TCS interviews Viv Corringham, local international sound artist [Part Two]

[International sound artist, Viv Corringham, walking the streets.]



[Many weeks have passed since Part I of the INTERVIEW, and TWIN CITY SIDEWALKS, late at night, beer in hand, finally musters the requisite verve to continue with transcribing.]

Twin City Sidewalks: Tell me about shadow walks, because that was interesting too. What is it?

Viv Corringham: That’s been my main project for about six years, and skyways was a diversion from it, though it certainly has things in common. Shadow walks is… really it comes from my interest in walking, all the things we’ve been talking about, and my interest in a sense of place, all the things that are important to me, and I guess are particularly important now that I’m not quite placed, now that I don’t quite know where I live any more, you know? I don’t quite feel settled in Minneapolis, but I don’t really live in London any more. So all those kind of questions have interested me for a long time, even before I moved here actually. And I wanted to do work that was about other people’s sense of place. Because I realized that when I do walks for recording singing or whatever, I get very attached to the place I walked.

To rewind a little, I started off living in London doing a project called “vocal strolls”. Which was a sort of flaneur thing, it was a little derive out into London, and wherever my feet took me I would go, and I would just sing with whatever I heard. That was all there was to that. And then that wasn’t satisfactory after a while, because I started to realize that I liked walking down certain routes much more than others…

TCS: It’s only natural.

VC: Absolutely, that you like crossing the road here rather than there. And it’s not always logical, sometimes its because that’s what you always do. Why is it that that bit of the road, or that that side of the road feels better than this? And all those questions started to become very interesting to me. And London you know is a place with a lot of history, so I decided to take my favorite walks, or the walks that felt like they had some connection to me, and try and research them a bit, and look into their history and what people have written about them, because in London you know this is never ending. Dickens…

TCS: You get lost.

VC: So I ended up doing two walks which I called “urban songpaths”. One was the site of the River Lee, which still exists, and one was the route of the River Fleet which no longer exists, but which has been heavily written about… Dickens… and it was a kind of an open sewer. And when you get to the Thames, and you lean over you can actually see it dripping because it’s still in a pipe underneath the ground.

TCS: We have underground rivers here in the Twin Cities, too. There’s one in Saint Paul, one in Minneapolis. Basset creek is the one there, it runs kind of in north Minneapolis, the near north side area. They buried it in the 50s, or sometime earlier.

VC: So anyway when I did these, I must have walked it 30 times, and at the end of the project, I realized how attached I became to this place. And I realized that if you walk over and over in one place, you kind of feel like you have a connection with that place. And its almost two way, you almost feel like you affect it as well. It’s kind of a fanciful notion, and if you read my website, you probably saw that James Joyce quote that I absolutely love.

TCS: No, what one is it?

VC: Um, “places remember events”. “Places remember events”. And you know I kind of thought what events do they remember? I hope they don’t just remember big events, the ones that get caught in history. I hope they also remember all those little events, people’s everyday lives, because I’ve always had an interest in the everyday, the small, the details of life.

This is a very long way of telling you that I had this idea that if I had done this walk 30 times, what about other people’s walks that they’ve done 30 or more times? What is their connection with it?

That is really how it began. And I called it “shadow walks” because, … because I felt like I was almost a shadow of the person. I’m shadowing them in the sense that I felt like I was a private detective, sometimes. I felt like I was becoming their shadow.

The first one I ever did I was in London, a friend of mine called John. I repeated them so often. This was the first time I’d really done it. I didn’t really know what I was going to do. So I walked with him.

[A shadow-walks installation from Toronto, Canada.]

The process is this: I ask someone to take me on a special walk. Whatever they mean, whatever they think is a special walk, a walk they’ve done a lot of times and means something to them. So, we do the walk. I record us, just chit-chat. It’s not an interview, its just a conversation. Sometimes they’re quiet. And that’s fine too. And I ask, “Why is this your special walk?” And that usually you know you get their life really. It’s amazing what people reveal.

TCS: It’s such a nice metaphor, the journey. Walking as story telling. Like with a destination and a beginning and a middle. There’s that old trope about how its all about the journey. And it’s a nice artistic medium, I guess.

VC: And I think that if you want to talk to people… You know if I was ever going to be an interviewer for anything, I would do it on a walk…

TCS: I messing this up then! I should be…

Oh, I’m an old pro, you realize.

But the most nervous shy people, once we were walking, it helps, the changing scenery, and also the fact that you’re side by side. You’re not looking at each other. That can be intimidating. I’m not a very shy person, you’ve probably noticed. But that thing of walking along with somebody, they would tell me the most amazing things about their lives. And I would often say you know I’m recording this, tell me if you don’t want me to use anything, and they would say no that’s fine.

And then after that, I would go back, by myself, and I walk exact the same route again and this time I sing, and I improvise, and I improvise with that person’s walk in mind. And its kind of memory, and kind of trying to summarize what the special nature of that walk is, and somehow express that.

TCS: Do you think these walks remember the people? … How do places remember us?

VC: Yeah. I guess they don’t really, but it’s a nice idea. For me, it’s a very nice idea that when you
walk, you walk along… where we’re now walking… you know these people’s lives, they’ve kind of left their traces… the idea of leaving a trace, I suppose. It’s something that as humans we want to do somehow. And maybe just walking along there, along there, maybe we do leave our traces? I don’t know.

TCS: Maybe its more like ripples in a pond or something? It’s a trope-y metaphor things, but the way that we walk or move through a place in a certain way… that will make an impact on the people around us, and change kind of the atmosphere a little bit.

Well, physiologically we do make an impact really. We are leaving bits of ourselves all the time. So maybe it does have some kind of scientific impact, I suppose. But, yes, sort of the idea of moving through the traces of people’s memories and personal history. I guess that is really key to me and that’s really what I try to respect when I do the improvisation.

And when I’m walking I’ll try to remember the things they said, if that comes up, and I’ll just include it and sing it. Otherwise it’s pretty wordless. And then I edit the two together, so the final piece of work, the shadow walk, is an edited version of the original walk with the person and my song walk.

TCS: One of the things it seems like you’re interested in is the everyday and the mundane, as opposed to the view of the Grand Canyon, or the walk along the cliff’s edge. I mean, maybe the places you’re talking about are the most beautiful places you can think of… and that’s important, aesthetics are important. But, it’s more about kind of things that we’re used to, things that we do all the time, ways that moving and walking are incorporated into our routines and our daily rituals and habits and the kinds of people that we are.

I think that’s right. For me the details, the things that make up a life… Even if we go to the Grand Canyon, probably what I’ll remember is some trivial little thing that happened two hours later in a cafĂ©, or a thing someone said. And you know the Grand Canyon is very beautiful, and I’m happy I’ve seen it. But it probably, it’s almost too big. I think our lives are really about very small details. And that’s fine by me. I like that.

Another thing I do, I forgot to mention, in “shadow walks”, is I pick up objects along the route. And I display them. Because normally the shadow walk ends up as an installation in whatever town I’m in. and the visual aspect of that is usually… I put them in little plastic evidence bags, and I leave them with the time.

TCS: What’s the weirdest thing you ever found?

VC: Ummm… I found a squashed frog, I kind of liked that. That wasn’t so weird.

TCS: Isn’t it a little gross to pick that up?

VC: Yeah, I suppose so. I shan’t carry beyond that. An hour later I’m eating my sandwich and I feel a little grossed out. [laughs]

What’s the weirdest thing? I don’t think I’ve found such weird things. I find a lot of very hard to identify things. When I did a residency in Grand Marais, and I went in April just as the snow was melting, and I found a lot of things that had been buried, packed under the ice.

[Emergent springtime sidewalk detritus.]

TCS: That’s the one of the fascinating things about Minnesota, and I guess you don’t have as much snow in the UK, but things are cryogenically frozen in November and they emerge again in March or April. And you never know what you’ll find in the snowbank.

Yeah. I found some [un-understandable word] and often they’d been squashed, just with the weight, so you couldn’t really tell whether it had originally been wide, or if it was a small round thing that had been squashed. So yeah, I found some very strange and hard to identify objects.

I’m not thinking … Oh! I know. One of the most interesting things I liked that I found was an Italian textbook. All the pages on the ground in an alley in London. And they were incredibly grimy. It was an incredibly old book in Italian and it looked like it was a history book in Italian and it was just sort of covering the floor, so it was nice.

I think what I like better than weird objects is objects that seem relevant to the person. And that occasionally happens. There was a man, he must have been about 86, and was in Cork in Ireland. I was in residence there, and he told me about this amazingly long life, and he talked about his wife, and that he’d been married to her for years, and he talked about his kids when they were young, and he talked about what it was like to get old. And when I went out with my plastic bags to find objects, the first things that I found, was this we call them dummies, what are they called, a pacifier…

TCS: Oh sure. I got it.

VC: … and an autumn leaf, and a little card that must of fallen off a bunch of flowers. And it said something like “Thank You, Carol for 40 Happy Years”. It was just really strange actually, you know. There’s nothing spooky about it. I’m the one that’s choosing the objects, and there were probably other things that I didn’t see. But it’s just amazing that the first three objects I saw to pick up just felt amazingly relevant to him.

And there was another man who took me on a walk who was a poet. And he talked about the things we don’t see when we’re walking. And you know, Cork is full of history. And, you know, look at something and just looks like a bollard a traffic bollard in the street, and its actually, what was it, it was a cannon. What do you call them? What do you fire out of cannons?

TCS: Cannon balls?

VC: Cannon ball. Yes. It was one of those, that had been converted. Anyway, he was talking about how we don’t see things, and they’re kind of hidden.

So anyway, when I was trying to retrace his walk, I found a lot of film that was kind of left, and just there on the ground, and I thought, that was really something that’s interesting, there’s something that has things on it and I can’t see them. You can make all these.

TCS: Urban archaeology?

VC: Yeah, they’re just detritus. Its things people have left behind. It’s just traces, just as much as sounds are. We walk along and pick up the traces of things that are just been there.

TCS: Great. Well, this has been a great conversation. There are two things I want to end with, unless there’s something I forgot to ask you.

VC: I don’t think so.

TCS: What’s your favorite spot in the Twin Cities to sit and spend time watching people?

VC: It’s probably going to be one of the coffee shops that I go to regularly. I’m very keen on sitting in the coffee shops and just gazing around there. I don’t particularly want to promote any brand.

TCS: I think we have excellent coffee shops. It’s one of the things… It’s hard to find in places that are more dense than here. You have to have a certain amount of open space to get a good coffee shop.

VC: It’s true, it’s true. They don’t pressure you.

TCS: You can just sit around for hours.

VC: We don’t care.

TCS: I agree with you there. And the other one is, I don’t know if you’ve spent any time in Saint Paul… It’s the Twin Cities… What’s the difference between Minneapolis and Saint Paul?

VC: Well, I find Minneapolis more familiar to me. People kind of go, you know, go to Saint Paul. It’s more classic, you’ll probably feel more at home there, coming from Europe. Actually I didn’t. It felt like very closed in on itself, and its even more skyway and internal-based than here. You know, here there’s more people wandering around on the street, and more street musicians, and I kind of feel more comfortable here, I think.

[A Saint Paul skyway is on top; a Minneapolis one is on the bottom.]

TCS: Actually there’s an interesting difference between the skyways in Minneapolis and the skyways in Saint Paul. I don’t know if you’ve been to the skyways over there, but they’re all city owned. When they were building… The history of these things is kind of bizarre. It’s totally unplanned. They happened by accident, and it built on itself. And here they allowed the building owners to build their own skyway system, and design their own bridges. And so that’s why, they hired architects, and that’s why each one here is different. But Saint Paul, there was a standard city wide skyway that would be installed in every building. But here they’re kind of tied to the buildings that are next to them.

VC: Interesting. So they’re more public. It’s more public space in Saint Paul, then, is it?

TCS: Technically. But, I think, in reality, it doesn’t make much difference. All you end up getting here is more beautiful spots. I agree with you about those being the most beautiful spots, though I’m very fond of the crystal court in the IDS building, I think that’s…

VC: Oh, that’s what that’s called, is it?

TCS: That’s probably one of my favorite spots in the skyways.

VC: Oh, the place with the fountains is it?

TCS: Well, not if you mean this fountain right here. [Points to the huge fountain in the gaviiiiidae-thing-a-majig building]

VC: Actually its not fountain where I’m talking. It’s just sound of water, I think it drips…

TCS: That’s the crystal court.

VC: That’s what it’s called, is it?

TCS: Yeah, its one of the first. … [technical difficulties erased this part of the tape] … one of the fractured connections that existed before…

VC: Yeah, its very lively in that area. I like that actually, on the recording, the bit with the kids was recorded from above, and there were loads and loads of kids just running around, I think there was a Christmas tree, …

TCS: Oh, one more thing, did you ever get really really lost in the skyways?

VC: Yes.

TCS: Does that happen a lot?

VC: Yes, and it still does.

TCS: That totally happens. Because they lead, you, and some buildings are designed for the, some buildings are retrofitted to include skyways,… signage has always been a problem…

VC: So, it’s not just me? I do have a bit of problem with directions anyways. [laughs] But here I get completely lost. Soon as I get away from Nicollet. I’m all right around here, but as soon as I get away form that I have no idea where I’m going most of the time.

TCS: Well, great. This has been a great conversation, Viv Corringham. Thanks for talking to me.

VC: You’re very welcome. It’s been fun. [laughs]

[And, with a telltale flourish, TWIN CITY SIDEWALKS closes his silvery laptop.]

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