Saturday, 8 July 2017

The Subtle Allure of Getting Lost in Jimei

Here we are at the start of our Way-Losing tour of Jimei District, Xiamen. Previously, I have always been cast in the role of the visiting tour guide who tries to get the locals lost. This time round there were some other visitors too, and none of us could precisely say we were local to Southern China, though a couple of us knew their way around Jimei.

The tour was distinguished by torrential rain that fell in sheets shortly after we began. We jumped into the first bus we saw, then another, and this finally led us far from the centre to an area none of us had been to before. The rain abated long enough for us to go looking for a local 'Tire Museum' but drizzle started again and we took shelter around a table dominated by a Teletubbie. I was reminded of performance artist, Gary Stevens, who lent his voice to these creatures, as we sat drinking inexpensive beer in this makeshift bar. Seeing as some of the group had been looking for a bar all along, it worked out just fine.

One of the attractions of a Way-Losing Tour is that there is not too much pressure on having to be led to anything special. On the majority of more conventional tours, you expect to be lead to supposedly important sites and, more often than not, the locations are ever so slightly disappointing. They are rarely the guide's own personal choices, they simply comprise the city's canonical geography and the guide is there to explain it for you. With a Way-Losing Tour, however, places come and go like weather and it is up to you and your fellow way-losers to find significance in them. This puts the tourist in a more active position.

When looking at sites like this and creating your own narratives from them, you have to look a lot more closely than usual. With so many sites and threads in the air I started trying to make connections between them all. Imposing sense on experience is hard, but inevitable; looking for that sense in unfamiliar places was where the creative work lay for me. 

The Blue Mountains, some way off in the distance, was where my imagination kept drifting off to. They exerted a pervasive influence that transcended the muck, mire and petty affairs of the increasingly scrappy streets below. 

Earlier on in the afternoon we had been talking about the shared bike schemes and then we saw an Ofo bike far from the city, cutting its way through one of the many small lakes that the village had been engulfed in. Looking closely at the the village aesthetic I came to see how it was different to the city's but also how, in places, the village popped up in the city too. This got me thinking that to understand how the city works, and why it looks the way it does, it is essential to also understand the outlying villages like these, too. 

A field that marked the furthest point we would reach, and where Xiamen truly ended, provided the set for this domestic scene. There was a fair amount of creative work quietly going on in the background and this got me thinking that this could all be foregrounded in a creative Way-Losing Tour. This was a mixed group, however, with people here for different reaso so this was not going to be that sort of tour. 

Afterwards we ate food in the adjoining town. We got lucky and it turned out to be pretty good. 

It was not over. A bus took us back onto the island and into the city. Weaving our way back I realised that there must be many more buses like the one we took, connecting the villages to the city, something I had underestimated before. Spat out in Sibei, we stumbled into a rare demonstration: Xiamen University professors complaining about housing resale rights. Unable to get a bus or taxi back because they were clogging the road, I realised that on a Way-Losing Tour, problems do not have to be perceived as problems: they are opportunities to discover more about the place and people. This resistance, or will of the city, is one of the things that is expected, even necessary. The frame of the Way-Losing Tour transforms problems, well it has so far, and demands an interesting balance of being engaged but also accepting of just what fate has in store.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Way-Losing - in Xiamen - 1st July

The 1st of July will bring us back on to the street and into the wilds of the city. This will be a very particular Way-Losing tour because the city of Xiamen in Southern China is undergoing a profound renovation ahead of the BRICS conference later this year. It is in a state of self-conscious preening. This tour, however, will take place on the completely other side Xiamen, in and around Jimei District on the mainland. For most of those who live on the island this will already make it a step into unfamiliar territory. That will not be enough, however, we will expect nothing short of complete disorientation!

Places on this tour are strictly limited so reservation is essential.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

The Tour of All Tours Exhibition

The Bath Tour of All Tours, from 2014, will resurface shortly in the form of a piece of work in the exhibition Embodied Cartographies. It's been good to revisit the texts and to reassemble the performance within another medium. The exhibition is looking at artists' walking projects and it will include some live events too. 

Venue: FaB at Walcot Chapel, Walcot Gate BA1 5UG
10am to 6pm Sat 27 May to Sat 10 June
10am to 3pm Sun 11 June

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Videos of Tours

I was recently invited to contribute to a programme of talks and interventions in London organised by Something Other on the theme of migration. My perspective on this is an unusual one as I am a British artist living in exile, and not self-imposed exile as most assume, but genuine exile as I was not allowed to live with my wife in the UK under new visa rules. This was the basic angle, along with what I have found in China and the role of borders and artistic interventions I was asked to explore through three questions posed by curator Alessandra Cianetti (Performing Borders). 

Following an excellent suggestion of hers, I took the the streets, and malls, of Nanjing city centre. Using just my phone's video it was possible to get some pretty usable results. 

Walking around the same territory that I am currently staking out for my Adam Smith audio tour, it felt like a very natural format. What's more, nobody seemed to trouble me, since a person speaking into a phone is such a common sight it could be assumed to be a video call or a selfie session.

I've often struggled to find a way to record video of the tour type performances I have been making as they simply don't lend themselves to the camera. You really have to be there and to take in the multiplicity of the place. With this format, however, the commentary does at least return to sender stage and the intimacy that the phone provides allows some quite revealing moments too, like this daft one above. I think it is safe to say there are going to be more videos like this in the future: Watch This Space!