Thursday, October 8, 2009

What are we trying to do?

This is pretty much ripped from a funding application we wrote last year. There have been multiple twists and turns in our thinking since then, not to mention a quite considerably different set of circumstance to what we were expecting. Plus, it's from a funding application so it might just sound a bit pompous. Nonetheless...

What we want to do in Yogyakarta is take the Agents of Proximity project forward, developing the ideas and the methodology which have informed our collaboration thus far. At the same time, we are excited about the challenges and possibilities of working within a radically different social context, with the opportunities this would present for new collaborations and dialogue. The central themes which we want to explore through this new encounter are, broadly: The nature of contemporary urban spaces in a period of global change; relationships between people in shared space; the nature of face-to-face interactions, particularly between strangers; travel as a mind-set and series of rituals, cultural and social practices; and the idea of the artist as facilitator and creator of otherwise unrealized experiences.

Our collaboration is underpinned by a commitment to operating within public space, and a desire to thoughtfully and critically engage people and communities outside the traditional milieu of gallery-goers.

To this end, we are proposing to spend three weeks in Yogyakarta in the lead up to the South Project gathering, working with local artists and local people to develop a series of public interventions which draw on the methodology and creative practices of our previous work. We expect and hope that the form the project takes will be informed by the process of collaboration and dialogue in Yogyakarta...

With this in mind, we want to propose a concrete idea, a starting point with which to begin. Carrying forward our fascination with travel, we want to use creative processes and social intervention to critically examine the power relationships and forms of exchange—spoken and unspoken—which exist when people from relatively economically privileged societies (like ourselves) travel as tourists to societies with a lower social-economic basis (like Indonesia) which are marketed as desirable and “exotic” holiday destinations.

So, for example, the leisure experience of a tourist who travels to Indonesia to lie on a beach for two weeks, sipping cocktails and tanning in the sun, is necessarily enabled by an enormous amount of other people’s labour — hotel staff who make their beds and do their laundry; street vendors who work to create the handicrafts that are then bought as cheap trinkets; taxi drivers, bar staff, tour guides and security guards. Underpinning the experiences of tourism in “less-developed” countries are forms of exchange and complex negotiations between locals and tourists. These interactions and relationships are frequently rendered invisible or uncritically assumed. At the same time they can involve massive power disparities which, for us, create a sense of unease and discomfort.

Our proposal is to draw attention to and explore these forms of exchange through attempting to invert/subvert them. As in the previous incarnation of this project, we will begin by engaging locals as participants. Our interaction will centre on a negotiation — explicit rather than assumed —in which we begin by posing the question "what would do if you were a tourist in your own city?" The next step is for us, as artist-facilitators, to enable that possibility. Our idea is to do this by offering to take on the work that they would normally be engaged in, for a set period of time, while they in return venture out as experimental tourists of Yogyakarta. By work, we are thinking of any of the livelihood activities, or family responsibilities which normally consume people's time. In offering to take on this work, our desire is for non-commercial exchange — based on negotiation of time, skills and capacities — that moves away from the standard forms of tourist-local interaction. What we want to create are situations in which artistic practice enables the capacity for a different set of relationships and experiences to occur, inverting and subverting the expectations and roles of local and tourist.

In documenting the work, we want to work within our own practices of writing and photography, but what we’re hoping is that opportunities for collaborations with Indonesian artists will emerge out of the process of engagement in Yogya, and take the work in new directions.

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