Wet footprints

The image at the top of my webpage was taken by Rachael Hand, an artist I have been collaborating with for a couple of years now. Rachael and I are both interested in movement and time. You can find out more about Rachael’s work at http://www.rachaelhand.co.uk/

Conversations between Rachael and myself started around my work on children’s movement in museums. I have written about the significance of children’s paths of movement as a form of meaning making (Hackett, 2014, Hackett and Yamada-Rice, 2015), inspired by the work of Tim Ingold (2007). In particular, I am interested in the need to make more visible, or more recognisable, children’s movement as a component of their multimodal meaning making (Kress, 1997). Rachael and I have been exploring how to visualise movement and the ephemeral in meaning making. Our first experiment was a small event we organised with some friends in the Winter Gardens in Sheffield. Rachael wanted to think about how to visualise and capture the lines of movement children make by walking and running and otherwise moving. We decided to experiment with this using water applied to the children’s feet with sponges. This left lines of wet footprints, which could be photographed, and which also gradually faded and evaporated, meaning that that gradual disappearance of the marks could also be captured with a camera.

Ingold (2008) writes about the concept of entanglement, that by moving through the world, people are part of its continual recreation and the boundaries between people and the environment are illusionary. Ingold gives examples of feet making imprints in an overgrown forest path, cutting a passage through creepers in a jungle, roots driving down into a muddy bank. However, often in urban environments with young children, this entanglement is subtle and not visible to the eye (or is overlooked). Photographing the wet footprints was a way of trying to draw attention to this process of entanglement. In this case, the transduction across modes, from lines of walking to wet footprints to photographs, made ephemeral meaning making more concrete and drew attention to a hidden process.

Being led by the children themselves, and working with water and cameras really helped me to think in new ways about the significance of movement for meaning making. Sheets-Johnstone’s (1999) work has been an inspiration here. She writes about the centrality of movement, but also the need to move away from the problematic definition of movement as ‘a change in position’ and focus instead on the “experience of movement” which has four basic qualities “tensional, linear, amplitudinal and projectional” (p.267). Sheets-Johnstone’s focus on the experience of movement resonates with the work of Finnegan (2002), Burnett et al (2014) and Rowsell (2013) who are stressing the importance of focusing less of the messages conveyed by communication and literacy, and more on the embodied and affective experience of literacy.

Sheets-Johnstone argues we should be studying movement, rather than behaviour, for the following reason:

“Movement is not behaviour; experience is not physiological activity, and a brain is not a body. What emerges and evolves – ontogenetically and phylogenetically – is not behaviour but movement, movement that is neatly partitioned and classified as behaviour by observers, but that is in its own right the basic phenomena to be profitably studied”

Sheets-Johnstone, 1999, p.274



Burnett, C. et al (2014) The (im)materiality of literacy: the significance of subjectivity to new literacies research, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 35 (1): 90-103.

Finnegan, R. (2002) Communicating. The Multiple Modes of Human Interconnection. London, Routledge.

Hackett, A. (2014) Zigging and zooming all over the place: young children’s meaning making and movement in the museum, Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 14 (1), 5-27.

Hackett, A. and Yamada-Rice, D. 2015, Producing visual records of movement: making meaning of young children’s interactions with place. In E. Stirling and D. Yamada-Rice Visual Methods with Children and Young People. Academics and Visual Industries in Dialogue. London: Palgrave Macmillan, p.29-49.

Ingold, T. (2007) Lines. A Brief History. London, Routledge.

Ingold, T. (2008) Bindings against boundaries: entanglement of life in an open world. Environment and Planning, 40, 1796-1810.

Kress, G. (1997) Before Writing. Rethinking paths to literacy. London, Routledge.

Rowsell, J. (2014) Towards a phenomenology of contemporary reading, Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 37 (2).

Sheets-Johnstone, M. (1999) Emotion and Movement. A Beginning Empirical-Phenomenological Analysis of Their Relationship, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 11-12: 259-77.

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