Here are some pictures from the performance of The Tour of All Tours in Beijing, presented as part of the Bookworm Literary Festival 2014.
The tour started in the bookworm itself with a review of an audio tour around the station area.
The tours that were covered were very different with a good number of them from other cities. The details were smoothed over so as to make it ambiguous whether this was a tour of Beijing or a projection of the tourist gaze. The one exception that would not allow itself to be smoothed over was the 'Occupy Beijing Tour'. This was so unlikely that it was interesting in its own right in so far as it described a tour that would not be permitted. Standing in front of the Bank of China, we started to look a little like the tour we were describing.
Rather than describing this performance, something best left to someone watching it, it is more interesting to describe how it seemed to function. The format of the tour, even with the caveat of it being an art tour, brings with it a way of watching and participating. That and the great weather meant for a laid back audience.
The group was made up more of Westerners than of Chinese spectators, so we attracted a bit of attention in our own right as a minor spectacle. The hat no doubt helped.
It was great to be able to talk about The Olympics and East London and make comparisons between Hackney Wick and Sanlitun, an area that was developed significantly ahead of the games. Certain structural similarities connect the areas such as the displacement of poor people and their not very profitable businesses.
I enjoy those moments in the tours between stops when you talk in a more informal way with the spectators. I have to retain a performance sensitivity yet engage with people in an unforced manner. It is in these moments that you realise there is no escape from performing. The mask of sincerity is usually the best option.
Something I was not counting on happened. Taking the group through Yashow Market, I lost 2 or 3 people as they were spirited away into shopping mode upon seeing a dress they liked the look of. That is when I realised that it is not just me who engages in the event in more ways than one but so to do the spectators: as tourist, as art viewer, as shopper and as self, to name but four. As for the baby, he was probably the most centred of us all and hadn't leant the different roles he could play in this game of being the tourist.