La vera vacanza della post-turista
(The Real Holiday of the Post-tourist)
In If You Lived Here You’d Be Home by Now, Galleria Carbone, Turin, 1998
I do not know if Laura Viale is a smart traveler. I mean one of those tourists who starts packing several days before leaving, takes few clothes, only the right ones, and carefully selects shoes - or the flippers. Perhaps she also brings the entire range of sunscreen, from S.P.F. 2 up to 24 (for the nose), and thinks that Lonely Planet is the best guidebook in the world. I understand that this is not the point. Rather, I see that Laura is, or acts, like a post-tourist, seeking out the inauthenticity of the tourist experience.
Being a tourist is a truly modern experience. Tourism is a leisure activity, as opposed to regulated and organized work. Having free time is luxurious to those who are extremely busy.
Ancient Romans were already stressed out by chaotic life in the capital, and would take holidays as often as possible. Seneca, snobbish as only a philosopher can be, used to criticize intensive travel, connecting it with existential problems. From the Middle Ages up to the Renaissance, travel was quite a business, seriously organized in pilgrimages or Crusades, usually leaving from Venice and visiting every available holy site. By the end of the seventeenth century, the Grand Tour started to be the perfect excuse for some fortunate ones to take a break from family life and wander through Europe.
The nineteenth century brought out the development of "scenic tourism", romantically involved with the experience of the sublime.
Mass tourism truly belongs to the past century and half. It is estimated that for Europeans travel occupies 40 per cent of available free time and worldwide tourism will probably be the largest source of employment by the year 2000. Travelling is supposed to be a pleasurable experience, largely connected with the idea of gazing upon landscapes different from the ordinary. As tourists, we adopt a specific gaze, which is the cultural result of centuries of travel literature, paintings, vistas, and of course, photographs. «Today everything exists to end up in a photograph» wrote Susan Sontag while commenting on contemporary travel. According to her, traveling is now an excuse to accumulate pictures, and the camera is like a cushion, or better a screen, that the tourist puts between the self and that which is encountered. Photography shapes experience and avoids the bewilderment that comes from unfamiliar surroundings.
But what should we gaze upon - and therefore photograph - while travelling? Professional experts such as tour operators provide their suggestions in the form of illustrated brochures, colorful posters, and more recently, video tapes. The gaze is constructed, reinforced, and authorized, through a given set of images. These images are made to create and anticipate the desire to go to that place rather than another one. The iconic image of the veduta of Florence, the great Indian temple, the palm tree on the tropical island, the pyramids in Egypt. The tourist is a semiotician. Even a non-site, such as the highway, can be the sign of a culture. Umberto Eco starts his Travels in Hyperreality on Californian highways.
Twelve landscapes, squared and framed to capture the specificity of the tropical island, palm tree included. The post-tourist Laura Viale plunges in the tourist's necessary condition of outsider - dramatically removed from local people - and avoids any human presence in her pictures, except for few footprints on the shore. The post-tourist does not waste her time by looking for reality, and leaves herself out of the picture. Sites and places are perfect only when experienced on the surface. Even biting insects, sunburns, and mysterious food can be left out. The only time of the day that is worth living is when light is right for the pictures. The appropriation of the island happens through the use of given images. Baudrillard's simulacra are much better than any reality.
«Tourists are"vulgar, vulgar, vulgar"» Henry James said. Others say «I am a traveler, the others are tourists». The fatigue of the tourist who seeks an authentic experience, and ends up crushed by reality is the divertissement of the post-tourist. The latter knows that there is not such a thing as a "real holiday."
If You Lived Here You'd Be Home by Now
Text for the homonymous catalogue, Galleria Carbone, Turin, 1998
When I was on holiday in the Seychelles, at sunset the beaches would fill with all types of camera equipment and I would exchange ideas on how to get the most picturesque shots.
"Everything included": melancholy and dreams, the desire to cut loose from logic and systems, perhaps snapping up a special offer for some tropical island...
I discovered that looking through a camera lens could be an incredibly moving experience, a bit like gazing out of the window of a train or car and seeing fields, villas and skyscrapers pass by: I am consoled by the thought that I too could live in the middle of those fields, inside those villas and so on; I could also live in the midst of a forest of palm trees or in an ocean-front hut.
Last summer, on one of those thousands of highways that cross Los Angeles, looking out of the car window I saw an advertisment for a housing development which read just like this: you lived here you'd be home by now.
I am fascinated by the call for empathy with nature, bound to restlessness and the desire to escape.
I am seduced by contemplation.
I am interested in the "exotic" landscape as a possible stage set for a romantically contemporary escape: a huge plastic-coated postcard which, at vacation's end, thanks to the use of photography and video, everyone takes home their own personalized copy.
An exotic landscape as non-place. A setting that is commercially and commonly destined for leisure, through which one travels on vacation or virtually.Today the distinction between "nearby " or "far away" has no meaning since we are connected with places that are geographically distant by the way in which they are easily assimilated by media. We live in an era that is «more_real_than_real» «more real than real» in which simulated images are dissolved into everyday life. Why not intensify this hyper-reality by representing images that in themselves already form a cliché within the visual collective memory, emphasising the value of these images as simulacra by means of photographic print, which is purely a surface, and with the cibachrome system that accentuates hyper-realistic characteristics.
My landscapes are without any narrative reference, the titles underline the abstract rather than the documentary character. They are photographs that could have been taken in any tropical place, maybe I could have even borrowed them from a holiday brochure... To compose yet another holiday offer for the mind.
Texts © Marcella Beccaria, Laura Viale, 1998, English translation: Marcella Beccaria, Helen Weaver, Ronald Victor Kastelic