Swallow Walk - Live Art Review

What: Swallow Walk
When: 1 - 28 November 2020
Where: Edwards Lake, Reservoir
Created by: Sandra Fiona Long and Ria Soemardjo
Performed by: John Cheong-Holdaway, Christopher De Groot, Jeremy Dullard, Natalia Gould, Sandra Fiona Long, Ron Reeves,  and Ria Soemardjo
Ria Soemardjo, Sandra Fiona Long, et al

In the arts we often talk about wanting to affect all of the senses encompassed within the human body and in Swallow Walk Sandra Fiona Long and Ria Soemardjo have done exactly that. Swallow Walk is a meditative experience. It is a chance for you and your body to feel the world rather than think it, which is our normal state of being in urban life.

Long is a music and theatre artist who has lived near Edwards Lake for many years. She tries to walk around the lake every evening and in this troubling year of lockdowns she and her friend and collaborator, Soemardjo, have used the quiet and introspection of these months of isolation to create a way to share their personal experience of this beautiful lake with the rest of Melbourne. 

The challenges of how to share in a time of isolation has been the focus of Digital Fringe 2020. Swallow Walk, a Darebin FUSE project, is one of the few projects which has allowed us to have permission to be outside and engaging in a group art experience without putting anybody at risk. It exciting to realise Swallow Walk works under all restrictions regardless, though.

Down to the nitty gritty. What is Swallow Walk? Swallow Walk is a meditative soundtrack which takes you on a journey around Edwards Lake in Reservoir. Using ASMR (autonomic sensory meridian response) audio techniques, the percussive ring of Gamelan music, and stereo sound Long guides us along the paths of the lake whilst Soemardjo hums and croons in the background, much like the keening of the wind as it passes through the clouds of the gods.

This guided meditation is not just a set of directions though. Long and Soemardjo takes us on a sensory journey which delights the body and the soul. We are asked to pause along the way as Long talks about her connection to a big sheoak tree. She asks us to look at it closely, feel it, experience her memories of the lake, the birds, the tree. 

When the gong sounds we move on and as we move a chorus of voices play across our ears, listing all of the types of birds who migrate to and from Edwards Lake across the year, flitting in and out of prominence like swallows in flight. The next stop is another group of sheoaks and we are invited to stand inside the "nest", allowing the tall trunks to tower over us as our feet crunch the dried needle-like leaves which carpet the ground. We are wearing headphones but can still feel and hear the crunch as we step inside. As we look up to the branches and the sky we are told the story of a young chick learning to fly or die. 

Again we move on and Soemardjo's vocals take on a ticking sound like that of the insects as we get off the paved track and closer to the waters edge. We are invited to sit at a recess of rocks and watch the lake and the birds and the water overflow in the weir as Long gets philosophical. Speakly slowly, softly, close miked - every syllable elongated, every percussive consonant popped, every sibilant savoured - Long's voice creates frisson's of arousal, our spines tingling as we smell and taste the air of the lake. Our bodies are having a party while our minds have a rest.

Gamelan instruments join in the fun as we walk past the playground, their riotous but gentle sounds mirroring the laughter of family fun and children playing on the swings and in the sand pits. Being the first weeks out of lockdown people are making the most of their new found freedoms.

There are several more stops along the way and a variety of poetry and meditations, but perhaps my favourite was the last. At a wide open spot where the view is of the lake and the sky, Long and Soemardjo take us flying with the birds we are watching. As these beautiful creatures soar and swerve and dive and then do it all again the women sit us on their extended wings. Suddenly it is as if I am flying alongside, looking down at the lake, as free as the wind, as light as the air...

This is the experience of the standard event. With the easing of restrictions, this team were able to create some live performances to complement the tour on the last couple of days. 

For this, the sound track was split in two. At the end of the first part, two musicians sit facing each other in a little grove and play their Gamelan instruments in an improvised call and response. The beauty is they were responding to the sounds of nature as well as each other. For me there was a point of magic as a bird call became part of the percussive rhythm and blended with the resonances of the Bonang as if they too were a part of the Gamalan Ageng.

At the end of the walk Long, Soemardjo and the rest of the Gamalan Ageng sat together and played along with each other and the lake, those ancient Indonesian instruments resonating with their environment gently, with love, with care. It was not a concert. It was an amplification of nature. 

The beauty of Swallow Walk is many fold. It creates inner peace and reconnects us with our bodies as well as connecting us with the Lake - it's habitats and it's inhabitants. It is nature as beauty sitting enmeshed with beauty manmade resulting in beauty as experience. It is ephemeral and real at the same time.

My great hope for Swallow Walk is that it becomes a permanent community resource. The work is timeless and can become part of a permanent community experience. 

5 Stars

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