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The Walk Is the Work: An Interview with Ann de Forest, Adrienne Mackey, JJ Tiziou, and Sam Wend

Posted March 18th, 2016

A city is such a massive concept to wrap your head around. You can spend your whole life in one and still end up lost when you’re no more than a few miles from home. Time spent in one place does not directly translate into knowledge of it. As the demands of work, family, and home life all begin to accumulate it’s easy to lose sight of the possibilities that may be no more than a twenty minute stroll away. Walking is undoubtedly the best means we have to fully absorb our surroundings, but only if proper attention is paid. Thankfully there are people here in Philadelphia willing to go the distance and remain present.

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The crew piled into a rusted-out car down the hill beside the Cobbs Creek woods trail (Photo credit: Sam Wend)

Swim Pony Performing Art’s Cross Pollination project is an interdisciplinary residency program funded by the Knight Foundation that brings together artists practicing different disciplines, whose creative paths would likely never cross, to investigate new methods of collaboration and artistic process. Theater artist Adrienne Mackey, Swim Pony’s founder, launched the program as a means of extending her company to reach new disciplines. Without the pressure of a pre-defined outcome, participants have the freedom to learn from each other and unlock new approaches to creating and thinking about art. Since it began in 2014, the program has paired artists from all manner of backgrounds and disciplines yielding remarkable results, the influences of which continue to reverberate in many of the participants’ subsequent work.

During the last weeks of February, writer Ann de Forest and photographer Jacques-Jean Tiziou—both drawn to Cross pollination as a means of breaking from their familiar artistic routines—along with Mackey and Swim Pony’s artistic associate Sam Wend, embarked on a project dubbed Walk Around Philadelphia. The name is literal. This group of intrepid artists followed the entire border of the city of Philadelphia completely on foot in what ended up being just over a 100-mile pilgrimage. On ApriI 27 they will be sharing stories and lessons learned from their journey at the Philadelphia History Museum. The event is free but space is limited, so RSVP here while you can. In the meantime, we reached out to the exhausted but inspired quartet to learn more about the project and experience.

FringeArts: What shared interests or ideas led to the inception of Walk Around Philadelphia?

Adrienne Mackey: We met several times before our official start of the week residency. Themes that came up were the identity as a Philadelphia artists, our sense of the city and the people within it, as well as how we personally moved through the city in our artistic processes. We had talked about the potential of something that blended the idea of process and product – creating an exploration that was as much about the journey as a particular end goal.

Ann de Forest: We all were interested in maps and mapping, as a means of defining space, of guiding people through a geographical territory, but also were intrigued by the questions maps raise. Are boundaries and borders arbitrary lines that divide people, that foster a sense of inclusion/exclusion? Another theme we discussed was “margins,” which led to us deciding to experience the city from a different perspective, not focusing on the center, but exploring what happens at the margins or edges.

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A brief walk along the Fox Chase rail line, which forms a small section of the border (Photo credit: Adachi Pimentel)

JJ Tiziou: Ann and I talked about trading roles, setting up creative prompts and games, and discussed interests ranging from interfaith dialogue to mass incarceration to community interviews. But we kept on coming back to ideas of maps, neighborhoods, borders, boundaries, journeys, pilgrimages, and processions.

Sam Wend: The idea of walking continued to resonate, as did the focus on margins and interviewing people along them. Then JJ found a rough cycling route around the circumference of the city (which clocked in at a lowly 64 miles due to its compensation for accessibility), and the idea of Walk Around Philadelphia was born: it felt like the perfect combination of walking and exploring margins, with the opportunity to use meals and various stopping points as places to reflect and re-engage with people, all in all a great way to explore all of the many topics we’d been thinking about.

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