Artist Paige Tighe (MFA Public Practice '10) seeks to reorient the experience of the Los Angeles River by the simple yet powerful act of holding hands.
The Transgressive Act of Holding Hands on the River
By Carren Jao
Over the past few months, the Los Angeles River has been a political issue. It has been the center of debates about social equality, health, and fiscal feasibility. The Los Angeles River has been so buried in these laden terms that it's easy to forget this waterway is first and foremost a place where real people gather, where they seek shelter legally or illegally, where residents come to simply commune with others.
Artist Paige Tighe seeks to reorient the experience of the Los Angeles River by the simple yet powerful act of holding hands. Her "Walk with Me" series on the Los Angeles River was made possible by Play the L.A. River, a collective of river enthusiasts looking to increase awareness and accessibility to the river by engaging people in fun activities.
Over the course of a week, Tighe, a Minnesotan who used to live in Los Angeles' Mar Vista neighborhood, asked anyone willing to walk with her on the banks of the Los Angeles River. Not only will they be walking, but Tighe's process specifically requests that Tighe and her companion walk while holding hands.
It is the last phrase that always gives people pause. I know, because it did me. As I read through Play the L.A. River's description of the event. Would I be comfortable holding a stranger's hand? Will my hands get too sweaty? What would it feel like to feel the unfamiliar contours of an unknown? It turns out, the experience was surprisingly freeing.
Tighe and I met at the Valleyheart Riverwalk between Fulton and Coldwater Canyon, a space that I've always admired because it represented the hard work and dedication of so many neighbors to revive their piece of Los Angeles. If nothing else, the history of the place and its transformation would be meaningful to me during our walk.
As I alighted the bus, walking toward the Riverwalk, I experienced a few more minutes of trepidation. We are all trained to protect ourselves, to stay within our comfort zones. The prospect of holding an anonymous hand seems in violation of all those instincts, but as I crossed the road, I also crossed a mental checkpoint. I had already signed up and I would follow through.
Tighe turned out to be a petite lady, much like me. That day, she telegraphed the vigor of Los Angeles with a hot pink top, blond pixie cut, and speckled pink sunglasses. She called our linking hands "an exchange of energy." Rather than expect her to lead, she let me take the reins, leading her where I felt. With her hand in mind, we wandered the well-maintained paths of the Riverwalk, past joggers, pedestrians, and pet owners. We meandered past blossoms and passed by the occasional piece of rubbish -- a reminder of the Village Gardeners constant battle against disarray along the river.
Tighe is no stranger to holding hands. She has been conducting her "Walk with Me" sessions for almost three years now. A graduate of Otis College of Art and Design with a Master's in Public Practice, Tighe has always been interested in art that involved another. Before holding hands, she danced in public buses and sang pop songs with strangers. Her work is all about drawing ourselves out of our usual solitary state. Read more here.