Who: Artist Todd Shalom and poet Kate Colby
What: “Duly Noted,” a participatory walk incorporating techniques from poetry, sound, and performance, at deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln.
When: Shalom and Colby will lead the walk again on July 18 at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.; other artist-led walks take place throughout the summer. www.decordova.org.
Museum tours can be overwhelming: a barrage of information interrupted only by the unconscious shuffle between highlights A and B.
Shalom and Colby know that the very nature of tours makes it easy to overlook the ways in which artworks and their settings inform one another. Commissioned to design and lead a walk through the grounds of deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, the pair created the collaborative walk “Duly Noted,” a poetic exchange between participants and the Lincoln museum’s site and surroundings.
“It’s all about reframing the site,” said Shalom, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based artist who founded Elastic City, which commissions artists to create participatory walks. “The art is here to inspire; our work is really to activate it.”
These two nontraditional docents integrated techniques from poetry, sound, and performance to encourage participants taking the inaugural walk on May 9 to think differently about the deCordova and its surroundings.
“Reading the art is apt because it’s so framed by woods and walls and water, and all this history,” said Colby, who grew up in Wayland and lives in Providence. “It’s easy to contextualize it all, but as that falls away, we can reframe it.”
Over the course of the walk, participants evolved from visitors to artists and performers. Individuals gave one-word soliloquies atop a stump, announcing their visual discoveries, and, guided by a partner, wandered the grounds with eyes closed to pay special attention to the surrounding cacophony. Comfort levels were tested when, lined up facing each other in a large elliptical glass sculpture by Dan Graham, participants were asked to read lines of Colby’s poetry while staring intimately into the eyes of the person directly across from them.
Shalom and Colby, who met while working on their master’s degrees in fine arts at California College of the Arts, planned “Duly Noted” meticulously over the course of a year, visiting the deCordova several times to perfect the route, pacing, and segues. But a degree of uncertainty and room for spontaneity remained.
“We can plan everything on this walk, but we don’t know how people will react,” said Shalom, whose work has been presented by the Museum of Modern Art and the New Museum. “We just put it out there, and if they don’t go along with it, it just falls on its face.”
At times that left the two in a vulnerable spot, waiting to see if the group would respond to their prompts. Shalom, who has been leading participatory walks since 2010, is used to the awkwardness, but Colby felt less prepared.
“I think what makes Todd’s work work is that he’s OK with discomfort and with a certain procedural fail,” she said, adding that a crucial element to ensuring that things go smoothly is striking a careful balance between taking people outside of their comfort zones and standing back to let things play out.
“We want to push people a bit, but not so much as to scare them away,” said Shalom.
“Duly Noted” is one of many commissioned artist-led walks coinciding with the deCordova’s exhibition “Walking Sculpture 1967-2015,” which features works by 19 artists who incorporate walking into their practices. Other walks, with themes including tightrope walking, mushroom foraging, and Rolfing, will take place throughout the summer.
“These walks are a really nice way of bringing in the different tenets of conscious walking,” said Lexi Lee Sullivan, the curator who organized the exhibition. “Walking is so universal and so unconscious, but it can be so meaningful as a democratic, expressive form.”