May I Take Your Arm?

May I Take Your Arm?

An interdependent, audio art installation

Emerging from audio recorded walks between blind artist Alex Bulmer and storytellers who provided sighted guide, the artist ‘takes us by the arm’ to walk, listen, and share stories of place in this tactile installation. Journey through this multidimensional piece that considers the past, illuminates the present, and evokes possible futures.

Performed by Alex Bulmer
Sound design and editing by Tristan R. Whiston
Installation by Anna Camilleri
Live video animation by Katie Yealland

Trailer

Transcript of trailer
[CANE TAPPING ON SIDEWALK]

[STREET NOISES]

Hello everyone, I’m Alex Bulmer. In April of this year, I moved to a part of the city I did not know at all.

[VOICES]
— May I take your arm?
— Yes, sure!
— Yes, you may!
— Okay, I’ll take your right one.

“May I take your arm?” is the first thing I said to people in my new neighbourhood.

[VOICES]
— May I take your arm?
— Absolutely. Now just to let you know, I am in a power wheelchair.
— May I take your arm?
— Yes, of course.

We walked.

[VOICES]
— We’re gonna go for a walk together.

We talked…. It was all an attempt to help me understand where in the world I had landed.

[VOICES]
— Where are we right now?
— Where are we gonna go?
— And, where are we going?
— We’re going to go to the farm.
— Oh great!

[FARM ANIMALS]

— So, how long have you been visiting Riverdale Farm?
— Um….

[COW MOOS]

— There’s a cow!!!
— Oh!
— Are the cows in a field or are they in a pen?
— They’re in a pen. They’re in a pen right now, yeah.
— Aww…. Do they ever get to wander out of pens or do they….
— I don’t think so.
— Oh no….

[PLANES OVERHEAD]

— And now we are entering the little archways at the, um, entrance to Necropolis.
— ‘kay.
— Yes, it’s one of the oldest, um, cemeteries, um….
— What’s that one say?
— Hmm, this is very funny…well, interesting…not funny necessarily. I think the family name is Dye.
— Oh no! [LAUGHTER]
— D-Y-E not D-I-E.
— Oh that is funny. Okay, D-y-e.
— Yes, and there’s all these beloved wives.
— Okay. He had a lot of beloved wives. Okay, so this is Dye….

[BIRDS CHIRPING]

— And where are we going?
— Well, I just like the parks around the neighbourhood because there is like a few of them. They’re kind of like isolated islands in the Caribbean. And I just like to walk around in them and see the trees…. Oh, there is a tree here! — Can I feel the tree?
— Yeah, come this way.
— It’s so great….

[CHILDREN PLAYING OUTSIDE]

— Alex Bulmer, it’s Janis Purdy!

[LAUGHTER]

— Oh!
— I can’t believe it.
— Hello!
— And these are 12 of my Beaver Scouts surrounding you!
— Why do you need that thing?
— Why do I need a white cane? Does anybody want to take a guess?
— Um, ‘cuz, ‘cuz you can’t see, so you have to swing it around so you can know where you’re going!
— Aww! [CLAPS HANDS] That’s exactly right! I have to swing it around so that I know where I’m going. Because I’m blind.

[VOICES ECHO IN HALLWAY]

— Okay, so now we are walking down a hallway?
— Yes. Yeah, the door’s opening right now. So….

[PLANES OVERHEAD]

Over here, is the roof!
— Oh wow!
— So you can hear all the sounds. It’s actually pretty bright outside right now. It’s really…it’s so amazing. This is like the smell…. More of a smell garden.
— Okay.
— So like when you smell over here.
— Where?
— Over here….

[BIRDS CHIRPING]

What started as a genuine need turned into…well..this: a pilot production in development with Red Dress Productions. Art that asks, “How do any of us turn space into place into home?”

[PLANES OVERHEAD]

If we walk together, does the way we ‘see’ our neighbourhood change?

In April 2018, I moved into a Toronto apartment in the east end. I knew little about the area, the neighbours, the local history. Although I had spent nearly 16 years in the city between 1988 and 2004, when I left Toronto, the city for me had started at Dufferin St. and ended at Church St.

Throughout that space and that time, I transitioned from living sighted to living blind.

On my return to Toronto, I struggled to reconnect to this place I once called home. It felt more like an undefined, space of noise to push through, rather than an actual place, a landscape to encounter, with people to relate to and understand.

May I Take Your Arm was born from a need to understand where I am, a need to turn space into place into home. Through partnership with Red Dress Productions, we turned this need into interdependent walking audio art.

I walked with people from the local community, mostly people I’d never met before. We shared stories, memories, and descriptions of what we encountered together and how we engaged with place and home. The way we ‘saw’ our world was forever changed.

— Alex Bulmer

Installation photo from May I Take Your Arm?

May I Take Your Arm is about interdependence, relationships between people, our relationship to the St. James Town and Cabbagetown neighbourhoods, and the land upon which these neighbourhoods are settled.

About Alex Bulmer

Alex is a fellow of the BBC Performing Arts and the Winston Churchill Foundation. In 2014, she was named one of the most influential disabled artists by UK’s Power magazine.


Upcoming events

21oct4:00 pmMay I Take Your Arm?Vancouver, BCBMO Theatre Centre

Funders: Toronto Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council, National Arts Centre, English Theatre (The Collaborations)