Thursday, February 26, 2009

Today Your Host Is...

Recently, we've re-encountered some familiar artists that have got us thinking about the politics of mobility and privilege in relation to our interests in tourism. Specifically, they've got us thinking due to the unflinching confrontational nature of their gestures.
A writer friend reminded us of Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place, as we were talking about Stephanie Black's documentary film Life and Debt that borrows from Kincaid's book. A classic post-colonial work, Kincaid's 1988 polemic (critiquing both colonial Antigua and its "independent" tourist-destination descendant), uses "You" and "I" to such direct ends that it's hard not to squirm in your seat. Even if we can believe we are "better" than the narrator's accusations, we are reminded that it is simply because we haven't been there.
Last week, we had the extreme pleasure to be in the company of Hachivi Edgar Heap of Birds, who was visiting the campus of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Heap of Birds installed a new sign project titled Beyond the Chief along a prominent campus street and was here to deliver a couple of talks about his work. Beyond the Chief, like his previous sign works uses the orientation of written language - specifically writing words backwards - to call into question the subject position of the viewer in relation to the land they occupy. Heap of Birds' work reminds us that, even for those if us staying at home in North America, we are already invaders, colonizers and tourists, occupying land that was never really "free".
Both Kincaid and Heap of Birds present the humanity of confrontation in the face of indifference, inertia and a past that simply cannot be reasonably reconciled. The humanity they ask us to consider can never be universal, as it is always grounded in the reality of displacement and violence that takes place by taking a place. The specifics of the colonized matches that of the colonizer.
So what is the potential for the tourist? For those that offer only a mobile gaze? We'll get back to this with a discussion of John Urry, Gregory Ulmer, Dean MacCannell, Renee Green, Phaedra C. Pezzullo and some others...

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Park and Fly

Our lovely friend Sarah Lewison just sent us a story about expats living in Dubai, who are now in trouble due to the global economic crisis. Apparently, airport authorities there have found more than 3,000 abandoned cars, left by people fleeing debts that they can no longer pay.
Some stats from the story:

3.62 million expatriates in Dubai

864,000 nationals

8% population decline predicted this year, as expatriates leave

1,500 visas cancelled every day in Dubai

62% of homes occupied by expatriates 60% fall in property values predicted

50% slump in the price of luxury apartments on Palm Jumeirah

25% reduction in luxury spending among UAE expatriates

We wonder if that explains this.

When Will Iraq Be Safe For Tourists?

That's the question a recent NY Times article asks, inspired by an odd Italian tourist named Luca Marchio, who decided taking a public bus to Falluja sounded like a good idea. That question should have been followed by: "Who cares? When will Iraq be safe for the folks who live there?"
According to Iraq Body Count, the number of civilian deaths caused by violence since 2003 is just under 100,000. While the number of civilians killed seems be going down - the number for January 2009 was 254, the lowest since the invasion in 2003 - it still seems a long way from being considered anything near "safe."
A friend of the office, Chicago-based artist and organizer with Iraq Veterans Against the War Aaron Hughes, has made some emotionally provocative comparisons between his tour of duty in Iraq as a soldier and the process of sightseeing as a (involuntary) tourist. Along with the analysis of the infamous Abu Ghraib pictures as being quintessentially tourist pictures, presented by many writers (and Errol Morris's Standard Operating Procedure film), there is certainly a more complex relationship between tourism and Iraq (and contemporary war waged by post-industrial societies like the U.S. in general). As Dean MacCannell wrote a few decades ago, "Our first apprehension of modern civilization, it seems to me, emerges in the mind of the tourist."

Iraq Body Count web counter