For most people, walking and talking are everyday activities that are as instinctive as breathing. As part of You Are Here, Brisbane-based artist Salma Osman created The Philosopher’s Walk in order to probe this connection and encourage the audience to reflect on how and why walking can affect our thoughts. On Saturday, a small group met Osman outside The Club on Northbourne Avenue to join her for a walk around the inner city of Canberra.
Osman designed The Philosopher’s Walk with a straightforward structure but loose guidelines as to what the audience should contribute or take away from the event. After relocating to a shady spot under some eucalyptus trees, she divided the group into pairs who then walked together around the city with one person talking for ten minutes about anything they chose, and the other actively listening but refraining from comment or interpretation. Next, everyone wrote and reflected on the encounter and what had been said, before sharing with their partner and the group. The whole exercise was repeated so each person was able to both speak and listen.
For an audience of self-described introverts, the acts of talking and listening each for ten minutes at a time were challenging but ultimately rewarding. Due to the nature of The Philosopher’s Walk, Osman played the role of a facilitator and the audience members became integral to the event, resulting in a unique, intimate and immersive experience for each individual. The audience had conversations, for lack of a better word, that ranged from pop culture and high art to parenting and the purpose of work, and ideas evolved and were consolidated over the ten minutes that each person spoke. Both the walking and writing reinforced the physicality of philosophy, tying intangible concepts to real-world actions.
The practice of active listening was key to the success of The Philosopher’s Walk, emphasising the value of a skill that is often lacking in our modern lives. Without distractions and with the undivided attention of another person, it was interesting to learn what ideas could be possible simply by listening. Similarly, the audience rediscovered the beauty of walking for pleasure rather than to arrive at a destination, and shared stories that demonstrated a common desire for reflection. Cars and other pedestrians rushed past, but the audience of The Philosopher’s Walk became almost completely absorbed in talking and listening.
In the age-old tradition of philosophical thought, The Philosopher’s Walk raised more questions than answers and left many sentences unfinished and ideas unformed, but that was all part of the experience. Osman blurred the barriers between artist, audience, mind and body, and allowed The Philosopher’s Walk to develop organically into a thought-provoking and authentic event.
Express Media’s Buzzcuts program is presented in Canberra in partnership with Scissors Paper Pen and You Are Here. Visit buzzcuts.org.au for more.
Molly McLaughlin is a freelance writer and passable Economics student from a small town in NSW. She writes for HerCanberra and has been published in Feminartsy, with work forthcoming in Demos and Woroni. She likes eavesdropping on public transport, cheese pizza and Instagram poets. She lives in Canberra, for now.