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THE TOUR OF ALL TOURS
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THE TOUR OF ALL TOURS

A performed guided tour of Melbourne whose subject is other tours.

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The Tour of All Tours is a guided tour like no other: a performance that takes the form of a guided tour, the subject of which is other tours (real and potential, guided and otherwise) available in Melbourne.

British artist Bill Aitchison, himself a visitor to Melbourne, guides each group around the city and describes different tours that inscribe their various narratives onto the places stopped at. Each tour ends with a convivial open conversation in a cafe. The work draws attention to both the city itself and the wider potential of the tourist gaze. In doing so, it opens up questions of globalisation, the meaning of these exchanges between local and visitor, and how we use and give identity to places. It draws out the inherent politics, both local and global, of describing the city, and collages radically divergent narratives, such as conventional self-serving histories with sex tourism, protest marches, and artist projects.

The Tour Of All Tours brings visitor and local into the same frame as equals. It achieves this by focusing upon the experience of taking tours in the city and looking at what the different tours do and don’t tell you about it. Aitchison has presented versions of the project in cities around the world, including Stuttgart, London, Beijing and Amsterdam.

Aitchison reforms the guided tour into an engaging and truly unique medium for art outside of the institution and in the public sphere… For 90 minutes, Aitchison interrupts and utilises this stage to show us, the audience, the layers of branding, expectations and reality of which it is comprised. Aitchison’s quirky and peculiar mix of disclosure and captivating storytelling offers fun and enlightenment (Time Out, Beijing).

1 Boris Groys, Going Public, Sternberg Press, New York, NY, 2010, p. 41.

  • The Tour of All Tours, 2015. Photography: Zihan Loo.

  • The Tour of All Tours, 2015. Photography: Zihan Loo.

  • The Tour of All Tours, 2015. Photography: Mick Douglas.

  • The Tour of All Tours, 2015. Photography: Zihan Loo.

  • The Tour of All Tours, 2015. Photography: Mick Douglas.

The Tour of All Tours: Bill Aitchison’s Meta-Tourism

Respondent > Maaike Bleeker

Bill Aitchison’s The Tour of All Tours offers an inside view of how cities – in this case, Melbourne – are subjects of inside views presented by various other tours. The Tour of All Tours does not present an ‘authentic’ view of Melbourne or of other cities, nor a critique of such views, but instead offers a view of how tours produce cities as the object of what Aitchison terms ‘the tourist gaze’. Recalling Lacan’s notion of the gaze, the tourist gaze manifests itself in patterns of inclusion and exclusion, attraction and rejection, visibility and blindness, as they are part of how the cities are made visible in relation to points of view that are no-one’s in particular, yet somehow implied in the ways in which the cities are shown to be what they are. The tourist gaze describes a becoming visible in relation to a point of view from ‘nowhere’ – a point of view somehow ‘out there’ to which tours and other practices of self-staging relate, not unlike how individuals present themselves to the camera on a selfie-stick.

What Aitchison proposes to term the tourist gaze is symptomatic of what Boris Groys describes as the imperative to take responsibility for one’s self-design; an imperative not only for individuals, but also for companies, organisations, and cities: ‘Where it was once a privilege and a burden for the chosen few, in our time self-design has come to be the mass cultural practice par excellence. The virtual space of the internet is primarily an arena in which my website on Facebook is permanently designed and redesigned to be presented to YouTube – and vice versa. But likewise in the real or, let’s say, analog world, one is expected to be responsible for the image that he or she presents to the gaze of others.’1

Not all the tours that are addressed in The Tour of All Tours are necessarily intended for tourists (although many of them are). Yet, they share the aim to present an inside view to how it is with (aspects of) Melbourne or other cities, and to make visible what is there. According to these tours, a closer look at ‘how it is’ reveals a result of performative gestures that actually produce what they claim to reveal. Drawing attention to how these views are organised, how attention is directed, what they show, and what they do not show, The Tour of All Tours may be considered an instance of meta-tourism. The prefix ‘meta’ is used to describe a kind of ‘about its own category’ – like in metadata, referring to data about data. Or in metaphysics, referring to a type of philosophy that takes the study of physical reality to a level above concrete reality. Or in ‘meta-theatre,’ where it refers to theatre that highlights and invites reflection about being theatre. And while meta-theatre may draw attention to theatre being theatre and therefore ‘mere play’, it may also end up blurring the distinction between ‘mere play’ and so called real life. Similarly, Aitchison’s meta-tourism, taking the tourist tour to the next level, blurs the distinction between the tour and ‘how it is’ and shows life to become ‘real’ in the eye of the selfie-stick.

1 Boris Groys, Going Public, Sternberg Press, New York, NY, 2010, p. 41.


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