Monday, 2 June 2014

A COWBOY IN TOMORROWLAND, CIVIC PROJECT BY JASON AND BECKY




Making the 45 minute journey to Swansea after a day’s work at the gallery to check out what these artists were up, I already felt a bit like a tourist. I arrived at our meeting place, the Travelodge on Princess Way, without realising that we’d be guided into the building. The slightly awkward preamble of taking the lift and entering a guest room, with all its familiar tack and utility helped us to relinquish control, to willingly suspend our disbelief, prepared to be tourists, passengers on a journey. Once given headphones we were strapped into the rollercoaster car together and could feel the ratcheting mechanism pulling us into an adventure as we took the stairs to street level. 

Walking into the last of the sun to the sound of some laid back music definitely felt cool. A warm breeze in our faces, feet casually padding to the beat. It sounded like the leitmotif for some mafia bosses, perfect as we passed the Mama Mia! restaurant on the corner. We may not have looked all that cool to the spaghetti slurping customers as we trooped past in matching pink headphones, but the auditory distraction somehow made us feel unashamed, license to gawp. I was genuinely taken in by the sound effects when a low whirring made me swing my head round to see that we were passing some industrial fans, the restaurant’s air con. Through an ‘un-salubrious’ passage where the waiter on his cigarette break and a sleeping drunk could have been planted, we emerged onto Wind Street. Being shepherded across the road in our dreamlike state to Castle Square with its Big outdoor TV (30ft high and wide). We were presented with the iconic ‘beep’ music from BBC News and a disturbing news report followed by gunfire, then the group broke into a run, cutting across some confused looking shoppers to find shelter at the back of McDonald’s, adding a raised heart-rate to the sensory cocktail.

We were taken on a tour of the back-ways and service alleys of the city centre. As we passed the delivery bays at the back of a department store the beep of a lorry reversing rang out like a ghost noise, resounding after the event. The square columns of an un-named bar were falling apart, revealing the boxed wood facade, like a stage set. A clue perhaps that things were not quite as they seemed? Swansea makes a good backdrop for an apocalyptic movie or video game. The piped sounds and film quotations began to put a dark spin on what would ordinarily seem like a harmless high street. The combination of chain stores after closing time and the odd empty shop, all a little crumbly round the edges formed a good canvas on which to project a story of capitalist breakdown or some unknown disaster. It was the time of day when the shopping streets were empty, save for the swarming seabirds.  A ringing phone needed answering.  Ominous snippets of dialogue from The last of us cast a Hitchcockian shadow on the squabbling gulls. Phone boxes acted as handy props and markers on our journey as Jason answered the ringing phones to hear conversations from films like Speed, drawing our attention to the presence of this almost redundant street furniture. Much of the city scenery could have been stage flats, a living set compete with litter and vomit, a lone cyclist wheeling round in aimless circles under a giant television screen, a group of young people also wearing headphones  silently filing past us like a strange mirror image of ourselves. The tight stairways of multi-storey car parks are the kind of public spaces I’d usually avoid, especially at night. This walk was both empowering - stalking round these dingy places in a group, on a mission - and a reminder of just how oppressive some of the built environment can be (extremely low ceilings and urine scented passageways) .

The walk went on for some time, long enough to drift in and out of self-consciousness. I felt I was walking with one eye watching myself,  observing my own thoughts as I experienced different spaces and sounds. There was some internal battle for me as my desire to be swept along and escape my ‘everyday’ fought with the fact that I couldn’t fully suspend my disbelief in the sound world and narrative. Rather like playing Paintball, we can get carried away with the thrill, the drama, but we know that if we’re shot in the chest it is still only paint bullets. I observed that my body wanted to play along with the changing dynamics. Running, drifting and filing through dark passageways all created drama and excitement, but I wondered if the use of words (from films and games) broke the spell a little? Sound and music have a visceral effect, often bypassing the mind, whereas words seem to activate a noisy thought dialogue and also fix things to specifics. But the artists had chosen to show us the city centre through this particular filter, drawing on references in our popular consciousness - my job was to go along for the ride. But the artists had also negotiated for serendipity. They could never have full control of everything the participants experienced. Some magical moments couldn’t have been planned, like rounding a corner and emerging from a dingy low ceilinged car park, past Jeremy Deller’s painted wall (“More poetry is needed”), to see a full, low hanging moon, pale and papery above the uniform horizon of the Swansea rooftops, lending this moment greater significance. High up on the roof of another multi-storey , we looked down over Swansea’s maritime quarter, like the scene at the end of a film or on completion of a game the sound of helicopter blades buzzed below, we were the survivors, and the moon a full stop on our journey.