If you were in the town centre recently and saw a strange bunch of people walking under the rain inside a rubber band and wearing periscope construction helmets, please don’t doubt your sanity. It was all part of the participatory Close Encounters walk run by the Stove artist network!
Close Encounters were a series of guided art walks, workshops and talks masterminded by artist Greig Burgoyne and sociologist Andy Zieleniec. Their premise was that people got anaesthetised to urban spaces. They habitually hurry along on their journey to and from work or during weekend shopping trips, oblivious to the spectrum of experiences and possibilities that the streets can afford.
We walk too fast. We expect that nothing will happen. We take streets for granted.
Meanwhile, the street
“… serves as a meeting place (topos), for without it no other designated encounters are possible… the Street is a place to play and learn. The street is disorder… This disorder is alive. it informs. It suprises.”
Thus, Close Encounters tours guided their participants into the alternate reality of dark and narrow side alleys just off the familiar domain of Dumfries High Street.
My photography shares the urban aesthetic underpinning Close Encounters and fascination with tunnels and passages permeating Dumfries town centre. I documented my own encounters with them in my street photographs and used them many times as staged locations for my Urban Portraits Dumfries project.
That’s why I was very excited to observe how Greig and Andy’s unusual and extraordinary idea finally went live.
The group started their tour at the back of the Stove. People were enclosed by a flexible rubber band keeping them together and slowing the pace of their walk. Everyone wore a construction helmet with vision impeding attachments – periscopes, rear sight mirrors and frontal blinds. Greig and Andy were of course close at hand to ensure peoples’ safety at all times.
Furthermore, each tunnel hid some kind of a staged artistic suprise that introduced elements of wonder and disorder. Practically blind-folded, the participants had to pass through a cloud of bubbles, drag their feet through shredded paper, kick balls or listen to the beach sounds etc. And all these playful activities took place while being watched by other Doonhamers!
I suppose Dumfries streets needed an artistic interruption. The upcoming walk was already fully booked. A young couple turned up to the Stove on the heels of the tour I photographed asking about the nearest availability!
On my part I only tried to translate the odd warped vision Close Encounters produced in my photographs.