Tourist Series

Tourist Series
Tourist Series (a friendly alien), digital print, dimension variable, 2007
We do not lack communication, on the contrary we have too much of it. We lack creation. We lack resistance to the present.
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari

I am a traveler. I am playing the role of a tourist. As a tourist I find stores that are full of objects: postcards, T-shirts, caps, wristbands, cups, and piggy banks. These objects are targeted on the many visitors, who want to take with them a piece of the place they visited. Filling their bags with souvenirs, tourists find in them a justification of the long waiting hours, and the big sums of money they invested to acquire them. The accumulation of these objects follows the idea of the cabinets of curiosity, very popular in the 16th Century, where exotic artifacts from distant cultures are displayed. Today however, the objects sold in souvenir stores look alike everywhere. Only the name of the place printed on the objects is different. In a world that is interconnected and homogenized, we travelers are searching in vain for the uniqueness of the places we visit.

As a traveler, I have something to say about the places I visited, I have something to add to the picture presented to me. Centuries ago world explorers showed a world that was being discovered through their eyes, their experiences, their curiosity and their intrigues. Now, why shouldn’t we question the image that is put in front of us, if we can all be world explorers? How do we explore a hegemonic world today? To communicate these questions I chose two products the T-shirt and the postcard. The T-shirt, which became very popular after WWII, is now a commonplace. T-shirts are used as part of clothing, but also as a support for self-expression and advertising. In souvenir stores they become an expression of the place they are intended to represent. Moreover, the T-shirt is a product of cheap labor; it is a silent accomplice of low wages. Postcards, on the other hand, are around since the end of the 19th Century and many times show images of places. They are intended to be send by mail at a lower cost than a letter. They have been used to send short messages and greetings, but also have been used as collectors’ items.

“Tourist Series” is a project I started working on in 2003, when I was in Dublin and became aware of my condition as a tourist. I have based this project in the practice of Performance Art and the tradition of the Self-Portrait. By traveling to different places this work has developed into “urban practices ”. Inspired by the places I visit, they express my resistance towards my condition. These comments are sometimes based on quotes, where I have changed one or more words, and their context, using irony, ambiguity and multiple readings. Whenever I travel, I try to find what it means to be in the place where I am and to produce artwork that expresses that meaning. More than just traveling, what I intend is to react and respond to my changing environment. Many times I am attracted to the “joys of identity-loss, and the pleasure of role-playing ” in these new locations. As a sculptor who works with her hands, I embroider my responses in the T-shirt – embroidery is another expression of cheap labor and exploitation.

The “Tourist Series” includes my response to being a tourist in cities such as, Dublin, Amsterdam, Atlanta, Honolulu, New York, Koli, Helsinki, Venice, and Graz. Reflecting on the ideas of Marcel Duchamp, I work with the idea of the ready-made, which is the T-
shirt, and also of the intervention, of the appropriation, of the use of the public space as a
found object. This requires a process. I begin by walking around a place and getting to know it through the confrontation with the surrounding, its structures and its users, and resisting a “no reaction”. My proposal is based on the search for symbols and signs that may convey the existence of power relations, space structures and image production.

The first time I used embroidered text on T-shirts was in Dublin with the phrase “offenders will be executed.” The phrase was inspired by signs in the streets of Dublin that say, “offenders will be prosecuted” and warn people not to break the rules. By exaggerating the statement I wanted people to become aware of the power structures. I resisted the intimidation that these signs where supposed to generate. The next step in the project was to photograph myself wearing the T-shirt with the statement in a place in the city, where the artist takes the roll of the tourist and gatherer of pre-fabricated experiences. The place I chose for this photograph is in front of a church, in one of the memorials, where one of Ireland’s heroes had been executed. The text dialogues with the space in front of which it is photographed, but it camouflages behind the common tourist photograph.

Another embroidered T-shirt that I made says “on advertising we live” and it is inspired by the work “Parangoles” by Brazilian artist Helio Oiticica. Oiticica used the phrase “on adversity we live.” This phrase talks about people living in poverty and with very little means, but also about artists who address these issues in their works. In the “First World”, where I do not live on adversity in Oiticica’s sense, but from advertising and consumerism, I show this almost unbearable banality. I resist the predestination we have as potential costumers. “On advertising we live” also comments about the architecture in front of which it is photographed.

“Minorities fit the profile” in Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii, comments on very specific historic and contemporary issues. This quote, taken from BBC news, asks through parody what profile minorities do fit. Do minorities lay in swimming suit while being served by a waiter? Do they use sun tan? Are they welcomed at the beach?

“Developing Artist” in New York City in front of the Guggenheim Museum being remodeled is my most accurate Self–Portrait, questioning the “discourse of economic development” . I come from a “developing country”, but I resist this name. “Developing country” reflects the idea that is spread, that one day we will develop, as all the rest of countries, but it does not reflect the fact, that the dominant countries maintain their status, because of the power relations they keep with the rest of the world. By calling myself a “developing artist” and photographing myself in front of one of the most important institutions devoted to modern and contemporary art being remodeled, I become a parody, a resistance to a political classification.

Taking the quote from Croatian artist Mladen Stilinovic: “an artist who cannot speak English is no artist,” but changing “artist” to “tourist” and photographing myself in front of the touristy Ukko Koli landscape, I question the hegemony of a language and its relationship to the centers of power. Ukko Koli, an important geological location, has been photographed throughout the century, basically unchanged. But the world around it has changed and it has become a very important tourist attraction for local tourism. The tourism that it attracts comes basically from within Finland and from their neighbor, Russia. The place has inserted itself into the global touristy cycle and soon will be adopting the hegemonic language of all tourist places.

Calling into attention the “right to global citizenship” , and the difficulties that the “less fortunate” have to face, I photograph myself wearing “we cannot issue you a visa” in various places in Helsinki, Finland, country that denied a visa to my husband, because of being labeled as a citizen of the “less fortunate” countries.

This takes me to “exclusions are not accidental”, photographed in the 52nd Venice Biennale, where different countries show national artistic representations; some of them with big infrastructures and some others with very little means.

In Graz, Austria I talk, through science fiction, about citizenships and the relationship with power. To do so, I begin by placing myself in front of the “Kunsthaus” (The Friendly Alien) an architectural work suggesting an imaginary and futuristic extraterrestrial being.
By pacing the phrase on the T-shirt I allude to the way foreigner are viewed.
“The driving force is conquest”, a statement, which is slightly outdated questions how much we still may live under such drives.

These images have become postcards. With the act of including myself and the statement as part of the landscape, I leave my imprint in the landscape, in a specific landscape. It is an inverse colonization. Not only the place changes me by visiting it, but I also change the place in a certain way, by creating and distributing the image. The postcard generally tells the others “I was there,” but this postcard should tell, “I was there,” with me being there, a redundancy that makes a double statement: one of myself in the landscape and one of the people who sends the postcard as an accomplice. The postcards are bound into a book, which has to be dismembered to be used.
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