The work of Susanna Kudielka & Kaspar Wimberley
I’m still undecided, am I envious of Susanna and Kaspar’s non-residency art project during Sideways, or at least aspects of it, or not? Susanna and Kaspar, or Treacle Theatre, played a simple Belgium game called Ruitocht or ‘trade trip’ as they wandered from the West to East of Belgium with their small baby Anika during the Sideways expedition. In the original game the players, often children, start with an apple and an egg (although a Belgium boy said he’d started with a bag of crisps) and try to swap their items for better ones, carrying on and on until they get something they really want. What I envied was Susanna & Kaspar’s need to engage with local people, however embarrassing it was. We walked with local people, often local guides, people from walking groups or staff from the organising group – tragewegen but rarely seemed to have the chance (or time) to get to know people who lived in the houses and farms (that had to look different from the one next to it) we passed during our long long walks. To fulfil their game Treacle had to knock on people’s doors, had to deal with whoever they met and then negotiate a trade – such scope for excitement – new objects, characters and interiors. The trade was usually garage dusty junk rather than the treasures with stories they had hoped for but they had to reject some offers. Could they carry their new prize for over 20 kilometres or more a day in addition to their baby? Kaspar traded objects but Susanna traded stories, jokes & memories that she soon started to record as they came in languages (such as Flemish) that she couldn’t repeat effectively to the next person!
They would drop far behind the slowest walking, or limping, artist when they stopped to encourage someone to trade with them. The distances were so great that it had been calculated that we could only really go sideways (to take photos, to peer, to record) for a maximum of 20 seconds or we’d get behind and possibly get left alone. Not all had maps, not all could read the ones they had. So we’d straggle on and disappear, leaving arrows/ markings/ traces we’d hope they would find once they started moving again after rejections or new trades. They became disconnected from us, despite the sociable connections they were making as they swapped as politely and judiciously as they could. They soon learned that, however frustrating it was, they had to stay separate from the rest of the Sideways walkers. If we weren’t out of sight people they called on would get inhibited, even intimidated by the trailing band of artists and performers, weary but mischievous vagabonds lurking or trudging past the end of immaculate paths taking photos and talking loudly using unfamiliar languages and accents. Through the four weeks Treacle tuned into their host country and learned who’s house to approach and picked up cues for which ones to avoid rather than bounding up to everyone’s doors the way that they had started. They also became too exhausted to bound.
As their fifties shopping trolley dragged through dark sandy soil, top heavy and unbalanced – a solid unused exercise bench more in than out, leaving deep tracks in the pine forest, I decided that perhaps there was little to envy. Their walks were lonelier and longer than ours and the walks already took all day. Their nights, disturbed by Anika, were shorter. At one point Kaspar had to go away and Susanna did it all alone – baby, treasure, stories… I understood why the go-kart, the giant garden umbrella and the bike had to get traded in leaving the final prize – a rather unspectacular row of mounted coat hooks. Well, it also needed to be posted to the truck driver who had started the game four weeks earlier. Lucky him. But hadn’t it been fun to meet people, their families, to see inside houses and garages as part of an extravagant wandering boot sale, or as cultural voyeurs? They breached the boundaries of the modernist blocks with slit windows and the castle bungalows. Did they get more of a feeling for who rural Belgians are? The yarn bomber who had even knitted a woolly hat for her outdoor lantern, the housewife, the retired couple… a person with severe learning difficulties who lived in a special village? What did we miss as we walked past?
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