The invitation in the Auckland Arts Festival guide for en route intrigued me – the call to action of “Move to the call of your city!” I bought my ticket online and the day before my scheduled slot I was sent a welcome txt giving me instructions on where I would start my en route journey, that it would be clearly marked. Indeed it was, with the words ‘clearly marked’ chalked on the pavement and a young woman there to greet me. She gave me a slightly obtuse instruction to walk up the street carrying a flag which I did and was greeted by a young man who kitted me out with an iPod and headphones. Then I was off on my journey through alleyways and carparks, shops and lanes, with quirky instructions and thought-provoking quotes, statements, musings and music.
en route is the brain child of Melbourne’s One step at a time like this and Richard Jordan Productions Ltd, “a group of four artists that create work with an emphasis on the inter-relations between the artwork, the ‘being present’ of the audience, and the specifics of site and place”.(1)
This work was like an Easter egg hunt for grown-up, but never-the-less playful, cultural creatives. And I think that the anticipation of what would come next tapped into a hankering for the excitement that childhood treasure hunts elicited. The 17 tracks on the iPod were accompanied with txt instructions, chalked directions on the pavement as well as small written directions, a hand-drawn map and even a ‘flipbook’ of photos leading me into a parking building as I was lead through parts of Auckland I have to admit I had never been. It gave me a sense of seeing for the first time as if a visitor to the city and made me wonder what it would be like to try one of these journeys in a city I did not know so well.
At each destination I was given time for contemplation and the one that has stayed in my mind was an alleyway somewhere on the westside of Queen St where I was treated to a quote from Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s The visible and the invisible: The intertwining – The chiasm (2) and then a musing from One step at a time like this that seemed to sum up what was going on for me:
Seeing can be bossy, the bosiest of our senses. This is reversing it.
The act of seeing, I’m being seen. I’m not outside seeing, I’m inside what I’m seeing as I’m seeing it and that inside is seeing or moving me. (3)
One of the most moving and effective aspects of the piece was this idea of being part of this seeing and being seen seeing. There were others on their own en route journeys and it was gratifying to see these people in a state of contemplative seeing. I became aware, in this heightened state of seeing, of others, on their everyday journeys, apparently not seeing at all. But I was also aware of others going about their daily tasks who were seeing me, seeing.
Towards the end of the journey I was taken to a brick wall containing chalk messages left by those who had journeyed here before. The traces of others’ experiences and the invitation to add my own was an interesting juxtaposition with the ephemeral nature of the rest of the experience.
This was an enjoyable and intriguing piece, quite difficult to categorise – perhaps participatory art with all those who took the journey the performers. Or perhaps the less well-trodden parts of the CBD as a site specific installation enhanced by a provocative sound-track. It was so interesting to see a work stimulating all our sensory experiences to create something both playful and profound. I look forward to trying one in another city one day.
PJ MacBridges, March 2013
(1) From the en route pamphlet handed out at the close of the journey.
(2) This can be viewed at http://timothyquigley.net/cont/merleau-ponty-chiasm.pdf
(3) By One step at a time like this transcribed from Track 4.