29 April 2006

Footnotes to '4 Mis-Guided Tours'

'The problem of shopping' (facilitated by Cathy Turner)

The notion of 'making strange' may have been most comprehensively theorised by Socialists, but Capitalism has borrowed a few tricks. Supermarkets regularly rearrange the aisles so that we see a range of new goods for the first time. If we turn shopping into a drift, we may end up simply buying a different selection of tat.

On the other hand, shopping isn't just about shopping. India Knight has written about its connection with nurturing and, for many of us, it's a social activity. For women, it has often been a safe way of drifting, of being in the city alone.

So how do we make shopping into a drift without being caught up in its consumer flows? Our experience at the ICA suggested it's a little hit and miss, that there is also pleasure in drifting with a new current, designed for a different shopper. We exchanged shopping habits - two young men shopped for baby's clothes while I looked in vain for an Oxfam shop around Leicester Square. Some of us came across a supermarket where British food and London souvenirs were labelled and sold in Japanese. Eights months pregnant, I contemplated going into a dance shop and asking to try on a tutu, but did not quite dare. Like most drifts, time is probably needed to ease into it, find a sense of direction in the very lack of direction. We might have looked at shops as curiosities or museums. We might have tried standing still, without bag or purse, in a shopping mall. We might have tried leaving clothes in changing rooms and buying presents for the city.

We didn't crack the problem of shopping. In some ways we enjoy it too much. But there must be something creative here, I think, that we could disentangle from the media manipulation and hard sell. Perhaps an important rule for the 'situationist shopper': no money changes hands.

'Out of place' (facilitated by Stephen Hodge)

Outside the ICA, I play a poor quality recording, made on my PDA in the same spot a couple of weeks earlier. The recording is of a group of French students who had been waiting to embark on a guided tour of central London. My grasp of French is awful, and I'd hoped that someone would be able to translate the playful cries of the French children. 'Who can speak French?' I ask. No-one in the party, it seems.

As a warm-up, we walk to Trafalgar Square, looking for 'wormholes to elsewhere'. When we get there, we find that Nelson himself is elsewhere, completely wrapped Christo-like for cleaning or renovation.

The plan is to overlay a map of Paris (city of the artist-walker) onto a map of central London, and to look for coincidental references to Paris as we walk. To kick-start us, I distribute maps and suggest that we take an Waterloovian step, by superimposing the Cour Napoléon (which surrounds the pyramid outside the Louvre) over Nelson's column. We spend some time experimenting with tactics for rotating the maps, whilst keeping Napoléon on top of Nelson. One position results in an almost perfect match between the Avenue de l'Opéra and Charing Cross Road. Another allows us to flood Whitehall and Downing Street with the Seine. Another places the Pompidou Centre over Buckingham Palace. A further option lines up the Royal Academy of the Arts with the Musée d'Orsay.

We divide into two groups and head for the Musée d'Orsay, one group planning to cross the Seine on the Pont Royal, and the other on the Pont du Carrousel. Armed with chalk and an English-French dictionary, we agree to speak in French as we go...

[ This walk is blogged by Rodcorp here ]

'Scales' (facilitated by Simon Persighetti)

Using the SCALES walk from A Mis-Guide To Anywhere, the group of 15 participants began outside the ICA by measuring the outlines of their bodies with lengths of string that were then cut to the correct anatomical lengths and extended down The Mall to Admiralty Arch. The instruction to 'walk the dimensions of your body' was thus extended by sharing and walking the total dimensions of the whole group's body outlines.

The issue of scale extended our perceptions of the immediate environment, particularly in such a monumental and officially proscribed zone. St James' Park, for example, is a pleasure ground governed by a vast menu of prohibition. Even the taking of photographs of flowers is regarded with suspicion, as the whole park and its associative elements are officially regarded as the property of the crown.

The group later used the string to redraw their body outlines on the gravel arena of Horse Guard's Parade, a simple activity that quickly drew the attention of curious tourists and CCTV cameras.

'Masses' (facilitated by Phil Smith)

Five surprises becoming landscapes: a walk from the ICA

1/ Returning the day after the walk I watched the removal of the huge concrete security crash barriers from the border between Horse Guard's Parade and the back of Downing Street. The space gave up a utopian vision I hadn’t seen there until then. Every time I walked there, mumbling men passed by, grinning as if they had access to a wonderful secret.

2/ The photo of the unveiling of the statue of Captain Cook in The Mall shows a phantom shape to the cloth. The same simulacra-like process went on in my hand when Maryclare, to my surprise, asked me to hold her statue. On the gate Gunnery suckled a piece of artillery, Simon and I were amazed to find.

3/ The collective statue - everyone standing on the security bollards - made me wonder about how to share without leading. Meeting John and Jim for the first time, in both their cases after a couple of years of email contact, I wasn’t surprised, but was delighted, to find them as engaging and likeable in flesh as in text and virtuality. I realised, on reflection and to my surprise, that while on the one hand 'the hacienda must be built' on the other 'the machinoeki must be mobile' - this may change many things for me.

4/ When Maryclare strode toward an approaching policeman with his automatic rifle he told her of an 'ordinary family' in the garden of 10 Downing Street, a child kicking a football. It was a charming response given his artillery and our détournment of tourism. Later I remembered a scene from 'The Silence of the Lambs' where the mother of an abducted victim is guided to use her child’s name repeatedly on a TV appeal, to humanise what her abductor might see as an object. The day before, Simon and I had found cobblestones under the Horse Guard's gravel - one marked 'Q' the other 'R'. Did they mark the place where the Queen’s horse stands on the Official Birthday Parade? 'R' for Regina? Or 'Q' for Queen? What was the other for? A security guard at the admiralty had described the bunker, covered with budding red claws of Virginia Creeper, as a vantage point 'for marksmen'. Harold Wilson speculated on the damage disloyal troops might do from Horse Guard's in a coup. The place is crossed by phantom trajectories. It was always a relief to leave.

5/ To my surprise, Jim left his ectoplasmic soul in a union flag pencil case. Nearby twenty or so policemen with string legs relaxed on a shelf between affrays, a scene accidentally stumbled upon, a backstreet a few yards away from the ongoing riot on the boulevard.

With thanks to Vicky Theodoropoulou for her text (from Mis-Guided contributions #1):

[ This walk is blogged by John Davies here ]