Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Shanghai Tour To Return Next Month

Back in 2016 I made a Tour of All Tours in Xintiandi, Shanghai. It was a pretty good show, I believe, and I made it for a festival with the intention that a broad public could get to see it. After 11 of the scheduled 13 shows I was informed the authorities were stopping it because it, "was not positive enough about Shanghai." It was objective, it did not try to sell the city but neither did it lay into the place and rubbish the city. I guess it just feel foul of an over zealous censor. 

I don't believe in rewarding censorship with silence as that will only encourage them to do it more. My solution then was to give the last two tours privately and to make them about the censorship itself. In this way the censor actually breathed some new life into the show, though not that which was probably intended. 

Three years later I have a request to run it again so will be back on the beat looking at how to thread the two shows, the original and the "uncensored" version together and to give it all a contemporary reading. If you happen to be in Shanghai around the middle of the month and are interested in joining the tour get in touch and it can be arranged.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

The Confessions of a Celebrity Stalker Tour

Some tours are pure industry products: profitable, predictable and more or less pointless. They only become interesting when they start to go wrong and off script. Other tours, however, are a world away from the tourist industry and their existence is far from inevitable. This quasi celebrity stalker tour was clearly one of the latter. Given its slightly deviant nature, which I have chosen to focus upon, I have anonymised both the guide and the celebrity who he focuses upon in the tour. We'll call our guide Steven and the subject of the tour Morrissey.

Steven gives guided tours and told me he is working on a new one: Morrissey in Birmingham. As Brum is not the cantankerous Mancunian's typical stomping ground I was wondering whether he could pull this one off, given the tenuous connection. I needn't have worried, if you are used to being creative about giving tours you could give a tour of the neighborhood's public toilet and it would still be better than the tedious local history tour of the church. We began informally: at his front door. 

We made a number of stops along his road; a building with an interesting window; a wall upon which small objects are habitually left; a junction with an unusually far view. We arrived at the first Morrissey stop. This house, or one of the neighboring houses, is where a former partner of Morrissey once stayed for several months. That was before they were together so it is most unlikely that Morrissey himself ever visited this road but the vaguest scent of Morrissey is attached to the building all the same. I think that the slightness of this connection made the tour all the quirkier for it was really trying hard to find someone where they were not.

These abandoned suitcases seemed like a gift to the tour: objects just itching to be dragged into the web of stories and observations about the neighborhood. It turned out Steven only had four Morrissey themed stops on the tour so these other signs were taken up eagerly. They were not deliberately spun into Smiths stories however, they were allowed to just be whatever they were. To have done so would have tuned this into a display of storytelling and ingenuity rather than to have retained the stalker feel that it was slowly accumulating.

This was an interesting stop because he confessed to having met Morrissey's niece here. She has become an acquaintance of his and through her he got to finally meet the man himself, albeit fleetingly as he departed from her birthday party. This sort of connection is purely about Morrissey the private individual and not about his music. It is here that I started to see the transgressive potential of this tour. This is not a tour about the music such as those that run regularly in Manchester, this is one that invites you into the invasive and obsessive point of view of the stalker.  

What made the tour bearable was his self-consciousness that this really was not upright material fit for a regular tour and the fact that he was playing at it much more than actually living the life of the celebrity stalker. Tours that genuinely slipped over the edge and became an invitation into a criminal or certifiable person's mental geography would be a difficult sell. The film Man Bites Dog, however, does precisely this through following a charismatic and funny serial killer and Gogol's Dead Souls does something similar, both the two of these twisting the knife in half way through, becoming darker and testing the viewer/reader. Thinking this through further then, this would be an original way to go about a Jack the Ripper Tour. Yes it would inevitably be slammed as sensationalist and unethical unless you found a very clever way to both do it and to not do it at the same time. This tour did not try to do anything of the sort and was instead wrapped up in a set of observations, local insights and invitations to observe closely. As a tour that was by far the safer choice, for a performance, this does incline me to stray into the more transgressive space, albeit with a very solid alibi.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

The Spontaneous Combustion Tour

Spontaneous Combustion was conceived as a site-tour of Nanjing to prepare for a performance festival next year. In true Last Minute Live Art style, it turned into something else.

When we assembled at the famous Gulou roundabout we were asked to sign a declaration that stated LMLA was not responsible in the case of spontaneous human combustion and we were taking this tour entirely at our own personal risk. 

We then vacated the busy street for an elevated park tucked beside Gulou. The tour began with a rapid-fire manifesto reading of sorts: what Last Minute Live Art is and what it has done. That over, we each produced and showed one another objects as we'd all been requested to bring one with us.

We then set out towards our first destination, the supreme court of the Republic of China back in the 1930's, now a dilapidated ruin, a testament to being on the losing side of a civil war. At the back of it was a tennis court fallen into disrepair, thick with a carpet of leaves. Here we made improvised performances: walking, pushing, rearranging, looking, showing, balancing and so on. 

After a solid lunch of noodles we made our way to the second site, the River Yangtze or Chang Jiang as it is known here. With no particular agenda we just hung out by the river and started playing. Each of us did this in different ways, sometimes alone, sometimes together in groups. This slowly granted the group a sense of permission.

Somehow we ended up in a tug-of-war contest that began as Europe vis China, but when it was obvious that Europe was vastly outnumbered some Chinese came to our assistance, including this granny. There were jokes about Taiwan.

There was another more formal style of performance by Gao Shu Yi by the water's edge and this was followed by the burning of the papers we signed at the start, along with one or two things other things added to the fire, I remember a woolen hat ablaze.

There is some video of the tour along with some of the other Last Minute Live Art events from 2018 in this short round up. This Spontaneous Combustion Tour was a good start at making open-ended artist tour. It was very quickly put together and it strikes me that in order to make spontaneous combustion happen more effectively it can help to prepare the situation more in its favor. There will be more of these events in 2019 so lets see how far it can go in the direction of spontaneous participatory street performance!

Sunday, 11 November 2018

The Roaming Through 40 Years of Shanghai Tour

Today's tour had all the potential to be something rather special. It was a walking tour of the older part of the city centre with artist interventions. A collaboration between an art festival and a walking tour company. We gathered waiting for it to begin.

The tour was given in Chinese with no translation so I was a bit on the outside of it all. I got bits and pieces of it and actually that was enough to realise the sort of tour it was: an anecdotal historical building tour of the neighborhood. Even though there was enough space to gather everyone on the pavement, we still spilled out into the road, the guide included.

The ostensive theme of the tour was the last forty years of history - that is to say the period of opening up and reform of the Chinese economy - and how that is manifested in the local area. Normally forty years would not be enough to make something historical in the typical frame of the guided tour but given the pace of change in China and Shanghai in particular this could have been interesting, even if it is working to a government agenda. The reality was more loose and we stopped beside older buildings and talked about their histories quickly letting go of the economic reform theme. This turned into a tour of old buildings with stories connected to them, the standard fare of local history tours. 

The public taking this tour was a mix of artists and a general public who were looking for a local history tour. It seemed as if the art interventions were not so welcome, finally. One of the group, July Yang, made a commentary performance while we were walking between stops and I later joined in, repeating the Chinese commentary imperfectly. When we arrived at the next stop we were asked to be quiet.

The guides used a microphone and portable speaker even though the road was not so loud and the group not so large. I felt this was more about establishing authority, though one of the ladies (there was a rotating cast of guides) probably did have a quiet voice. The stories were not particularly interesting and didn't connect to build into anything more than a series of curiosities. 

This got me thinking that, rather than choosing 40 years as a theme (and then breaking it) how about a much shorter time period? What if you were to give a tour of what has changed in a neighborhood over the last week? Immerse yourself in the contemporary and use that as the way to get to the story of what is happening.

There were some things I noticed along the way such as this sign recruiting female staff of between 160-170 cm and 20-35 years of age. This seemed much more interesting to me than these disconnected stories, which, to make matters worse, did not even deal with the appearance and material qualities of the buildings very much. If a tour can make you see something afresh and then understand something from it then it has done something useful. This tour did nothing to alter our perception, the guide simply stood in front of the building and told a story about it.

The weather was, however, very pleasant. It was great just to be outside on a mild autumn afternoon like this.

We entered a building and I was fascinated by this little room, which looks as if it is rouge construction added at a later date. This got me looking for quick-fixes, of which there were plenty, and then exploring the environment of the tour using different themes again. Rather than suffering the mediocre, it seemed much more fun to make something else out of the day. I didn't share this with the wider crowd, just one or two of the artists, as I could see that to do so would disrupt the plan in a way the local history guides were completely unprepared for. A tour with two guides could be good, but the two should agree some basic house rules in advance so that the tension can be a respectful and healthy one rather than an acrimonious one. This was not the occasion, but I should try to find the time to do just this. What would make it all the better would be to propose a route and let different people make their tours of it, then jam them together. That would be fun!