Tourism, idealisation and building the traveller’s illusion.

An analysis of the current image of tourism through the work of Burak Arikan in Datascape.

Published: Apr 06, 2014
Tourism, idealisation and building the traveller’s illusion.

Burak Arikan, Monovacation, 2014.

By Semíramis González (@semiramis_glez), Semíramis en Babilonia.

Burak Arikan (Turkey, 1976) presents in Datascape, curated by Benjamin Weil, a video piece which reflects upon the concept of vacation. In Monovacation (2014) a series of short fragments of commercials (3-4 second clips) shows the typical advertising of touristic destinations which try to convince the undecided to choose one specific destination.

With his installation, a mosaic of images, Arikan aims to reflect upon something beyond this: With specific tags for each clip (woman, beach, sea, pleasure...) the general image is that all destinations look the same. The advertising is the same to sell vacations in Portugal, Egypt or India. So, what is going on here? Are these destinations really so similar?

What is really made evident here is the question of representing the Other. This reminds me of a book recently published by Cátedra, Rincones de postales. Turismo y hospitalidad, by Estrella de Diego. The point of departure of this essay is the difference between a tourist and a traveller: While the first one arrives to the destination with a preconceived idea about it (most times this idea is fostered by the travel agency) and his stay is completely organised in terms of timing and visits, the latter just drifts, integrating into the place of destination in order to really get to know the country. “Stendhal’s syndrome has resulted in the syndrome of the tourist” as she puts it in the prologue.

Well, Arikan seems to be telling us exactly this: Globalisation has incorporated vacations as part of its programme. The worker needs to rest in order to keep on producing. (Is rest a part of production, then?). Besides, the need to travel in order to escape routine is going to be sold to him in order to consume tourism. However, this is just a visual lie, an ideological construction, as you do not go to Israel in order to know the country, but what has been sold to us as typical (like the thorn crowns sold in the busiest streets of Jerusalem).

Arikan’s work shows this by means of tags: These are similar images, so well-planned that it is impossible to tell a beach in Thayland from one in Turkey. What to do, then?

All we can do, as Estrella Diego puts it,  is “to review the narration, find a way to make it fragile. (…) narrate again”.

View of the installation Monovacation in Datascape.

 

We are constantly facing a crisis in the representation, in the discourse. A predefined trip is imposed onto us, bearing all existing clichés of our destination, because what we want is not to discover the country, but rather to avoid seeing our illusion broken and, that when we get to Mexico, there are actually mariachis, tequila and Aztec ruins.

It is precisely about vacations that Martin Parr speaks in his classic pictures of tourists visiting typical monuments, or laying on the beach after long hours basking in the sun. In his images, which are totally based on irony and humor, the fake side of advertising is exposed. As he explains, “I use the preconceptions and clichés as a point of departure. Most people realize that they are surrounded by propaganda”.

 

Martin Parr, Mexico, 2002.

Then, the main idea in these three examples, Arikan, Estrella de Diego and Martin Parr, is that touristic advertising is an idealised representation of the reality of the territory we are visiting only to attract as many people as possible.

Not only us, as travelers, are to be blamed. Destinations tend to change in order to live up to our expectations, as suggested by De Diego. It is not only that the tourist arrives with a preconceived idea, but also the place becomes what we are expecting to see. This is like when Christopher Columbus arrived to America, believing he was in India. He was so convinced that anything could be justified, as he writes, in order for what he saw, in spite how different it might be (it was actually another continent) to fit the description of India he had in mind.

The installation of Burak Arikan, included in Datascape, adds to the general concept of the exhibition. Eventhough the central topic is the landscape modified by the technological and digital development, Arikan’s piece deals with landscape both as a physical space, and as a mental map, a construction of what we see and a recreation of the trip.

 

Burak Arikan, Monovacation, 2014.

We are not interested in landscape as a unique thing with a value in itself and in its context, but rather what we have built around it (not what it is like, but rather what we assume it should be like). This is the reason why even travelling to Mount Everest has been trivialised, it used to be life threatening but now, planned by the agency at a certain price (not a cheap one either), becomes just a leisure trip.

The importance of reflecting upon the images we consume is the critical background behind Arikan’s work. Nothing we are sold by advertising is innocent. This is not only a financial matter, it is also a crisis in the discourse. We have to be cautious when we are told something about the Other, because this might be the origin of stereotypes and clichés. We must always question what we are shown, what is supposed to be fact, because, as Foucault said, and Leonard Cohen wisely quoted, there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.

 

 

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