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Kay Burns presents Perambulate: Louise McKinney Park – a participational performance walk

Town/City: Lewisporte/Edmonton
NLAC Program Funded Under: Professional Project Grants Program
Amount Funded: $3,555

Kay leading a walk in New York
Kay leading a walk in New York

Dates: June 26 and July 1, 2011
Times: 2:00 p.m.
Venue: Louise McKinney River Park, Edmonton
Pre-register at The Works Info Tent on Churchill Square or by calling (780) 818-4420
Contact: Kay Burns
E-mail: kay@burnsmail.ca
Website: www.kayburns.ca
The Works Art and Design Festival: www.theworks.ab.ca

Kay Burns is a multi-disciplinary artist based in Lewisporte. In her art practice Kay works with audio, photography, video, locative media, performance art, and installation. Her work has been presented at international venues including New York, Reykjavik, Amsterdam, Belfast, and Los Angeles; and at numerous locations across Canada. She was a curator for five years at the Muttart Public Art Gallery in Calgary; and she taught for 10 years at the University of Calgary and the Alberta College of Art and Design.

Kay is one of the founders of the Ministry of Walking, which began in 2003 as a Calgary-based collective of artists who value the experience of walking as a vital and integrated part of their everyday life, their work, and their artistic practice. Over the past few years, Kay has undertaken several walking-related, participational projects, each one developed to relate to the specific location and context in which it is presented.

This summer Kay will present a participational performance walk entitled Perambulate: Louise McKinney Park at The Works Art and Design Festival in Edmonton on June 26 and July 1, 2011. The Festival attracts artists and patrons from around the world, boosting the energy and imagination of Downtown Edmonton at the start of every summer offering over 200 exciting exhibits and special events to the public.

Q and A with Kay Burns...

Kay with a group of participants in New York
Kay with a group of participants in New York

NLAC: Let’s start with the basics: what is a participational performance walk? What is the goal or intention here?

Kay: A participational performance walk offers a twist to the idea of guided tourist walks – this experience will serve to question preconceived expectations about a place and the experience of that place. The intention is to encourage participants to engage with the site they are in and to experience motion in different ways than they would if they were simply walking to work. It challenges the way we think about our movement in relation to and through a particular place. As a ‘performance’ walk, I act as the guide to lead the walking participants in an active way to facilitate alternative thinking about the location and the actions they are engaged in. I provide information along the way about the site we are in, a bit about its history or mythologies, plus the walking activities often metaphorically reflect historical and physical attributes of the site itself.

NLAC: Most people probably think of walking as a means of transportation, fitness, recreation, or nature appreciation...you approach walking as an artistic experience – how and what makes this experience different from a “regular” walk?

Kay with a group of participants in Grand Falls-Windsor
Kay with a group of participants in Grand Falls-Windsor

Kay: Perambulate encourages purposeful engagement with place and awareness of the action of walking. Indeed most people would prefer to drive to work rather than walk, even if they live close enough to walk. Walking is often perceived as a time-consumer that is a hindrance to one’s productivity. When they do choose to walk, most people use their time walking from point A to B as a time to think about work or as a mental transition time between work and home. While that thinking time can certainly be valuable to their workday, these participational performance walks encourage people to remove themselves from the work head space, and move into a process that encourages thoughtful engagement with the place they are in and their mode of movement in that location. Ideally, after participating in this kind of walk, people will take those experiences and ideas, even in small ways, into their regular walking also.

NLAC: How do people generally react to these experiences? The word “participation” makes some people nervous...will they have to do anything that might make them feel uncomfortable?

Kay: Most people who would chose to participate in this kind of thing don’t mind taking a few risks. Having said that, nothing in the experience would compromise anyone’s comfort level in any kind of significant way, other than perhaps their actions might be a bit more of a spectacle to those observing than a normal walk through the park would be.

NLAC: Obviously, the location and environment is key to this experience...tell us a bit about the location of this walk: why did it appeal to you, what is its significance, and what do you hope to explore?

The Louise McKinney River Park, Edmonton
The Louise McKinney River Park, Edmonton

Kay: Each time I do a participational walk event I undertake extensive research about the location first, both on-site and through internet/library/archival research processes. I determine the route of the walk when on-site and decide on the activities in relation to specific locations along that route. At the time of responding to these questions I am in the early stages of on-site preparation and making determinations about the route and the activities. The Edmonton river valley interests me for a number of reasons. I have done a number of projects that allude to or engage with water in a variety of ways, so working along-side the North Saskatchewan River opens up possibilities to further develop my interests and processes in relation to water locations and issues. Also, the park where I am presenting this project is the Louise McKinney Park, which interests me in terms of ideas relating to site naming and to the symbolism of names. Louise McKinney was one of the Famous Five (the group of visionary women from Alberta who in 1929, fought for the recognition of women as persons under the British North America Act). While often lauded for her role in women’s rights issues, she is rarely revealed as a woman who campaigned strongly and vocally for the practice of eugenics (the science of improving a human population through controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics. In this case part of the legacy of the Famous Five was the Alberta Sterilization Act which involved the sterilization of approximately 3000 people, many were women, youth, and first nations people, who were for various reasons deemed unsuitable for procreation). These seemingly contradictory philosophies, advocating for women’s rights on one hand and denying human rights on the other, are issues that I will bring forward during the walk through discussions and in relation to activities undertaken along the way. Should the Famous Five be depicted on the Canadian $50 bill when some of their actions hindered basic human rights of hundreds of Canadians?

NLAC: What can participants expect to see and experience on this particular walk?

Kay: As the walk is still in the on-site planning stages I can’t be too specific with the details yet. In a more general sense, participants can expect to find themselves engaged in experiences that will limit their ease of mobility to metaphorically question issues of restraint and impediment to freedom, while imposing particular forms of movement that will affect their relationship to one another on the walk also. Participants will be engaged in an artifact collection process along the way to increase their awareness of the minutiae of the location along-side the bigger picture of the location through the information presented along the way.

NLAC: How long will it take?

Kay: The participational walk will take approximately two hours, whereas to walk the same route in a normal way would probably take about 40 minutes.