Thursday, 22 February 2018

Engeki Quest: Angel's Trick

Following the instructions in the game book Engeki Quest: Yokohama Passage, I went to the starting location of one of the routes, a metro station on the edge of Chinatown. 

Upon arrival the book invited me to imagine I had been told to go there to meet an ex-girlfriend who had not told me why she wanted to meet me: maybe to get together again or possibly something else... I thought of someone, scanned the station in vain for them, then was directed to a cafe where they were also not to be found.

I managed to follow the route as far as a park where a pair of hawks were being fed by an leather faced pensioner. They were both impressive and intimidating. How this scene related to my ex was left for me to decide. Was this a metaphor of a doomed relationship or was there a fresh hunt taking place, and if so, who was hunting whom?

At this point the trail went cold and I could not, for all my efforts, find the next point on the route. No matter, I thought, I'll continue the search on my own! I found what looked like a clue: she also had small feet.

This left me with the question, where to find her? I crossed over a bridge as I figured she being Chinese and it being the first day of Chinese New Year, Chinatown would be my best bet.

I scanned the faces of the steady pulse of people going back and forth. Doing this reminded me of the Situationist idea of the 'possible render-vous' a potential encounter with a stranger, though here the meeting is a one-sided one in which the other person provides a frame through which to view the city. That said, it was necessary to really try and identify her in this giant identity parade, without this genuine effort it would have been just another afternoon in Chinatown. 

Seeing this line of qipaos jolted me: I remember a picture of her in an almost identical one for a Chinese New Year dance. Even if I were not getting closer to her specifically, I was definitely on a parallel trail. What's more, seeing these bright colours, so alien to Japanese tastes, made me see China in a new way. China the land of loud voices and gaudy design. I was caught by a surprise nostalgia for Chinese bling.

I considered getting supernatural assistance as I had once visited a fortune teller with her. Could they tell me where she was? Maybe they could but they would do so in Japanese or, if I were lucky, in Chinese. Chances are, however, they would not even go there but stick to the safe topics of health, marriage and career. 

After completing a circuit of Chinatown I realised that this search was not so much a possible rendezvous, it more akin to a staged disappearance. I once worked with the collective Shadow Casters on examining the traces left behind by people who disappear like Lord Lucan's blood soaked car at Beachy Head so that we could then made trails using a similar logic. This trail, like the Engeki Quest book that started it and the search for Lord Lucan, was growing cold. I had come up with many associations but, predictably enough, no concrete leads. There was one final strategy. 

I sent her a new year's wechat greeting only to get a "XXXX" has enabled friend confirmation. This was a sad and unexpected ending to the tour as last time we communicated it was totally positive. What has happened since? I cannot tell and it is probably something more on her end, but in any case, it was time to bring this Engeki Quest to an end. Her story is an exceptional one that really needs telling; it is shocking, twisted, the stuff of movies even, and I now know I only ever got a very partial side of it. As a tool with which to see the city it is fine, but it deserves space to be told in its own right one day. I'm just not sure I'm the person most able to tell it straight so it might just come out in another way: as a possible rendez-vous, as a staged disappearance or, most probably, as a work of fiction.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Engeki Quest Yokohama: Passage of Painters

Engeki Quest is multi-authored, analogue tree literature mapped onto fixed locations. That is to say, it is a choose-your-own-adventure style book that leads the reader on themed treasure hunts through Yokohama.

There are eleven routes in total and this one is titled The Passage of Painters. The book gave me a starting point to go to and searching for it brought me past the cardboard boxes where the homeless sleep and a boarded up underground shopping mall, the sort of place that could feature in a Takeshi Kitano movie crime scene. This introduction to the dysfunctional side of the city set my imagination off in a very specific direction that it never quite came back from. Naturally, I soon bumped into a life-sized Lemmy.

I made my way from point to point with some difficulty. Having to look closely for the clues, sometimes going back upon myself and re-examing sites, made the experience more interesting. There is a fine line between between the connections being subtle and being downright opaque, however, and there was a moment I thought I had lost the trail when looking for a police box. It was only after I looked inside this building and discovered a policeman inside trying to look busy that I knew I was back on track. 

I rather liked how the places the text threaded together were normal locations and not spectacular heritage sites. It inscribed everyday life within a fantastical idea of being a painter and creating the city through images. There was no strong narrative driving this artist's journey forward, the state it proposed was more akin to spending an afternoon strolling and sketching.

The shopping passage that forms the spine of the route is a long line of shops that begins upmarket and tapers off into second hand stores. At one point the book urged me to buy goods or a service from one of them. The kimono was too expensive, the shoes too small, the male potency products too mysterious so I played it safe and got chocolate biscuits. 

The male potency products fell into place a moment later when I was directed to this car park in search of bright colours. Yellow, green and blue I did indeed find but to my right I also noticed some new clothes and shoes lying on the concrete beside a car. A visibly agitated businessman then walked briskly over to them, picked them up and stuffed them into the car. He then drove off in haste. 

Walking over to where he had emerged from, I discovered the source of his excitation: Yokohama's red light zone. There were no girls in windows like in Amsterdam, this was more discrete and in places plain mysterious. There were absent minded men standing out of doorways with inflatable mattresses set on the wall behind them or mannequins dressed in school uniforms placed inside flashing neon light displays. What's more, there was a weirdly large number of these places; it makes up a kilometre of sleaze running parallel to the city's shopping passage. Seeing this, I was not thinking of painting the city any longer, I was trying to understand the gender roles in Japanese society.

Towards the end, I passed a pet store where this little fellow was trying to attract my attention and get me to take him home. That was not to be but as it was Chinese New Year the next day and it was turning to my year, the year of the dog, we spent a moment connecting, big canine to small. 

The route came to an end, like it began, at a metro station. It required some patience and the suggested time length of 90 minutes can be doubled. If you enter into it with time to spare and open to whatever happens then it offers a much more interesting time than the tourist brochure will have in store for you. It situates the experience much more in the reader's imagination than in the sites themselves and as such, frames you as player and co-creator. While I never fully entered into the story the book was telling, it enabled me to open the page onto another. That story was one of the unspoken and unseen coming to the surface, a naked city where tensions were no longer buried behind layers of politeness as thick as the white paint on a geisha's face.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Lost in Shenzhen: dropping in on Shenzhen Fringe Festival

I've steadily been Way-Losing this year: getting lost in Xiamen, London and Brussels. The next stop on this erratic path was Shenzhen, China's modern boom city.

I spent two days with the Shenzhen Fringe Festival (who supplied these photos) leading  groups into less well known corners of the city. It is interesting to compare the character of the two trips as they are not at all alike.

One day we travelled wholly on foot and made our way around Nanshan District. The conversation was good and we saw layers of the city's history with more clarity than usual. The tour had a feeling of control which only relaxed when we began following people in the street. These stealthy pursuits brought us into gated communities.

They also brought us to hidden farms, spied upon through gaps. 

Previous Way-Losing tours have gained their sense of purpose through the conversations we had along the way, sometimes about the places we stumbled across and other times about the ideas and stories they triggered. In this way, narratives emerged which sometimes proved so seductive that they seemed to offer uncanny predictions of how the tour would evolve. That is the effect of a strong but open narrative: it creates a compelling frame with which you can make sense of what you see. Shenzhen was different.   

The places we found were certainly important but it was not so much conversations that brought the experience together for me, it was images. For the first time, the tour took on a primarily visual logic.   

The way this worked was through an accumulation of observations and photos such as this one of a sheet hanging in an alleyway that shows the stars and moon in the night sky. These observations, and the images that resulted from them, created a visual record that became increasingly specific and inter-related so that by the end of the tour I was looking for something very specific to complete the series. 

And at the end of the tour I found it: both the moon and a downward vertical movement from LED lights hanging in a tree that was like a shooting star. I was not looking for this precise image but rather one that had the necessary elements that could draw the series to a conclusion. Walking through and looking at the city in this way tunes us into the poetic potential of shopping malls and construction sites, overgrown parks and bubble tea stalls. 

Once again walking with the eyes closed was a useful addition to the tour; an effective way to sever the links in the mental map. What it also seemed to be very good at doing was to sensitise the ears to the diversity of sounds in the city. I think I usually perceive only the more immediate and important sounds and this experience brought to my attention a great many more sounds, and with them, people and activities. 

An interesting thing that one of the participants said was that they never felt really lost because they were always within a narrative of sorts. I can see how this can be true: even though none of knew exactly where we were we had a sense of purpose and within a story that we were spinning as we went along.

Finishing at a Sichuan restaurant was a quite ideal way to round off the journey and let everyone share something they had seen or thought along the way. It also marked the fact that we had now become a group and were no longer strangers to one another. This social side to Way-Losing is important to nurture as this experience is usually only as good as the people you have it with. I was lucky that Way-Losing and the Shenzhen Fringe Festival seemed to attract a fairly young, educated and curious crowd who threw themselves into it and embraced the proposition. 

And here is the Sunday group after a long day's walk and subway ride. Yes, that is a Christmas scene behind us: reindeers in a Christmas Grotto, lost somewhere in Southern China.

100,000 page views for the Tourofalltours blog

The Tourofalltours blog has just recorded its 100,000th page view. That is some sort of milestone; when I started this I simply thought I was recording some thoughts about a show I was making in Stuttgart. Things have come a long way since then, the blog has grown in scope and volume, I have become immersed in the world of tours and have taken this work around the world. I want to say thank you to Art Tours who commissioned the very first Tour of All Tours back in Germany in 2013 and to all the people who have supported this work along the way, either by helping me make further tours or offering me a place on their tours so I could review them for the blog here. I'm looking forward to the next 100,000 and where that will take me. Hope to see you somewhere along the way and thanks for reading and for your comments!