"One step after another, one foot moving into the future and one in the past. Did you ever think about that? Our bodies are caught in the middle. The hard part is staying in the present. Really being here."
While I am a fan of Janet Cardiff's work, I have to admit I was initially a bit underwhelmed with Her Long Black Hair audio tour. Towards the end, I gained an appreciation for what she created.
First off, I found it hard to follow where she walked. I was amused at how casually she took 35 minutes of my time with orders of going this way and that, telling me to wet my finger and put it on my cheek and having me listen to her conversation with her husband when he interrupted the walk. It irked me that I had to follow her commands, though i took it with a sense of humor.
Another issue I came across at the walk was that the reality she saw did not match closely with mine. Maybe sometime needs to pass and it would be interesting to revisit this when we live in a time quite different from 2004 or 2017. That said, I also found it thrilling to hear a noise and wonder if it's happening to me or to her. I often had to take my headphones off to check. That was an interesting way to mix the loud realities of Manhattan in 2004 and Manhattan in 2017.
What made this piece enjoyable, despite the setbacks, was the juxtaposition of her meditative stream of consciousness (some of which I found insightful) and the beautiful musical addictions along with a poignant narration of a slave telling his "walk" story - running away from slave-owners and getting caught. What I think she is doing is getting us in a mindful state and introducing bits of what she finds worth listening to or worth thinking about. I did feel that being primed with a meditative exercise helped me pay closer attention to the nuances of those stories and sounds.
It is believed that meditation increases empathy and I felt this idea may have been playing a role in this work. When Cardiff says "One step after another, one foot moving into the future and one in the past... Our bodies are caught in the middle. The hard part is staying in the present. Really being here." she's inviting us to be present, to see and hear what's there in front of us, even if we don't see exactly what she is seeing in her moment.