AV Festival 12: As Slow As Possible.

In the run-up to London 2012 with its motto of “Faster, Higher, Stronger” AV Festival 12 presented an alternative, slower paced and relaxed rhythm to counter the accelerated speed of today.

Titled after ASLSP (As SLow aS Possible), by pioneering artist John Cage, the theme explored how artists have stretched, measured and marked the passage of time. Some works lasted the full 31 days of the Festival, others were infinite in duration or moved imperceptibly slowly: 14 seconds became 31 minutes, an hour became 24, and participants ‘dreamt’ in a 12-hour sleep concert.

This fifth edition of the biennial Festival ran, for the first time, over a whole month. It took place at different speeds, paces and times of day, across NewcastleGateshead, Middlesbrough and Sunderland. It included 22 exhibitions, 34 film screenings, 15 concerts, 6 walks, a 744-hour continuous online radio plus new commissions and UK premieres.

WALK worked in collaboration with Rebecca Shatwell (Director; AV Festival), curating a series of six art walks for the Festival. These artist-led WALKS ran from Thu 15 March – Sat 31 March and took participants on different, slow journeys across time and space, with Hamish Fulton, Iain Sinclair, Tim Brennan, Chris Watson, Laura Harrington and Mike Collier.

The programme included urban walks in Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Newcastle, and rural walks in Teesside and Upper Teesdale nature reserves. It culminated in a large-scale mass participation Slowalk on Newcastle’s Quayside with Hamish Fulton, which marked the end of the Festival. All walks were free.

WALK also commissioned a series of essays about each of the walks (these can be found on individual project pages as downloadable PDFs) and photography students from the University of Sunderland recorded each of the walks. Some of these images can be seen below.


Iain Sinclair: Middlesbrough Talk

Thu 15 March, 6–7.30pm 

mima, Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art

Sinclair is a leading writer, filmmaker, poet and psychogeographer, renowned for his walks in the borderlands of cities, derelict sites and urban redevelopments. His solitary walk in Middlesbrough was the focus of a public talk at mima. Sinclair previously walked the M25 to write London Orbital, and his new book, Ghost Milk, is a road map of post-Olympics landscapes.

Laura Harrington: Layerscape (peat bogs)

Sun 18 March, 11am–4pm

Upper Teesdale National Nature Reserve

This peatlands walk led to a bothy screening of the film Layerscape,created collaboratively by Harrington with Sarah Bouttell, Debbie Bower and sound artist Lee Patterson. Layerscape is a slow, immersive journey filmed over a year and inspired by the decomposition and layering of vegetation over thousands of years. The film explored vast and different peatlands from the uplands and blanket bogs of Allendale and Killhope to the ancient border mires in Kielder forest, and observed the shifting and passing of time as well as the power of nature to heal itself in multiple ways. This project was developed in collaboration with The North Pennines AONB Partnership. 

Chris Watson: Teesside Sound Walk

Sat 24 March, 11am–3.30pm; Sun 25 March, 1pm-5.30pm

Seal Sands Nature Reserve

Watson is one of the world’s greatest sound recordists, famed for capturing the natural world for Sir David Attenborough. This sound walk encouraged participants to listen, not just to hear, this unique post-industrial environment. The walk was timed on an incoming tide to allow the slow tidal rhythms reveal seals and migrating birds.

Tim Brennan: Taking Coals to Sunderland

Sat 24 March, 10pm–6am

Colliery Inn

Over the past 20 years, Brennan has developed a walking-based art practice he refers to as ‘the manouvre’. Following the former route of the world’s first railway line, Brennan’s selected readings en route collided historical and aesthetic quotations creating a web of contradictions and political dilemmas. The time and duration of this manouvre corresponded to the generic colliery nightshift and participants wore head torches for this walk. The 8-hour journey culminated at 6am on the banks of Sunderland’s River Wear.

Mike Collier: Street Flowers – Urban Survivors of the Privileged Land

Sun 25 March, 7.30am–11am

The National Glass Centre at the University of Sunderland

This circular walk with Mike Collier and natural historian Keith Bowey meandered along the banks of the River Wear, crossing the Wearmouth and Queen Alexandra Bridges. It celebrated the diversity of flora and fauna within our urban environment, linking it to the hidden histories of past social and industrial activity. The early start enabled participants to listen to birdsong before the traffic noise of the day began.

Hamish Fulton: Slowalk

Sat 31 March, 1–3pm 

Newcastle Quayside

For the finale of AV Festival 12, Fulton devised one of his legendary slow walks for Newcastle.

Since the 1960s, Fulton has produced images and text pieces responding to his physical engagement with rural and urban landscapes. In 1973, he resolved to only make art resulting from individual walks. Devising group walks from the early 1990s onwards, he has completed over 30 across the world, including Japan, Norway and the USA. Most recently, he created slow walks for Margate’s Turner Contemporary and Tate Modern.

Fulton’s slow walks are mass participation events, bringing hundreds of people together to walk very slowly in silence as a meditative experience. For AV Festival, the artist lead a group walk on a landmark post-industrial site near the River Tyne. Participants were both the art and the audience.