Dear night walker,
we are delighted that you are joining us tonight. We will start at 7:30 pm at Café Het Hijgend Hert, in Breda. There, we meet for a drink and welcome before we start walking from 8:30 on. The walk will last about 2 hours after which you are free to return back home or join us once again to round up the evening. We are keeping everyone’s way home in mind and are making sure that you can catch a train back should you live outside of Breda.
We are the night walkers. We are a group of twelve people standing in front of the café gathered around artist Alicia Kremser. The reason for being here and for being in this city is related to the installation ‘text me when’ which Alicia made as part of the project ‘Ontdek de Nacht’ (on view in October and November 2022) in the public space of Breda. Alicia introduces us to her motives behind this walk and speaks of the experience of vulnerable bodies being alone in the street at night. She brings into mind how the nocturnal also changes the perception in regard to women, not only in a physical sense but also how being vulnerable is a psychological issue symbolised in the phrase that inspired this walk: ‘text me when you’re home’.
i seek to exist
in reverse analogy to spaces of
in quest for moments of
with the city
and its nocturnal cosmos
We leave the path and enter the dark parts of the park when our feet hit the grass. The trees sheltering us from the lights above. In this heart of darkness lays a labyrinth with the white statue of Vieze Jan in the middle, once called Hercules but his lack of clothes was not appreciated, hence the name Dirty Jan. But our stay here is not without reason. We are assigned to leave our group structure and actually be on our own for at least ten minutes. Wandering and keeping eye contact with each other as instructed is not an easy task to perform in the dark of the night. We can hardly see each other’s eyes, so we console in blurry faces. It is an uneasy wandering because the moment we stopped following Alicia, we are no longer able to look around us and instead we have to look at each other. All of a sudden, we are responsible for our own movements. A bewildering and uneasy situation that ended on the red bridge where we, still silent, only have our phones to text each other to check that we made it. ‘I am here, yes, me too’, and more spontaneous reactions to reassure ourselves that nobody is forgotten. Meanwhile we try to stare at each other’s faces while we listen to the sounds of incoming messages.
Crossing the market square, we try out some different formations of wandering. Sometimes people just blend in with the group without being aware of it and follow our footsteps for a while until they silently decide to leave us. They probably never knew that they were for some moments part of our attention and care, but maybe they felt it somehow. The silence we carry even extends to the terrace we pass by; silent people in couples sitting there together just looking around but not at each other.
Leaving the market, we encounter a new group to be recognized by their glow sticks and sounds of joy and laughter. They have other means to hide their vulnerability as women and put it in their own feminine perspective.
Unlike the other groups that squad the city we must be recognized through silence and distinguish ourselves with the complex task of not adding something but leaving something out. But that distinction is getting more and more difficult when we enter the parking lot. Automatically we spread ourselves between the open fences that mark the area where cars are dominant. We are almost invisible to people that we meet here. They have their own silence only to be broken by instructions which are necessary for going home or to express the hopes they have to for enjoying a night out.
The only thing we can be certain of is Alicia; she and Nikos text us their thoughts when we need it. In separate couples, triplets or just alone we follow her to the most uninviting parts where construction work and containers compete with murals and fences. There are lights everywhere which seems to mock the ugly and filthy situation, but at least it is not scary. Or is it our bond as a group which allows us to interpret the obvious otherwise?
i long to exceed the constraints
that render my place in the night
We enter a small street where the cars have to respect the pedestrians and pass some more murals. One of them is even used for expressing the most important thing in the world: Love. But this mild act of graffiti was most likely meant for personal reasons. Funny how a mural comes in dialogue with graffiti tags layered on top of it. The contrast between the diverse types of mural painting is evident; half of the street is claimed by engaging murals with illustrative elements. Opposite are the blind walls that have not been painted so their purpose seems to collect all the undirected spray-paint. You can depoliticize the opportunities for expressing personal opinions, but not the urge to use public space for visual discussions – mostly performed in the night.
new lines are drawn
in a rhizome of connected dots
between human and non-human
man made things,
wild and tamed vegetation,
between the ground
and the nocturnal sky.
There is still no end to our wandering as we are brought to a next level. To be precise the 9th floor of the parking garage where – after many steps – we found ourselves at the rooftop. Total silence, no passers-by, no car owners, just us and only us. At last, we are alone with our silent selves.
But not for long as Alicia takes us to the edge of the rooftop and to the excellent view on the normally busiest street of Breda: the central shopping area. But all is closed, it is night after all. From this point onwards, we cease to exist as mere nocturnal wanderers since our group is divided into ‘antennas’, which means to observe the surroundings into detail and share this in a loud and clear voice with the ‘receivers’ that jot the information down.
‘Only flashing – the H is red – another broken bike – do we wave back? – a smell of uncertainty – a man walks zigzag – sneaky peaky manicure – ventilation as a lolly pop – I heard screams, maybe children – I smell tranquillity – are they drunk? – are they enjoying the moment – the wrong hour of the clock – lonely flag waving in the wind – girls in leather coats – a French kiss, oh wow – pindakaaswinkel – no birds – doveshit – oil – airplane – empty rooftops – I smell concrete – I wonder what we are doing…’
we are tuning in
to those invisible threads
that make the night night.
We leave the rooftop in whispered silence; the spell seems to be broken a little, but we are still determined to hang on to it as long as we can. But anyway, our journey has come to an end as we approach a streetlight in a small alley. The lantern is part of Alicia’s installation and by using lenses, the lamp projects the sentence: ‘text me when you’re home’. A reminder of the reason we are here tonight, a reminder to all the passers-by that safety is a concept of sharing. Alicia concludes our collective wandering by expressing the emotions that struck her by experiencing the night in a city together. She reflects on the days of her youth when there was no sense of danger whatsoever. But while getting older, experiences and opinions that give shape to the idea that there is a difference in being safe and feeling safe, are to be taken into consideration. You never walk alone anymore; you always carry the ideas of others for your wellbeing with you. To get more grip on the situation Alicia shares with us her tips for safety and we all promise to text each other when we are home.