Deep Dive by Phoebe Shakespeare

How Travel Became My Art Practice

@phoebeshakespeare

“My art is the essence of my experience, not the representation of it.” R. Long

During a trip to Rajasthan in India, after a week of working for Magnetic Fields music festival where I enjoyed seeing Four Tet play in a remote desert palace outside of Delhi, I created a series of site-specific art pieces whilst travelling around.

The trip took me along the desert route, Jaipur to Jodhpur, and ending in Puskar, a small dusty town situated on an oasis lake in the middle of the Rajasthan desert, where, according to Hindu scripture, Vajranabha’s lotus flower petal fell to the ground creating the pool of water when he was slain by Brahma. The pilgrimage site made the prefect post-festival cleanse. I spent a week meandering through the shady pedestrianised streets, living off chai tea and fresh guavas, dipping in and out of the temples, hippy breakfast cafes and fabric shops, before ending each day ceremoniously on the steps of the sacred lake to watch the mesmerising sunset.

Open-minded and receptive to adventure, I embodied the notion of ‘dérive’ or drift: the art of wandering through urban space, as defined by Marxist theorist and psycho-geographer Guy Debord in 1956. My artworks ‘Rose Tinted Glasses’ and ‘Maker’ 2017, were site-specific activations that took place at different tourist sites in Rajasthan. Locations included the decadent palatial interior of Jaipur’s Amber Fort, the ancient astronomical observatory Jantar Mantar, and the hearty-hustle of Jaipur’s famous craft market.

In ‘Rose Tinted Glasses’ I handed out special glasses with pink lenses to tourists and passersby. This artwork, documented in the photograph above, aimed to highlight the traveler’s interaction with site. The glasses suggested the personal filter one carries in the world, as a product of pre-existing educational and cultural difference. In this piece, I hoped to illuminate that, no matter how authentic these experiences are, we must consider our own subjective pink-filmed vision of actual place.

In ‘Maker’ I used local craftsmanship as my medium. I interjected familiar western branding into the process of ‘making’ to explore the notions of production, authenticity and ownership. The woodcut logos of sports brands became disempowered amongst the decorative mandalas and timeless animal stamps. The craftsman who followed my felt-tip templates of the Nike and Adidas symbols seemed completely unaware of their significance and ‘authority’ in the world beyond where we sat. Rather than creating objects that could have provided the basis for a more formal artwork, this piece became a social relational artwork; the art existed in the experience of production between the maker and me.

In my Fine Art degree at The University of Brighton, I was introduced to the notion of site-specific and social relational art practice. The environment beyond the institution became my studio, my art practice became the exploration of space and interaction with people, in other words ‘travel’. In day to day travel, art or not, I feel that sites such as Instagram can often encourage a miss-interpretation and a reduction of actual place. The dynamic set up in social relational art is not intrinsically democratic, as Clair Bishop notes in ‘Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics’ 2004. Similarly, Travel often reveals the tendency to fetishise foreignness by exploiting the surroundings in such a way that the actual place is neglected.

For the past three years, I have been working as an Art Director in the Fashion and Event industry. In this time I have seen a huge boom in ‘experiential content’, reactionary to the way that we have previously consumed print and digital media. In both ‘Rose Tinted Glasses’ and ‘Maker’ I wanted to draw on the way brands are starting to try and own the ‘authentic experience’.

Whether it is the carefully curated product-placement on an influencer’s travel feed, or the reoccurring immersive event experiences popping up around London, we are starting to see this occur. Guy Debord and The Situationists were great critics of the ruling mass media or ‘Spectacle’ as he defined it – ‘The autocratic reign of the market economy’. During the 60s these artists organised activations, events and political pranks, which were later adopted by the Punk movement and various anti-consumerist social movements in the late 1970-80s. The aim was to turn expressions of the capitalist system and its media culture against itself, often by hijacking slogans and logos and using them in an ironic way, known as ‘Détournement’. In my own art, I hope to examine the relationships of authentic experience, production and ownership, in the world of global travel and adventure.

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