noun A field of activist performance that utilises walking and moving and talking in rural landscapes to address issues of environmental, social or political concern. (Or just a word I invented to describe my PhD research…a development of what I began during my MA with Tilting at Windmills…)
If slacktivism, a portmanteau formed from the words slacker and activism, is defined as the act of participating in virtual campaigning activities (Facebook ‘likes’, internet petitions) ‘as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort [or money] to fix a problem’ (Urban Dictionary, Evegeny Morozov, Metro), then tracktivism is its antithesis. Taking both the simple noun forms of track as a path ‘beaten by use rather than constructed’ and ‘a mark… left by a person in passing’ (Apple Dictionary 2009), tracktivism is walking and moving and talking in rural landscape as an activist (arts) practice. It makes political concerns tangible by substantial or sustained movement in and through physical space, leaving performative traces and facilitating dialogue through conversation. Encouraging engagement and participation, it offers a challenge to passivity and a means of energising responses to issues of ecological, social or political significance through embodied, performative intervention in landscapes and communities.
While walking and environmental movement practices can manifest as diverse performance modes, here I refer collectively to walking art and audio walks, site-specific dance performance and non-stylised environmental movement (a phrase used by Helen Poynor to differentiate her site-work, grounded in pedestrian vocabulary and deep ecology, from that of site-artists using technical contemporary dance choreography). These practices are typically sensitive or responsive to the natural (or urban) environment and the stimuli it offers, whether that be space, sound, season, strata, surface, or inhabitants. This kind of work might be characterised, in the UK, by the varied practices of Richard Long, Hamish Fulton, Simon Whitehead, Helen Poynor, Wrights & Sites, Rachel Sweeney and Marnie Orr (ROCKface) and in the US by Jennifer Monson, Andrea Olsen and Caryn McHose. Few of these artists are overtly political in their approach, but the notion of an environmental and social ‘ethics of care’ and deepening ecological awareness through movement in landscape is, to varying degrees, implicit in their work (Moorhouse 2002, Jones 2002, Whitehead 2006, Poynor 2008, Stewart 2010, Orr and Sweeney 2011).
My own practice – which also combines walking, sound recording, film and durational movement installation – owes much to the (in some cases direct) influence of these practitioners (Allen and Penrhyn Jones 2012). But my interest through tracktivism is how one might shift and focus the field of attention, bringing into sharper relief socio-political themes in rural environments. How can the walking and environmental movement practices – so often located in a solo, somatic, sensorial engagement with place – be redeployed to elicit an energised, embodied, explicit engagement with people and politics, usually the preserve of urban participatory arts practices (e.g. PLATFORM, DARTER)?
Moving and being with attention to self, ecology and site cultivates a greater sense of embodiment which, by Merleau-Pontyian logic ‘direct[s us] towards the world’ (Rouhiainen 2008: 244) opening us to an awareness of ecological processes (Olsen 2006, 2011, Stewart 2010). And walking, in particular, has been much explored as a practice in art and cultural geography (e.g. Butler 2006, Ingold and Vergunst 2008, Smith 2010), being a medium that ‘connects… body to spaces’ (Phillips 2004:158). How then can it also connect to people in rural places, transcending the limitations of rural infrastructure to connect dispersed or marginalised communities to wider environmental, social and political concerns? This is echoed by a recent challenge to visual anthropology and ethnographic practice that ‘in exploring the… hybrid space between ethnography and art/walking,’ we might find ‘a third space… where transformative possibilities and visual and textual products can emerge that may feed into cultural politics and praxis, and help processes of social justice via a politics of recognition’ (Pink et al. 2010: 6). It is in just these textured interstices between fields of practice that tracktivism lies and that I am explore further through my practice-baesed PhD through a series of tracktivist environmental performance walks/works in rural landscapes, with varied opportunities for participation from rural communities in Mid-Wales and Herefordshire.