A sound walk around Manchester. I’ve done what might be referred to as sound walks before. These were the kind set in museums, art galleries, places of interest. My last was interestingly (or not) in San Francisco, at Alcatraz. I have a love/hate relationship with them. Mostly hate as I prefer to read and view without what feels like often a distraction from the voice coming through my headphones.
Plus to be honest I can’t follow instructions and end up in the wrong place at the wrong time being told information about something I can’t find. And it’s only a matter of time before I trip up trying to concentrate on two things at once.
A Home for Grief is very different.
For over four years artist Fabiola Santana has been collecting stories of grief from women in the North West, as a way of reaching out to others and asking:
‘How do you do it? Can we sit together a moment and share our stories? Can we find ways to witness each other? And heal together?’
A Home for Grief is an experience for one person at a time. It begins with a sound-walk through the cityscape surrounding Contact on Oxford Road. For those familiar with that end of town (if only for the gigger’s paradise pairing of Kro and The Academy), it’s the building that looks like it’s upside down.
How to describe this experience. In practical terms, solo visitors are provided with instructions for how to use the app, and follow the trail, with audio along the way. There is a relationship between where you’re taken and what you hear, but not in the traditional sense. Here’s where I leave the practicalities if you will.
For the first hour, Fabiola takes you on both a geographical and emotional journey. I heard women tell their tales of grief, loss and bereavement. I sat under a willow tree, walked along a residential road, through Whitworth Park, by a sculpture, in a uni courtyard, all the while taken elsewhere by experiences both akin and alien to those of my own.
Note snap happy as I am, I took only one image during this experience at the very start. Practically it wouldn’t have worked and as I went further into the experience, it didn’t feel quite right.
As I listened to a lady tell of her confusion that nobody asked of or mentioned her passed loved one for fear of upset, I instantly paired this with a memory of my own, that taught me to do otherwise.
I was encouraged to consider and indeed confront thoughts about last words to a loved one, what they might be, what they have been in the past (evoking a memory of regret and one of relief).
I had to smile when during a particularly emotive part of the walk where I was encouraged to write the initials of lost loved ones in chalk on the pebbles below, I was interrupted by a well-meaning cleaner who shouted to me across the courtyard thinking I was lost, and giving directions. The smile saved me from my tears as I commemorated one loss with a simple star drawing.
Taken to a particular bench as I listened to more memories from those visited by bereavement, I was mentally transported to a time as a child when seated on another bench and told of a passing that was the first where I really became aware of the process of losing somebody.
After the walk, the first part of A Home for Grief, I visited an installation in Contact’s brand new Space 0, with a collection of audio visual pieces, featuring 5 quilted maps that ‘chart the different landscapes of grief we find inside ourselves’.
With more personal experiences shared from the artist of her grandmother, the installation and this part of the experience was no less immersive than the first.
As I visualised, wrote, and indeed rocked (oh in a rocking chair I should reassure) I was taken to a place that I thought was familiar to me, but made me realise that there were many more doors to open.
And so I’ll bring matters back to earth before I lose myself in the thoughts and rabbit hole that I’ve been going down since experience A Home for Grief on Thursday afternoon. Which is the point of art. It’s a partnership between the artist and the ‘viewer’. It’s what the artist brings to the table, and what the viewer contributes and takes away.
I also want to recognise and credit Contact and the artist for acknowledging the triggers that such a piece could cause and having Health and Science Producer, Chloe Courtney available to speak to on the day, if needed.
This one will resonate with me for a while and for that I thank Fabiola, the women who openly shared their experiences, Contact and indeed that wonderful arts scene that Manchester hosts which allows us to explore our passions and interests.
Oh, and I didn’t get lost and end up on the ring road so well done me.
Look alive (pun intended), there are still some spaces available for today’s walks.
Fabiola Santana is a dance artist exploring performance as a way to connect, exchange and transform. Researching grief using performance for 6 years, including residencies with arts organisations LADA and Dying Matters. Fabiola received a Lancaster Arts and Live ART UK Diverse Actions Commission 2018, where she researched and tested A Home for Grief as a 1 to 1 performance.