Roaming the Gaze
Location: Google Maps/sites of global tourism
Applying an anthropological approach to digital representations of sites of global tourism, “Roaming the Gaze” moves beyond the visual to rethink the act of cultural tourism as performative, embodied practices. “Roaming the Gaze” uses Google Maps as a means to subvert our understanding of place and re-determine the authentic experience in relation to
modern methods of travel and of the commodification of cultural heritage on a global scale. In my practice, I combine images and environments into an audio and visual narrative, using Google’s Street View cameras to expose the connections between “Heritage Commodification”, “Non-Place” and the “Global Tourist Gaze”. My work is an exercise in reclamation, as I attempt to refocus on the individual in the midst of an overpowering global phenomenon. By cropping the video of my interaction with Google’s Street View, I remove the focus from the interface and by “acting” the scene through my manipulation of the camera, interface and through editing, I accentuate the performance of the individuals captured. “Roaming the Gaze” builds upon the neologism “Non-Place” coined by the French anthropologist Marc Augé in his work “Non-Places, Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity”. Non-Places refer to anthropological spaces of transience where the human beings remain anonymous and that do not hold enough significance to be regarded as "places’. Applying John Urry’s notion of the "Tourist Gaze” with that of “Non-Place”, the homogenization of the “Global Tourist Gaze” transforms monuments and destinations into sites of "Non-Place", where circulation, consumption and communication offer the transitory occupant the illusion of being part of a grand global scheme but that instead exist beyond history, relations and the game of identity. In this way the global model of tourism and its organization into “Non-Places” caters to the Post-Modern tourists perception of their activity as a meaningful ritual, which involves a quest for the authentic. The Post-Modern tourist expects “hyper-real” experiences but simultaneously emphasizes an appreciation for the “real” and “authentic”. Seeking rapidly changing art and extraordinary, individualistic experiences the Post-Modern tourist who expects these experiences to be contrived but presented as real, does not always have time to cross the globe to visit them. With the acquisition of social status via the cultural capital of collected travel destinations and objects, participation in the global tourist gaze is increasingly placing tourists at risk, particularly in their pursuit of harder-edged, more extreme gaze pursuits and as potential soft targets for global terrorists, but also the collective impacts of our gazing pose dire risks for the planet. The Post-Modern tourist, who has been socialized into consuming by gazing, now has the opportunity to access these attractions and preform the “Tourist’s Gaze” with more frequent regularity. Artists like Doug Rickard and Jon Rafman turned the collection of images from sites such as Google Earth, Google Street View, Youtube and Second Life into a means of art making. Focusing on technology and digital media, Jon Rafman, often uses narrative to emphasize the ways in which these interfaces connect its users back to society and history. Using Google Street View as an means to expose individual narratives within the act of cultural tourism, “Roaming the Gaze” becomes an imitation of a performance, the digital and the act itself, upsetting the usual expectations of mass consumption by gazing. Furthermore, it builds an alternate archive of global tourism, as it is now understood. This challenges the relationship between the performance of the “Gaze”, the location and the commodity, as well as one’s relationship to those things and the way one interacts with those spaces.
“Roaming the Gaze” creates new knowledge for navigating sites of global tourism in the digital era and exposes the relationship between the concept of “Non-Place” and the Post-Modern tourist experience. It seeks to question the effects of cultural consumption on space and the “Other” in a globally connected infrastructure. It is in line with contemporary work like Mishka Henner ’s No Man’s Land (2011), a collection of photographs apparently showing sex workers around Spain and Italy, as captured by Google’s Street View cameras and published as a print-on-demand book. Similarly, Doug Rickard’s series “A New American Picture” utilized the Street View feature of the website Google Maps to navigate its virtual streets looking for suitable scenes that looked at the state of the United States in the areas where opportunity is non-existent. These two works specifically set a precedent for upsetting the usual means of interaction with the digital world. Like “Roaming the Gaze,” these projects show that there can be very meaningful work coming out of mining the Google Street View archives.
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Urry, John, and Jonas Larsen. The Tourist Gaze 3.0. London: SAGE Publications, 2011.