A walk with Phil Smith, March 1st 2014 by Monique Besten

A walk with Phil Smith, March 1st 2014
by Monique Besten
A Response to Phil Smith's Group Walk, Refrains For Uncertainly Sacred Spaces

We walked out of the door. We were asked to be silent. We were 20 people. It wasn’t until later that we turned into one body. We stopped at a field. He gave us a black cloth. He asked us to look at the field that used to be a cinema, he asked us to find a memory of our own darkness and project it onto the field. I looked beyond the field and saw the word “black” on a sign on a wall. But it didn’t have anything to do with the history of the field. It was a martial arts school overlooking the field. It was there now.
He asked us to pocket our darkness. I put it in the left pocket of my trousers. In the right one I already carried another memory. The memory of a beautiful tiny handbuilt house on a hiltop in the woods in sweden. I embroidered the memory of the house in my pocket after it had burned down. The memory was a light one. We walked on.
He gave us a tiny box with a fiery boat. He asked us to light the matches but I couldn’t stop staring at the boat, wondering how it was possible that water and fire met in my hand in this way. The other people built small structures, gazed at the flames, I was hoping we had a fire eater in our company but if there was one he hid well. He told us drawing the forgotten city is for another day. I wondered what day would be the best day to draw a forgotten city. He wasn’t sure if what we were doing was walking or dancing or something completely different. There wasn’t a name for it yet.
We visited a Richard Long exhibition. I followed the line inbetween the floor and the wall.
We were asked to wander around a former church yard, imagining how you can use your own body to memorialise yourself. I thought of a friend who carries a tattoo containing the ashes of his loved one. I thought about the footsteps we were leaving, containing something of us, even though it is invisible.
We walked around in a former church building. Like thieves. Listening to the walls. Trying to find a gem to secretly take with us. I touched the old wooden benches. There were stains on the walls that reminded me of the stars I had seen when I projected my darkness onto the field. I held onto one of the metal pillars in a room with the leftovers of an organ, like teeth the keys were lying on a table, I read “voix celestes”, heavenly voices, “lieblich”, the sweet and soft tune of a flute, I circled around the pillar, I touched the walls. I walked up the stairs, I held the wooden railing, stroked the old wood and looking at the pulpit I imagined myself standing there, telling the walkers we shouldn’t forget about our hands, we shouldn’t only touch with our feet.
We walked on. There was a benchmark on the wall representing the sea level. We looked at it and he explained us how the symbol meant the “first breath of the universe”. Some other people using the sidewalk tried to pass our group and I don’t think he realized how appropriate a moment it was to tell some strangers “it is alright, you can walk through us”. We walked on, carrying the organ most important to us in a symmetrical shape, formed by our hands. I carried my heart in my hands. I knew it was an easy choice but what other choice is there?
We walked as one. We became one body. He decorated us with horseshoes as if we were a building, a moving building, spreading our good fortune with others. But we didn’t manage to stay one. Of course we didn’t. We were 20 people, 20 walkers. We didn’t know each other. We were too concerned about not stepping on each others heels. We became a line of people, all going in the same direction.
We entered a huge theater, the stage’s emptiness was full of things. Although it was within a couple of meters from where we were standing, we walked through narrow passageways to enter it. It made sense though. A different world asks for a detour of some sorts. Standing on stage, we took out our black cloths and covered our faces, listening to a summary of the story “The Minister’s Black Veil” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. “Anything hidden is suspect”, he had told us at the beginning of our journey today but also that often there is a use in things being hidden. He asked us to close our eyes and music started. Lou Reed. A song about Edgar Allan Poe. A contemporary of Hawthorne. If anybody knows about darkness it is Poe. We danced on the stage with our eyes closed. We heard each others footsteps. We were alone in the dark on a borderless stage. Alone among many. Many more than 20. We danced forever. Until the music stopped.
And we left with our veils still covering our faces and while on stage the black cloths had made us feel good, outside they made us look suspicious and we became aware of ourselves and tried to be one body again because there was something only we shared and I realised how lonely Nathaniel’s Minister must have been, wearing his veil as a symbol all his life on his own.
We returned to the field where we had started and explored the grounds, spreading some lightness now. Still silent.

Afterwards we went on a second walk –or whatever it was we had been doing. We passed a building which is said to have a secret garden inside. A building guarded by two pelegrine falcons that have been installed there to kill pigeons. We entered a pub and drank beer that was named after the Captain who was responsible for sinking the Titanic. We drank another beer and it got later and crowded and when I went to the toilet and looked in the mirror I saw 8 women applying their make up, wearing tiny dresses and hairdo’s that must have kept them busy for hours.

When I walked back to the house where I was staying I put my hands in my pockets and felt the darkness in the left one and the lightness in the right one.

The next day, when I walked through the metal detectors at the airport, I was asked to empty the pockets of the three piece walking suit I had been wearing during the walk. During the last days. And the last months. The matches were considered suspicious. The black cloth wasn’t. But I already knew that my suit was the real veil.

And in the plane I suddenly remembered the Dutch saying. Burning your ships behind you.

I had found some pieces of the puzzle in Stoke-on Trent.

(A walk with Phil Smith, March 1st 2014)

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