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!