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The artist Ania Bas and the cultural producer Simone Mair organise unusual reading groups: “The Walking Reading Group on Participation”, walks along specified routes around a city conversing about texts that have been read beforehand about the concept of participation. They have already realised four “Walking Reading Groups” in collaboration with Gasworks and The Showroom in London and are preparing new editions for next October.
Ania Bas is one of those artists who enjoys blurring the frontiers between what art is and what it could be. Simone Mair moves between curating and art education. When Simone discovered that Ania had organised a reading group about participation in Cardiff, at the invitation of Elbow Room, she proposed that they planned something similar together in London, the current format of the sessions arising out of this collaboration: “We think that the dynamic of movement can mitigate the fear of saying something wrong in front of a group of 15 people sitting around a table.” During the walks there is in depth discussion of texts by distinct philosophers, critics and art professionals such as: Claire Bishop, Michel De Certeau, Emily Pethick, Louise Shelley, Emma Smith, Nato Thompson, Marijke Steedman, Jeanne van Heeswijk… “Yesterday for example we talked about a text where Grant Kester explained that knowledge ought to be mobilised, as its truth is then negotiated. We develop this idea of mobilization literally”.
For each session they prepare both different readings and different routes. To invigorate the conversations, people walk in pairs, changing companion and topic every 15 minutes, throughout the walk that lasts around 2 hours. The itineraries are not chosen by chance and have been prepared with the teams from Gasworks and The Showroom. Showroom for example has been developing for several years now the “Communal Knowledge”programme of collaborative projects involving local and international artists with people from the district where the organisation is located, so the route passes through sites linked to different projects. “But it’s not just a tour where we point to the right where see you can see this and on the left, that. Nonetheless, each day there’s a certain aspect of the text that relates to the space that can lead at a certain moment to the participants clicking, and thinking, “that was the place”.
As a counterpoint to The Walking Reading Group, another proposal that also plays with reading and walking in company is El Paseo by the artist Idoia Zabaleta presented during the encounter “3,2,1” looking at new scenic forms in the Alhóndiga Bilbao. It’s a performance that plays with the idea of walking, movement and group action. In this case a group of 9 people, who participate more or less as automata, read the novel “The Walk” by Robert Walser non-stop (during 3 and a half hours) while they move in an unpremeditated manner. The simultaneous reading, that requires a certain choral effort, aims to distract the individual from wanting to exercise control over his own movements, while the sound and movement also generate in the spectator an effect that escapes the control of the artist himself.
When you end The Walking Reading Group of Ania Bas and Simone Mair as much as when you end El Paseo of Idoia Zabaleta you walk home, thinking in movement, alone or accompanied, lost in your thoughts or allowing yourself to become absorbed by the landscape. Maybe you decide not to take the same route as always and in this more or less meandering, unconscious or planned and controlled derive, you come across something that you thought you were looking for.