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In search of the shortcuts: walking and narrative in physical, virtual and psychological space

Woolham, Simon Anthony (2016) In search of the shortcuts: walking and narrative in physical, virtual and psychological space. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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In Search Of The Shortcuts is a practice-led research project carried out from the perspective of an artist. By engaging in a practical and theoretical analysis of how walking and narrative interact in physical, virtual and psychological realms, it asserts that this interaction is vital for defining space. A self-initiated artistic residency is both central to the methodology of the project and enriched by the knowledge gained through the research. In Search Of The Shortcuts situates the past in the present, a shared affective experience around the suburban spaces of the artist’s childhood in Wythenshawe, which lies on the outer fringes of South Manchester. The artist also addresses the relationship between expanded drawing methods and narrative representation, in order to explore how the influence of Wythenshawe and the socio-political context of the 1980s have impacted on his practice. The thesis draws upon the artist’s own past residency experiences, as well as current definitions of the artistic residency. Alongside this, the research explores relevant arts projects and spatial, poetic and non-linear literature that engages with a past to emphasise a present. This draws on Freud’s theories relating to autobiographical and procedural memory, specifically, Freud’s texts Remembering, Repeating and Working Through (1914) and Screen Memories (1899) that analyse an engagement with specific forms of childhood memory and deliberate why we return to fragments of them later in life. Retrieving and activating narrative through the practical methodology of walking is employed through a series of narrative guided walks – both physical and virtual – that are referred to as the Wythy Walks. The virtual, online process, which continually reveals collective and personal narrative, is examined as an artistic/curatorial tool for an exhibition called Unstable Ground. The thesis utilises a parallel ‘conversational’ text whereby one side presents a direct ‘live’ transcript from the Wythy Walks dialogue and the other side supports and highlights this narrative with further social, historical and anecdotal details. The relationships between the recorded walks and the drawn-out narrative and spaces are presented through an online artwork, also called In Search Of The Shortcuts, which incorporates a live outline version of Google Maps. The website maps out and activates the multi-sensory practice, methodology and theory, designed to be experienced in a way that is relevant to the research. Through practical analysis, narrative related to a past is generated. Whilst simultaneously interpreting, connecting with and within a present through the process of the Wythy Walks, the project supports engagement with shared outside, suburban spaces. The environments walked through become, simultaneously, vistas of history; that are interpreted and spoken through them. The Wythy Walks define and emphasise space and time as neither static nor linear. The thesis promotes the definition of spaces as an articulation of a past within a present, through physical and virtual arenas, a valuable collaborative methodology, communicated and presented through the website model.

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