I (Miriam) asked Naomi Crocker and Leia Wambach to go on an excursion to Nicollet Mall on October 15, 2019, with the intention of exploring and possibly working together on a blog post. We drove downtown during rush hour to our subject and destination and spoke about the limits/parameters/structures that shape us and the ways we do research. None of us work on the mall (though I worked a few blocks from it a number of years ago), but we all felt curious about its design and function as a public space. We walked the length of Nicollet Mall (starting at the Central Library down to Westminster Presbyterian Church, and back) and took note of what we saw and felt. We became aware, in particular, of rules both explicit and implied that govern the space: “No loitering” on benches partitioned to prevent an individual from lying down; dozens of eagle-eye security cameras mounted on buildings; earbuds-in, eyes-ahead folks waiting for the bus—all points of view with a particular positioning and insight to the space. We worked together to propose the following structure for doing research on/in public space, taking multiple perspectives into account.
Score: Lines for Collaborative Research on Nicollet Mall
Do some or all of the following.
Alone: Find a line. What happens when you try to cut?
Also alone: Waiting for the bus, stand next to the person to whom you believe you’re most similar. Most different. Stand next to the person you find most boring. What do you notice about them?
Together: Gather a group, and form a line. Organize yourselves in whatever order moves you—oldest to youngest (estimated), tallest to shortest (estimated), by shoe color. How are people wearing the same color shoes organized? Stay in line until someone outside the group asks why you’re waiting.
Also together: Gather a group, and select a leader. In a single-file line, follow Leader to a location of their choice on Nicollet Mall. Leader explains their choice to the group. Take turns being Leader.
Alone or together: Using sidewalk chalk, trace lines between elements on Nicollet Mall that you deem as connected.
Also alone or together: Steward the sidewalk chalk lines—revisiting and retracing them over time.
I spend a significant portion of each day contemplating notions of wayfinding within museum contexts. In general, wayfinding refers to all of the ways in which people and animals orient themselves in physical space and navigate from place to place. Following our excursion, Miriam, Leia, and I discussed at length Nicollet Mall’s nature as a highly transitory one: many destinations on the mall did not seem final for those pursuing them but rather as means to different terminuses. And yet, some system of wayfinding was in place on Nicollet Mall, whether or not it was noticed or adhered to by individuals to the same degree. How can someone (or something) assist others in navigating the temporary? How can words, actions, or symbols help orient in environments that are purposefully impermanent? Are transitions themselves a viable artistic medium? Why does wayfinding even matter? These questions seem less important to me now within the context of physical spaces and more interesting in regards to sites of collaboration—sites that can be messy, moving, imbalanced, generative, unproductive, humorous, healing, and pointless all at the same time; where finding a way into, around, behind, outside of, or underneath is just as crucial as finding a way through . . .
In addition to wayfinding, this experience has left me contemplating the sorites paradox via sillier questions such as does a single person constitute a queue? and when does a line of people become a non-line? I appreciate that our score allows space to ponder a range of inquiries, whether alone or together.
Spatially, Nicollet Mall is very linear in its architecture and choreography as people wait for the bus, coffee, etc. Waiting in line places you in a space that both has purpose and no purpose at once—pause between one activity and another, an interim that also reinforces a social order. I like how this score asks individuals and groups to play with the line as a form and one another. The score also provides an avenue for research that both orients and is oriented by the body in its approach to public space.
I feel embarrassed saying so, but I’m someone who wants to know and obey the rules. More and more, I understand this compulsive obedience as one explanation for my attentiveness in public spaces. I walk into a restaurant, onto a bus or up to a counter hoping that I’ve made a clean read.
So how to read the rules and save face on Nicollet Mall? As the downtown transit corridor, it’s our city’s centralized nowhere zone, where day commuters convene to depart and where those who linger seem to do so because they are without someplace settled to go or to stay. You can find some rules posted: “loiterers” beware. Most though, are porous—suggested and enforced via conduct, routinely broken in big and small ways, never agreed upon in the first place. This imprecision is good people watching, but sometimes it scares me.
If it helps, think of the score as your set of rules. May they grant you permission to spend time watching and moving, alone or together, and may they release you a little from the other rules you see and sense.
Naomi E. Crocker is a Minneapolis-based interdisciplinary artist, whose work explores the act of research as artistic practice. She is particularly drawn to performative creations, but also utilizes photography, sculpture, video, installation, essay, and facilitation. Naomi’s projects often consider humanity’s relationship with language (oral, written & gestural) and she is frequently inspired by linguistic histories, processes, and structures. Naomi holds a BA in linguistics and an MA in second languages & cultures education.
Miriam Karraker writes, performs, collaborates, and is based in Minneapolis. Lately, her work has focused on improvisation, embodiment, and documentation. Her writing has appeared in DIAGRAM, Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, MnArtists, Full Stop, and elsewhere. She was a recipient of the 2018 Academy of American Poets James Wright Prize and has been a resident at The Lighthouse Works (NY). Learn more about her practice at miriamkarraker.com.
Leia Wambach is museum worker and creative facilitator based in Minneapolis. She has hosted public programs for the Walker Art Center’s Free First Saturday and Target Free Thursday Night and has contributed written work to INREVIEW, Hair + Nails Gallery, and the American Craft Council.