MR Festival 2008: the Time in Travel takes its course by Biba Bell

by Biba Bell
MR Festival Spring 2008: Somewhere Out There

We met at the labyrinth in Battery Park, a smallish piece of fresh grass, well soiled with a few trees and a smattering of modernist lounge furniture. Kicking off our shoes after the trek to the South Ferry was an immediate hint to the sensitizing experiment we would be invited to embark upon for the afternoon. We collected in the shade under a tree and Melanie Maar began to talk about her interest in travel — the experience of being on route, in transit, as movement from point a to b to a to b. In the city where I am constantly running like mad to get to yoga class, etc., the state of transit takes a life of its own. For the hours of the Silent Ride II/In Travel we would be offered the opportunity to experience the subtle energetic shifts in impulse, momentum and focus that modulate and shape the passages between events, places or people in the simplest yet profoundest terms.

Maar began by leading us through a series of flocking, Qiong-esque exercises beginning in the center of the labyrinth. Our movements traversed the surface of ground, lightly grazing the corridors of stone set in the grass. I noticed my sweeping fingers and hands move gently in and out of my peripheral vision, this peripheral focus became more and more developed through the course of the day. Our slow walks shifted direction, gently curving in circular/spiraling shapes, the bodies of the 7 or so participants listening to each other with such intensity that there in the grass down at the bottom of the island of Manhattan we seemed to bloom eyes and ears in back of the head, the bottoms of our feet. The subtle impulses of the group as ensemble guided the looping curves of our course of travel.

This moved us one by one from the center to slowly walk out through the path of the labyrinth. But let me clarify, this slow walking was in fact a “slow walk” a distinct form developed by Maar for this mediative exercise. While similar to walking meditation exercises I’d done for example with Pauline Oliveros during ILand’s “Language of the Listening Body,” Maar had introduced a gentle sweeping motion of the arms and hands that layered upon the slow and gradual steps we took. These arm movements again came in and out of my peripheral focus, honing my visual experience, but also added another rhythm to each step, breath and thought process. The specificity of the slow walk as a form allowed me both to both release my mind from thinking about it while always staying engaged on a minute though conscious level. As we proceeded through the labyrinth people in the park stopped and watched, expressing disbelief, amusement or curiosity. I looking at them from time to time as they looked at us. one man sat down and watched us as if this was his alternative to a cigarette break, a woman (who turned out to be another blogger) stood talking on the phone or taking pictures, another man cut straight through the labyrinth to sit on the chaise lounge and eat his lunch. We didn’t phase him at all.

Our slow walk lasted for a good hour, the labyrinth moved us along at varying speeds. Directions were lost and found, intention waxed and waned. The walk turned itself to resemble the breeze, water coursing through a stream, we walked paying no mind to this motion. The slow walk/Silent Ride was an exercise in endurance, and through time the city sounds different, spaces felt different and the rhythms of our travel developed. Such shifts take time and I was surprised at the rarity of these adventures in the schedules of day to day run around.

Maar collected us and led us to the South Ferry where we boarded for Staten Island. We were late, the slow walk had been too slow after all, we ran for the 2pm ferry, my legs felt like jello — all wiggly — the slow walk was of a rigor whose exhaustion I could then feel. Once in the ferry building the masses of people, all kinds of people, picked us up and as a great mass scooped us onto the boat. Standing in the wind, looking out across the converging rivers, the forces of the vessel was a different sense of travel. The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island reminded of the millions who have felt the gravity of this movement, the multitudes of histories and traditions wrought in the mechanics of this route. The afternoon was sunny and slowly we moved between islands, Manhattan’s skyscraper’s to the north gently receded. Our Silent Ride looped back a half hour later, taking the ferry to where we began. Participants lingered off, staying silent or not, but bringing the concentration of the afternoon to the streets of Manhattan, bringing attention to little moments, interactions, movement fluxes and the micro-occurrences which abound while moving on route.

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