Hatch at NEAT14: Walk With Me by Sheepknuckle

Text: Wayne Burrows
Photography: Julian Hughes

In that peculiar way Hatch programmes sometimes have of forging unplanned (and rather tenuously significant-seeming) links between one performance and another, emerging from DJ Entropy’s The Golden Record to take a seat in the window of Lee Rosy’s Tea Shop for Manchester duo Sheepknuckle‘s Walk With Me makes it hard not to think about the parallels between the slender thread of communication we still have with the Voyager probes, now both billions of miles distant from us, and the everyday technological links that today promise to live-stream images from walks taken by the Sheepknuckle performers in the streets around us.

Sheepknuckle: Walk With Me [image credit Julian Hughes]

Sheepknuckle: Walk With Me [image credit Julian Hughes]

Of course, technology being technology, it’s not quite as straightforward as that: an earlier visit had been postponed while the mobile phone batteries were recharged after an unexpectedly busy couple of hours had taken their toll on the equipment. Once everything was up and running again, however, the vicarious walk could begin. I put on headphones and hear a male voice, that of Padraig Confrey or James Monaghan, I assume, starting to tell a story about a man who is walking a city’s streets. In parallel, a Bambuser film, showing scenes from the walk, unscrolls sometimes jerkily, sometimes more fluently, across the laptop screen in front of me.

Sheepknuckle: Walk With Me [image credit Julian Hughes]

Sheepknuckle: Walk With Me [image credit Julian Hughes]

The images are neutral, recording the pavements and streets, the shop-fronts and alleys, the fragments of graffiti and signs glimpsed by someone walking at a steady pace, a camera-phone held just below eye level, improvising a route as they go. The story in my headset describes the city from the viewpoint of that man walking the streets, seeking contact with a woman who exists in a different time, their paths moving closer and closer in a context that seems to make any actual meeting impossible. There are occasional glitches in the broadcast, rendering movement as a series of stills, and the combination of this voice-over and the way the images pixillate and freeze, then release themselves back into fluency, sometimes contradicts, sometimes underscores the story being told. It’s not clear whether these moments are anticipated by the script or accidental.

Sheepknuckle: Walk With Me [image credit Julian Hughes]

Sheepknuckle: Walk With Me [image credit Julian Hughes]

As the remote walker loops around a circuit of familiar streets, moving further from the venue, then begins to find a way back, the story’s indication of its two characters’ paths moving ever closer together is more heavily signalled. Some of the time-travel aspects of the text suggest Chris Marker’s La Jetee has been an influence; the effort to evoke some mysterious but everyday urban epiphany reminds me of certain features in the work of Patrick Keiller or Iain Sinclair. Did these apparent references highlight the lack of a comparable idiosyncrasy or specificity in Sheepknuckle’s writing and narrative framing, making Walk With Me a more generalised experience, falling short of its immersive potential?

Sheepknuckle: Walk With Me [image credit Julian Hughes]

Sheepknuckle: Walk With Me [image credit Julian Hughes]

Yet there’s a sense of exploring a familiar urban space through the random path taken by another person, a stranger to the city, whose attention catches on details that are slightly defamiliarised by being seen in this new context. Sheepknuckle gather tropes from many current trends in performance, whether walking, the one-to-one, psychogeography or the kind of technological mediation used by Blast Theory and Willi Dorner, to name only a few. Even so, Walk With Me is its own low-key thing. When the final line of the audio coincides with a view of ourselves on screen, and a white rose is placed into a vase, right beside us, the technological mediation is breached and the end comes to feel like the real beginning.



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