Exciting Final Project for German 423 

Submitted by Ellwood Wiggins on
Selfie documentation of the final class meeting of 423, a walk facilitation by Jason Groves (German Studies) and Michael Swaine (School of Art).

For the final meeting of German 423 (Writing Travel: Migration, Translation, Memory) Jason Groves invited Michael Swaine, a colleague from School of Art + Art History + Design, to facilitate a walk. While German 423 explored the link between travel and narrative, particularly in the context of the mobility and displacement that is characteristic of life in Europe from 1989 to the present, class meetings were for the most part sedentary. Moreover, the classroom was windowless, which made it somewhat difficult to engage in the romanticization of travel that drove most of the narrators in our readings.

Students were blindfolded over the course of this walk, while Michael Swaine and Jason Groves remained sighted, occupying the tail and head of the line. The group traversed a path leading from the depths of Condon Hall and along the Burke- Gilman trail before halting at the infamous “Wall of Death” under University Bridge. Despite the ominous destination the walk transpired without incident or injury. Transient audiences formed and dissipated, including what seemed like the entire staff of the UW Children’s Center, who no doubt had fun comparing our proceedings to the Gängelbänder that groups of preschoolers are led on during class outings. We moved slowly and not exactly sure-footed, unlearning but also re-learning how to walk with every step.

Our destination was more or less improvised based on time constraints and other factors. When we reassembled and removed the blindfolds, we shared observations about the rich if noisy soundscape of the area, the different textures of the pavement, shifting senses of time, and the withdrawal of awareness to what was immediately at hand (and at foot).  

In many ways underneath a bridge was a fitting place to conclude a course whose readings had often taken place at in-between places: at border crossings, on ships, in train stations, on tour buses, in the wings of a theater, and in between languages.

To see more of Michael Swaine’s work and actions involving travel, see The Pedestrian Pressand We Are All Together Alone in the Wilderness (both with members of the Futurefarmers artist collective).

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