Thursday, June 08, 2006

Performance: Audio Tourist

Guided through the city, simply to experience it, prioritising the sense of hearing over seeing and translating that which we hear into written language, Audio Tourist enables participants to experience Nottingham through sound, using our ears as instruments to amplify, and our minds as the tape to record the city around us.

On three Saturdays, April 29th, May 2oth and May 27th, as part of Sideshow, I conducted walks around the city centre of Nottingham, where the participants were asked to listen to the city, sending a text message every 10 minutes describing the sound that they could hear at that time. The walks traveresed a variety of places, focusing on different aspects of the city.

There were three walks available to participate in; Walk One left the immediate environs of the city centre, leaking out into the surrounding inner city suburbs, a plush, well-off area beneath the castle; Walk Two explored layers of verticality in the city, going up car parks, across and under bridges and in lifts.; Walk Three questioned the nature of public/private space in the city, going in and out of hotels, shopping and entertainment centres. The participants were not informed of these 'themes' before commencing the walk.

All the walks were 'designed' by myself, from a series of drifts (or derives) through Nottingham in the months preceeding the walks.

The participants were asked to use their mobiles to re-engage with the city space, unlike the normal use of the technology which displaces us into the a different space and distracts us from what is going on around us. They were requested not to answer calls or send any other text messages during the walk, as well as conducting the walk in silence.

I have had a lot of discussion with participants on the walks regarding the experience. Some found the action of sending the message allowed them to key into the sound around them, and brought the task back into the foreground. However others got increasingly frustrated with the futility of trying to translate what we can hear into written language, something which is incapable of relaying the experience fully. Some people also attended the walks without mobile phones, which meant that they did not participate in this task.

The text messages that the participants sent have been deleted without being read.

The decision to delete the messages was made before the walks were designed; participants were not informed of this. I felt that it would alter the relationship with the texting process if they knew that it was not going to be read.

There is no documentation from the walks, they exist entirely in the memories of those that participated in them. There was to be no use of cameras of any form on the walk, so there are no images of the events.

I would be very interested in any correspondance with particpants of the walks (or others) regarding this work, if you'd like to do so you can add a comment to this post or email me on lucy(at)

I would also like to thank all those that came on the walks and a special thanks my assistants: Gayle, Ed, Rachel, Judi and Katie.

Review by Gayle Pollard click here


Blogger Giulia said...

oh, noooo, the messages have been deleted?!
I participated in one of Lucy's walks, and was well puzzled when I received her message saying that the SMSs had been deleted without being read. But, now, thinking about it, it makes sense: the walk, as I understand it, was all about drifting away without a purpose or an end. The 'purpose' of this 'drift' was to allow us to enjoy the moment we were in, without having to think about where we were going, or what we were going there for. It was a relief to be able to sit back and enjoy the city, but at the time, I didn't realize this relief from having to reach a destination, or an end, was also about not reaching a product. Or, rather, not reaching a tangible product, i.e. the text messages repository.
So, yes, the absence of a product makes sense now.

What I am still puzzled about is the relational value of this experience. As stated in the 'rules' we were given, we were not allowed to communicate with one another by talking. This immediately made me wonder about how the group dynamics would change: would people still try to communicate, look at each other, gesture at each other? would this create a sense of intimacy among the group members? In the walk, I didn't see any of this happening, which surprised me. There seemed to be no sense of convivial- group communication. At times, I felt like we were a bunch of zombies going on a weird mission :-) ...
Which is a shame, I thought: isn't this supposed to be a game? OF course, a serious game, no messing around. But, even still, a game. And isn't a game defined by the 'magic circle' (was it Caillous, or Huizinga who wrote about this?) its participants situate themselves in? Instead, it felt like each of us was in his own magic circle, and there was no 'magic circle' as determined by the relational nature of the situation and the very context we were in (we were a group after all!). But then, again, it may be a cultural thing - I'm Italian, and just can't help expressing my feelings-thoughts in a more perhaps communicative-expressive-theatrical way. Maybe?

Ok, this post is getting very long, and I will only add one last comment. When doing my little homework and writing the text messages during the walk, I found myself weaving them all into a sort of story, without even having planned to. The first message I sent was about water and the sea, (which, incidentally, was kind of weird, considering it was inspired the rood of a car park). The following ones just naturally seeme to fit into the theme. Perhaps the striving for sense making is too strong; the inclination to create of something that can be put together in the end to create a story-picture which makes sense was just overwhelming. And I gave in to the temptation. Which was naughty, I guess, considering how the whole point of the exercise (game?) was to not strive to an end.
The end

8:52 PM  
Blogger Lucy (UK) said...

Hi Giulia

Thanks very much for your comments. I'd mainly like to respond to your question about the lack of group communication and the idea of the 'magic-circle'. Firstly I think it is important to state that I never saw the work explicitly as game or fun. Yes I would like people to have 'enjoyed' themselves but in the sense that they experienced something different to the norm rather than in the usual understanding of 'fun'.

I could never have predicted what group interaction there would be, but the group was not formed to create a group dynamic within itself but rather to those looking on, seeing a group of people not acting in the normal way, not interacting with each other, but somehow being together.

This was futher emphasised by the texting, why were we not communicating with each other verbally or through pysical gesture, why were we texting our thoughts instead?

The use of the text messages was to explore the use of the mobile phone in social situations, rather than what we actually wrote in the messages, or the possibilities it has as a piece of technology.

I have not come across this concept of the magic-circle before and it is interesting, the idea that we situate oursevles within this when playing the game relates to my thinking with the walks - that we situate ourselves in a certain way in the city, following the rules, playing the game of retail and captialism, and the walks were about following a different set of rules, and yes maybe in that sense it was a game, but one in which the individual is alone whilst being with the group, which is as you describe the experience.

That is the thing with listening, we can never be sure what someone else has just heard, did they hear the same as us? With language and expression being unable to communicate fully what we have heard, then we will never really know.

8:41 PM  
Blogger Lucy (UK) said...

Below is an email conversation with a participant of the walks in Nottingham.

From: Lucy Gibson
To: David Griffiths
Subject: Audio Tourist Date: Sun, 18 Jun 2006 21:47:43 +0100

Dear Dave

Sorry it has taken me a few days to get back to you - I wanted to make sure I had time to respond properly.

Your text message was:

"Nice walk, good exercise. But the problem is that it was art project, where is the art? Art should challenge the way the world thinks, provoke emotion or a reaction. The walk itself posed some good ideas about being alone with your thoughts while in a group of people, if that was the intention? But art should be more challenging that that. I'm not an art person, I'm more into science myself so my views may be uneducated but where art is concerned that shouldn't matter."

So I'd like to respond to the different questions you pose here:

" But the problem is that it was art project, where is the art? Art should challenge the way the world thinks, provoke emotion or a reaction."
Well firstly, without sounding pedantic I would like to suggest that it has caused a reaction, you were not the only person to comment on the deletion of the text messages and how you feel, which is clearly pretty strongly, about this. However, this was not the reason for making the work in this way.

The walks were about experiencing the city in a different way, as you say they posed ideas about being alone in a group (which was the intention, yes) but also there were many other questions posed, such as where we walk in the city, how we are restricted by rules and regulations or even just what we perceive to be areas that we can and can not go. Also how we choose to use our senses, how we put much of our investment into looking at things rather than listening to them, or even touching and smelling. And how we can feel obligated to be purposeful and sensical in our movements in the city. The retail culture can make us feel uncomfortable if we walk in the city without a purpose, such as shopping, getting from one place to another, or meeting someone. All these things are about how we feel in the city, but on an individual basis. Just because the results are intangible, does this negate that the experience ever happened? Just because there is no evidence, does this mean that you did not feel those emotions, or experience those things?

Perhaps this goes towards your feelings that your science leanings have changed the way you view the work, or art in general? I would strongly agree with you that it should make no difference at all that you are not an 'art person'. I would consider it very wrong to negate any comment on this basis, and would even argue that you are better placed to make the statements than someone in the 'art world'. but maybe the need science has to quantify, to create tangible, statistical outcomes has encouraged your thinking towards placing more investment into the data of the text messages, than the experience of being on the walk itself?

I'd like to suggest to you that the art was in your experience, the walks can not exist without the participants, and do not exist outside of the participants memories. The text messages were used to provoke the participants into engaging directly with the sound they could hear in a particular place, something which we rarely do, and something which that form of communication is not often used for, invariably when we use mobiles, they disconnect us from our surroundings. The action also provoked reaction from those around us in the city, confused by the silent group all texting together, acting in a way which is not normal, is against the usual rules of the city.

Kind regards

7:35 PM  
Blogger Lucy (UK) said...

On 19 Jun 2006, at 17:18, david griffiths wrote:

I know what you are trying to say, and yes you make many valid points but my friends and I, just felt the walk itself a little dull and pointless. We chatted about it afterwards.

The part about how we are contrained by rules and signs etc has a point but I don't remember at what point the group tried to challange those rules by ignoring the signs. Surely if you ignored the signs to see the reaction from the rest of the group to see if they follow your actions would have provoked more of a reaction in this respect. I know this would be difficult to do without getting into too much trouble.
As for provoking a reaction, my reaction is not really based solely on this walk as art but art of this type in general. I just feel that unless work carried out has some physical memento or causes a reaction that changes the way future generations behave or think then at the end of the day after we are all dead it wont really matter what I thought at the time or why you carried out the work. It will all be long forgotten. Sounds morbid but its still true.
If the point is to enlighten my understanding of the world on a more personal level then it hasn't changed the way i think, can't speak for anyone else, but thats just how I felt about it.

Thanks for trying to explain some of it.
I do have a better understanding of the work from reading the e-mail, but it is'nt going to change my views about modern art in general.

Yours Thankfully

David Griffiths

7:36 PM  

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