Walking uncharted territory

A collective exploration of public space

2022 – ongoing

I developed this dissertation project as part of my MA in Social Practice Arts and Critical Education, that I am currently reading at the University of Malta. The project explores the personal experiences, needs and concerns of a group of parents and children in relation to walking. Using clay, walking, photography and journaling together we are exploring areas of Birkirkara and Balzan, within a 1km radius from The Mill – Art, Culture and Crafts Centre and wandering beyond the physical confines these localities. Using the malleable properties of clay we explored the infrastructure of safety which goes beyond pavements and pedestrian crossings, but include emotional and social exchanges between parent and child and between the individual and the community. Imprinting a mother’s thumb and a sister’s palm brought a sense of security to children and revealed aspects most often overlooked in mobilities planning.

The scent of a rosemary bush brought back memories of Sunday roasts wafting through the streets providing a sense of familiarity. Wandering through the streets of Birkirkara and Balzan, in the stifling heatwave that struck in July, 2023, underlined the urgent need and benefits of trees as providers of refuge and shade for humans and non-humans alike. A planted olive grove came as a welcome surprise, amidst the hot concrete and asphalt desert. Some of our walks followed the random prompts fished out of a tin, others where led by the children. We looked for playfulness, and created our own ephemeral playgrounds. The trunk of a tree, ramps, low boundary walls, steps, the church parvis, and poles transformed by children’s sense of curiosity, adventure and boredom.

Exploring San Anton, a 19th century Victorian public garden, located in Attard, a favourite between adults and children alike, was a much needed break from the busy, noisy, concrete laden streets. In our previous conversations San Anton kept cropping up as a favourite public space, where children can freely explore and parents can let loose. Bloks of clay were used to capture the five senses. A change in scenery and a switch to walking with our senses provided us with the opprtunity to explore different places from unique and often overlooked perspectives. Walking with our senses brought wonder in our wanders.

During our last walk we each focused on our least favourite sense. This gave us the opportunity to tune into sounds, textures, scents and sights that we would have otherwise ignored. From the sound of a pushchair pushed down cobblestones, to the smooth texture of terrazzo cement render, the pungent smell of fuel, the intricate stonemasonary detail of a majestic townhouse, and patterned fabric attached to scaffolding gave new dimensions to our walk.

The Mill served as a space to reflect on our walks, on the process undertaken, the artworks created and the media used. We shared our experience as parents and children. Issues of safety, accessibility, pollution, lack of green spaces where recurrent problems encountered, as well as the lack of political will to safeguard pedestrians.

Drawing from our lived experiences we discussed limits to walkability and mobility have become an intrinsic part of our life, particularly faced by children, women and the elderly.

Our uncharted walk is coming to a close, with a public event being developed together. The aim is to present the experience of the process undertaken and also invite the public to experience walking in uncharted territories.