action, “it is from zero in zero that the true movement of being begins” becomes a refrain on undoing identity through the movement of the walking body.
I completed four walks, in Tokyo, London, Paris and Berlin and since 2015, the action continues to roam without me, as part of the Field Trip Project Asia, curated by Daisuke Takeya. For this group exhibition the work now consists of a walking score, the Drapeau photo series and a black flag that reads ‘Walk for World Peace’ in a utopian perlocutionary gesture that emphasises ‘walk the walk, instead of talking the talk’ as one viewer so aptly put it.
Black Walks, a public opinion pole
Every time I walk I attract labels, questions, interpretations from the public: my flag becomes ‘a public opinion pole’, often reflecting the fears or confusions of a particular moment in time. It’s always the other, the feared, the public enemy that comes to be associated with this apaprently shape-shifting symbol.
In Tokyo 2012, people mainly kept me at a distance, except for two older women who approached me on two different occasions, keen to find out what the black flag was all about. Apart from them I was stopped by the police constantly: but if I wasn’t Russian or protesting, then I could go on.
London 2013, too cool to ask, or even to wonder, they knew: “it must be performance art”, “it’s just an actor”. And it was mainly the homeless, who have nothing to lose and don’t mind starting a conversation, who stopped me and wanted to know why I was doing this, why was I walking?
[London, participants: Laura Hypponen, Mihaela Varzari]
In Paris 2013, I mapped a spiral over the city, walking through each arrondissement from 20 to 1, and finishing at point zero, in front of Notre Dame. Mapping a sacred geometry over Paris was inpired by the pilgrimages of the Kumano Kodo in Japan.
During this fifty kilometre walk I was labelled many things: an anarchist – the black flag is the anarchist banner ‘par excellence’ proclaimed the Parisian public; but alsomore romantic and vocal than Londoners, passersby called out ‘Revolution !’ as they saw me, or commenting “How beautiful to see a woman alone leading a revolution.” Liberty reinvented. Some expressed a desire to walk with me… ‘if only they had the time’: the revolution would have to wait.
More vocal, yes — “That’s ugly. It’s not beautiful, it’s sad” a chic flaneuse told me in St German des Près, ironically she was all dressed in black; some people were also more threatening “I don’t like your flag, I could just shoot a bullet in your head” one muttered as he breathed down my neck, tailing me aggressively for way too long.
Thankfully I was always accompanied by a participant walker who had offered to walk with me through the city.
[Paris participants: Annie Boyer, Anna Cardovillis, Carla Sofia, Cécile Hillairet, 尔尼 (text & voice), Hector & Lucette Bonarjee, Julie Barranger, KURI / Katsu & Miho, Oscar Macfall, San Germano, Rafaële Cellier]
In Berlin, 2014, I was linked to ISIS again and again. Although many also thought I was carrying a modern day fascist SS flag. Yet for others it was the complete opposite: an anti-fascist march for refugees. Or perhaps it was a funeral march; or anarchist pirates on the move. Was I mourning the fall of the Wall by any chance?
A mixed race man on his bicycle, slowed down to ask me if someone had died, and then cycled off laughing “of course, black isn’t sad, Black is Black, I should know”. Just before that a woman had stopped me, she was angry at what I was doing: “Today you should be naked, you should be white…and black is sad…You shouldn’t be doing this. But of course you can do what you want” she concluded rather bitterly.
[Berlin participants: Pablo Cousinou, Dan, Saverio Tonoli, Zoe Goldstein, Macoto Inagawa, Ansgar Prüwer, Iphigenia Vogiatzaki]
Black Walks / Field Trip Project Asia since 2015
Materials: black flag, backpack, walking score, Drapeau draping instructions
National Museum of Marine Science & Technology and Bamboo Curtain Studio Taiwan (2020) >>
Japan Foundation, Yangon, Myanmar (2019) >> Review
BACC Bangkok, Thailand co-curated by Tentacles (2019) >>
Kuala Lumpur Biennale, Malaysia (2017)
‘Temperature of Communication’, Oil Street Art Space, Hong Kong, (2017).
Made of Walking, Animart Conference, Delphi Greece, 2016.
Vargas Museum, Manila, Philippines (2015).
NIE Gallery, Singapore (2015).