Aug 302012

The North Norfolk coastline is a sublime and magical place. The varied and impressive scenery has the ability to transfix you as you walk and meander through it’s rich landscape and habitats. From patchwork wheat fields to shingle shores and dunes. There is very little reason, therefore, for Robert Wilson’s Walking to be quite so patronising and quite so control-freakish.

Set at the farming end of the Holkham Estate, this organised ‘Walking’ event runs across the farmland and dunes of the Norfolk shoreline, interposed on occasions with ‘creative spaces’ that enable the participant to ‘slow down’ and remove themselves from ‘time’. In principle this could have been an engaging and wondrous opportunity to reflect and renew one’s view of the world, in practice it is overwhelmingly metro-centric and misjudged in it’s execution.

From the start the visitor is forced to wait. Wait in a dingy field that is being used as a car par. Wait on a municipal minibus. Wait at the side of a dirt track, next to a port-a-cabin, while each person is set off at ninety second intervals to crawl across the fields formerly occupied by cattle, only to have ‘everything revealed’ as instructed by the overly attentive guides and pacesetters. The overt tone of seriousness in which the guides usher you about, as if they are thousand year old, banana-yellow clad monks, betrays and removes any happiness or sense of discovery that one might have otherwise felt as the participant engages within the experience.

Visitors are not allowed to communicate with each other. There is no prologue that sets-up the mental access-points into the experience. There is no sense of joy in the execution of the walk. Each individual visitor is expected to endure the experience of being slowed as a solitary unit, regardless of the nature of their visit, their previous experience of such landscapes, or their willingness to go along with the artifice. This is totalitarian art that treats the participant like a termite, walking across the landscape at a glacial pace, mindless and dumb.

This could have been a wondrous experience. Allowing participants to find their own peace, discuss perspectives and ideas among themselves, and to reflect on some of the potentially interesting ideas being offered. Instead, Walking is an intellectual obstacle course that attempts to enforce contemplation. Good luck with that. In the end it turns out to be patronising and a huge disappointment. My reaction was extreme and rebellious, so I didn’t get past the first set-up. So watch out, because there is no easy escape if you want to get out. This is even’t management that leave’s you to fend for yourselves if you don’t buy-in. It’s the emperors new clothes.

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