Wool Gathering

Hannah Ferguson

I would like to acknowledge that this project has been and is being created on unceded Indigenous lands. The Kanien’kehá:ka Nation is recognized as the custodians of the lands and watersof Tiohtià:ke/Montréal, and the Anishinaabe Algonquin Nation is recognized as the custodians of the lands and waters of Ottawa. Their presences reach back to time immemorial.

I would like to position this project in acknowledgement of their sovereignty. I would also like to recognize the in separability of settler studies such as this – examinations of place, memory, and land – from the colonial context. In light of this, as we walk, I encourage listeners and participants to carry this with us as we think through walking, place, and memory.

  1. Are you there?
  2. We’re going to go on a walk. (in a pocket of time)
  3. Gather: a jacket with pockets, or a kind of net, or a small basket, a scarf and mittens and such, i don’t want you to be cold but it depends where and when you are, whenever we are, we’ll set out when you’re ready
  1. (You can pause until you are)
  2. As you wander, pick up anything that you’d like to hold     in your hand, or remember, or anything that would help you remember a     place you’d like to hold in your hand.
  1. Go to that other point, cross the street: take that other path, Or maybe the way you always go, I’m going to take a left
  1. Rebecca Solnit has written that “the path is an extension of walking, [...] and walking is a mode of making the world as well as being in it. Thus the walking body can be traced in the places it has made, paths, parks, and sidewalks.”[1] Maybe you’re following traces of yourself right now. The way the light is falling on that balcony is the way I remember it, before.  
  1. I’m sticking to quieter streets, sidewalks, but I’m  also staying with the grassy path I’m used to, depending on where I am. I can hear the wind rustling the grasses as I pass by. Or i can hear the hum of the nearby highway. Here and there. Think about what you’re hearing, here and there, with me and with you. I hope you write it down, and let me know.
  2. Spatial theory scholar Fran Tonkiss wrote that “buildings, spaces and objects hold onto meanings as pasts that are no longer visible press on the experience of the present. These past lives of a place represent the layers of memory, what Michel de Certeau will later call ‘the invisible identities of the visible’ (1984: 108).”[2] She notes that for Walter Benjamin, “rather, the relationship of memory to space operates somewhere between the landmarks of the official city and the footfalls of the solitary subject.”[3]
  1. Stop for a moment, maybe turn to look behind you before starting out again; “there are always so many layers in front of my eyes.”[4]     That’s Janet Cardiff, in her audiowalk through Central Park.
  1. Maybe take a left at the next intersection, this time, or whatever feels best.
  2. Solnit’s affirmation of the presence of the body while walking is interesting, I think, in conversation with Virginia Woolf’s description of the way while walking, “the shell-like covering which our souls have excreted to house themselves [...] is broken, and there is left of all these wrinkles and roughnesses a central pearl of perceptions,” a kind of shedding of the self.[5] One is here and there, or neither here nor there. Joanna Newsom has described a similar kind of “skinlessness” a process of “sloughing off of a particular emotional callous [...] feeling very blunted, and then feeling very exposed and oversensitive.”[6] A cycle, or exchange, there and back, and you have all these traces, shedded     things, flakes or something.
  3. Keeping an eye out for husks -- wrappers and milkweed  pods and empty chestnuts.
  1. Turn onto that street you haven’t seen much of, or maybe just take a right hand turn at the next crossroads. I’m not sure where I’m going.
  1. See the seeds left for the birds on the sidewalk.
  2. I heard recently that the word “broadcasting” was  originally an agricultural term, referring to the spreading of seeds over a wide area.[7] I like picturing this idea of dispersion, the way it entails a collection in turn, or growth, or gathering. That the signal will be picked up     somewhere.
  1. Eyes dragging a comb along the concrete, or field, or walls. When you’re wandering you see different things, maybe.
  2. Like Jane Bennett, who has written about the way that some objects “shimmer”, the way that they then become things, active participants with affective agency -- in the space of a moment, or walk,  or street, or city.[8] I always think of her when I pass a particular window along a frequent route, whose curtain was always draped over the sill, even when it’s raining.
  3. It’s a kind of gleaning, little things that stick out where before they maybe didn’t. You’re carrying your net, maybe, combing and catching. Maybe next time it will catch something different, but there will always be things that will slip through. There will be things you will forget.
  4. In her memoir The Chronology of Water, Lidia Yukavitch writes about the way that memories shift and twist away from truth the more one recalls them, or describes them in language.[9]They escape any kind of direct translation--at once present and wholly absent.
  1. Maybe you’ve hit a sort of rhythm in your walking -- your steps on the sidewalk, or through the snow.
  1. Woolgathering was originally a practice in which traces of wool that had been caught on hedges, left behind by passing herds of sheep, were collected to be used anew -- a wandering, gleaning practice. This was often done by older women. Now, though, it more often refers to     mind-wandering -- when you get lost in your thoughts, or are absentminded.[10] Between the two, both a process of gathering and of slipping through the cracks.
  2. This kind of wandering, absent, entices -- where do you go, when you go away? There’s this sense of a kind of nowhere place, all at once, when you try to picture it. Like the way, when shadows fall in a certain slant, on the edges of things, that you feel you’d been witness to     before, exactly like that, with your eyes closed. There is an evasiveness to it.
  3. De Certeau conceived of the city as a text that can be read in different ways by the wanderer.[11]Sometimes walking feels like “eavesdropping [on] stray texts,” only glimpsing fragments of the seams.[12]
  1. Try running your hand along the next fence you pass.
  1. Walking was essential to both Benjamin’s practice and to Henri Lefevbre’s—he was interested in unearthing the unseen through everyday     spatial practice, a kind of “phenomenology of experience.” He wrote that “to live is to leave traces.” Lefevbre’s practice is one of folding and     unfolding time through the everyday—in which “the past features ‘literally and figuratively, [as] a presence.’”[13]
  2. I always end up on this street. I can almost see the creases from all the times it’s been folded and crossed. Sometimes the seams are more visible, sometimes it depends on the light.
  1. Maybe it’s time to head back, if you haven’t already, or maybe I’ll leave you to your wanderings.  
  1. I wonder what you have gathered. Maybe you’ve picked up something and left it in a new place. Or maybe you’ll just remember what you see, leaving things as they are.  
  1. Try to think of folding and unfolding as we turn, wonder what you might glimpse in the steps and gaps between things. Fold and unfold your presence, your path amongst many other paths, other traces, here and there.

[1] RebeccaSolnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking(New York: Viking Penguin, 2000), 29.  

[2] FranTonkiss, “Spatial Stories: Subjectivity in the City,” in Space, the City, and Social Theory (Cambridge, England + Malden,Mass.: Polity Press, 2005), 120.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Janet Cardiff, “Her Long Black Hair,” in The Walk Book (Audio walk, 2005).

[5] Virginia Woolf, Street Haunting (SanFrancisco: Westgate Press, 1930).

[6] Joanna  Newsom,“Nearer the Heart of Things,” interview by Erik Davis, Arthur Magazine, no. 25(Winter 2006),

[7] “Episode 167 - Voices in the Wire,” 99% Invisible, produced by Radio Diaries and the Kitchen Sisters,June 2, 2015, 42 min.  

[8] JaneBennett, Vibrant Matter: A PoliticalEcology of Things (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), 5.

[9] Lydia,Yuknavitch, The Chronology of Water: AMemoir (Portland: Hawthorne Press, 2011), 191.  

[10] AnatolyLiberman, “The last piece of wool: the Oxford etymologist goes woolgathering,”Oxford University Press Blog, November 8 2017,

[11] Tonkiss,“Spatial Stories,” 126.

[12] JohnDurham  Peters,“Phantasms of the Living, Dialogues with the Dead,” in Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 150.

[13] SarahBarns, “Street Haunting: Sounding the Invisible City,” in From Social Butterfly to Engaged Citizen: Urban Informatics, SocialMedia, Ubiquitous Computing, and Mobile Technology to Support CitizenEngagement, ed. Marcus Foth,Laura Forlano, Christine Satchell, and Martin Gibbs (Cambridge: MassachusettsInstitute of Technology, 2011), 209.

Hannah Ferguson

Project Statement: Originally referring to the material process of wandering the countryside picking up bits of sheep’s wool caught on bushes and fences for reuse, “woolgathering” most often refers to absent mindedness, a wandering train of thought, or aimless imagining. Woolgathering, then, is an ongoing experimental research project, exploring the practices of wandering, mapping, remembering/forgetting, and gleaning. A gathering of extracts of texts, documentation of walks, and experiments in intaglio and fibre process, the project attempts to think through wandering/woolgathering as processes of both shedding and collecting, and a means of articulating the way place and memory are entangled. Woolgathering is an invitation to wander – through what is gathered here, and through one’s own fields. Link to woolgathering website:

Bio: Hannah Ferguson is an interdisciplinary artist and art history student in Tiohtiá:ke/Montreal. Attempting to conceive of research as a process of listening, her work is concerned with ideas of accumulation and preservation. She is interested in grappling with contradictory notions of care and decay, concealment and skinlessness. Her work aims to softly occupy and think through these uneasy spaces. Social media: