William Bock and residents of Clonakilty Lodge Direct Provision Centre, west Cork
Funded by the Arts Council’s Artist in the Community Scheme. managed by Create
Land Walks is a collaborative sound and visual art project by artist William Bock and residents of West Cork, that maps experiences of belonging and uprooting in the West Cork landscape through walking, storytelling and collaborative field recording. Over 6 months William Bock walked with nine asylum seekers living in Clonakilty Lodge Direct Provision Centre and other local residents, recording their conversations as they walked and talked in different locations around West Cork. Together with William Bock, musician Justin Grounds and artist Michael Holly, the group edited the recordings and created a soundscore for others to listen to while walking in the same locations.
William Bock partnered with the West Cork Development Partnership and was supported by Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre to collaborate with individuals from Clonakilty Lodge direct provision. The nine participants included four women and five children from South Africa, Nigeria and Sierre Leone whose stories and personalities defined the approach to creating the final recordings. Alongside this community group, William invited a local botanist and a teacher who each walked a different route with the group, sharing local lore, ecology and histories related to the West Cork environment.
Land Walks aimed to use the West Cork natural environment as a space to unearth stories of identity, migration and belonging. It evolved as a response to Ireland’s changing climate and cultural landscape. Common plants found in West Cork such as the Fuschia, Montbresia and even the potato are migrants themselves from Africa and South America. These entwined human and plant migrant ecologies offer a fresh perspective to reflect on the differences and similarities between the adopted country of Ireland and a migrant’s home land. Asylum seekers in the Direct Provision system live in cramped conditions and with uncertain futures, Land Walks aimed to offer individuals an opportunity to go outside and connect with the land, the local community and to share their story through an artistic process.
The walking and recording methodology allowed informal conversation to take place. The shared sensory activity of walking, the locations visited and plants encountered, acted as catalysts for exchange. Sound recording was a creative tool that offered participants a discreet yet public platform to share their experiences, allowing the listener to hear the often silenced voices of individuals living in Direct Provision. A boom microphone was passed between the group and gave participants agency in deciding what and who was being recorded.
The project culminated in Land Walks Land Talks Land Marks, an exhibition by William Bock at Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre. It brought together sound recordings, photographs, plant materials collected and crafted during the walks. Land Talks expanded this exploration further into a broader programme of talks, screenings and workshops that brought artists, activists and the local community together to discuss the themes of belonging and uprooting in the exhibition. Land Talks included a screening by Swiss artist Uriel Orlow, a community event run by West Cork Nature Network and activist Moze Jacobs and a debut of a short experimental documentary by artist Michael Holly and musician/acitivist Lauren Guillery.
Due to Covid-19 precautions, some events in the programme migrated online. The closing ‘Pot-Luck’ Lunch Conversation event took place online as a Zoom conversation with participants from the project and with researcher and visual ethnographer Zoe O’ Reilly (The In-Between Spaces of Asylum and Migration), artist and activist Vukasin Nedeljkovic (Asylum Archive), Donna Treya from West Cork Development Partnership and William Bock.
The entire project exists online as a website and interactive map identifying the exact locations where the walks took place. Visitors to the website can stream each of the eight Land Walks directly or download and listen to them while walking the same routes as the participants. The West Cork Arts Centre, West Cork Development Partnership and local tourist offices have offered to recommend the website to visitors.
The project is documented online via the Land Walks Land Talks Land Marks website, through newspaper features in several local and national newspapers and through post project discussions with participants and project partners. In particular the ‘Pot Luck’ Lunch Conversation gave space for participants to reflect on their experience of collaborating on the Land Walks project and on other creative engagement strategies. It is worth noting that the circumstances for participants residing in Direct Provision is a daily struggle. The success of the project hinged on the continuous involvement and enthusiasm from the group, with one individual continuing to partake in Walks.
The participant’s ‘presence’ during the Zoom ‘Pot-Luck Lunch’ closing event for William’s exhibition and their insightful reflections of the process are testament to the impact it had.
As one participant said ‘…it broke down walls’.
The collaborative nature of the project has resulted in other collaborations within Clonakilty Lodge and with other artists who engaged with the project. William Bock and Donna Treya are in regular contact with the individuals involved and once lockdown (post Covid-19) is lifted, there will be more scope for future projects and collaborations to take place such as Vukasin Nedeljkovic’s offer to participants to contribute to his project, Asylum Archive.
The Land Walks project was written about by Manchán Magan and featured in The Irish Times magazine on April 4 2020, the Southern Star newspaper and the West Cork People. William Bock’s practice and Land Walks Land Talks Land Marks exhibition was profiled by writer and curator Róisín Foley in May/June 2020 of Visual Artists Ireland News Sheet.