Where About Now Where are you right now reading these questions?
Shalev Moran In the Kafeteria at SMK (the national gallery of Denmark).
WAN Where would you like to be while reading these questions?
SM In my lover’s bed!
WAN You are the co-founder of Speculative Tourism. Can you tell us about it?
SM Speculative Tourism creates tours through the futures of cities around the world.
Every iteration of our project begins with an extensive writing workshop, where local participants follow our methods to create their own speculation about the future of their city. We usually focus our vision on the lived experience and the political situations of those futures: how will it be to live in that future? What history can bring us there?
Sometimes we develop these visions into audio tours; participants record themselves as tour guides through their fictional visions. We upload the recordings to a geo-locative mobile app, so that everyone can walk the streets with a smartphone and some headphones and see the city through the lens of its potential futures.
I’ve been running Speculative Tourism together with designer Mushon Zer Aviv since 2017.
WAN Would something change in current tourism if we could look into the future? If so, do you have an idea of what?
SM We always actually have a partial vision of the future. Until recently those visions were guided by technology and economy, and we actually did shape tourism through visions - visions of communication technology and liberal economy.
But recently our visions are more and more influenced not by technology, but by science.
But mostly it’s climate change, right? Our visions of the future include a bunch hi-tech fixes to all of our problems, but then come the scientists who say: sorry, the biggest issue facing our civilization is something that can’t be fixed with tech, only with politics and infrastructure. One of the biggest climate offenders are commercial flights. And travel by land is not only pricey, but also increasingly difficult as nationalism is on the rise and borders are becoming more closed, not to mention how much longer land travel takes while people are working more hours and are increasingly time-starved.
So what is tourism in a world where flights are immoral? How can you be a tourist in a world that bans cheap flights? Does tourism go back to being a luxury reserved for the mega-rich? You know that moment when you’re asked, on a form or by an immigration officer, whether you’re travelling for business or pleasure? Imagine a near future when, with a trembling voice you answer “business”, because you have to, and if the officer suspects something you’re taken for an interrogation by a climate cop.
WAN Are your tours bound to urban space or do you organize them everywhere?
SM We’re not bound, but cities are just so ripe with interesting material! It’s where most politics happen, it’s where most people are. Both Mushon and I come from the digital field, where accessibility is a big deal and a sort of pride. We always struggle with the fact that Speculative Tourism by its nature is limited to specific locations: so inaccessible compared to cyberspace! So not cool! The least we can do is work in city centers, where more people can more easily access the work. Lately we’ve been testing out new ideas about how to make it even more accessible and still tied to the real world, by using liminal spaces - like public transportation and hotel rooms.
WAN You work with AR. How important do you think technology is in tourism and art? Are there perhaps even interfaces?
SM There are very few arts that exist outside of technology, without tools; only a small section of the performing arts, perhaps. Technology gave us bronze sculptures and the novel, and all the music that we know. And there is absolutely no tourism without technology. From the horse carriage that transports the baroness to her summer house, to the water-proof shock-resistant backpack that carries your DSLR camera to the top of Machu Picchu, we are artists and tourists only as we are allowed by the tech we have access to.
Augmented Reality is an interesting case for us. It is such a hot field for tech companies and for good reason - there are cool engineering problems to solve, and it’s a good excuse to sell new flashy hardware. It also comes with a cool sci-fi pitch, that we’ll get to see the world like robocop, with all this data layered on top. That’s also part of why it is used A LOT in tourism, this promise that you’ll get some digitized insight into a new place. But from a user/citizen perspective AR is still really shitty - cumbersome, incomplete, uncanny, demanding expensive hardware, and really hard to participate in as a creator. But then we look at artists like Janet Cardiff, who is one of our biggest inspirations: she’s been making super-high-quality AR for decades, because she recognized that the most immersive, accessible medium for putting a layer of data on top of our visual field is not more visuals, but rather sound. Using sound is our answer, as digital designers, to current AR trends.
WAN Shalev Moran, you are a game designer, curator, and artist based in Copenhagen. What is your personal relationship to tourism?
SM Growing up, my parents took me on a few trips that were clearly touristy. But since leaving the nest and even nowadays, tourism has been above my class; I still cannot afford tourism the way my family could when I was a kid. Travel is expensive, and tourism is a particularly expensive mode of travel! This is especially felt when you grow up in Israel like I did, a country at peace with only a few of its neighbors. You could travel by land to the marvels that are Petra and Giza, which I did with my family as a child, but after that any hopes for tourism are filtered through long and expensive international flights. The world always felt very far away. When I go on vacation now I use it for resting, or for meeting family and friends, which is a much more affordable mode of travel and leisure.
WAN Are creatives particularly relevant to your events and who are your participants?
SM The participants are everything! Admittedly we are experimenting now with writing our own speculative tour, but the project was conceived as a platform. Some of our workshops are more community-oriented, where the focus is on the speculative process itself and not so much on the end product. We believe it can be really powerful in developing a political imagination, especially when projected on the place one lives in. That is why we ran thrice as many workshops as we have tour collections, and participants can be local community members as well as students, researchers, activists. Of course we’re also interested in working with storytellers, like artists and authors and journalists, and if we know we intend on recording tours we’d try to bring these people into the mix as well.
WAN Do you see a concrete influence of the creative industry on tourism?
SM Ughh… half of tourism’s raison d'être is seeing man-made marvels, isn’t it? Temples, gardens, museums, stage plays, cuisine…
WAN The experiences you offer are aiming for responsibility. Can fiction and speculation reveal different ways of taking responsibility for the future of our tourism destinations?
SM You know, we never really aimed at impacting the actual tourism industry, or touristic practices. For us, tourism was a metaphor, or rather - a literary device.
We wanted to write political fiction and place it in actual space, and tours are the literary genre of walking through space. If anything, I assumed our project might embarrass classic tourism; it contrasts with the tourism industry’s detachment from local issues, its indulgent nostalgia, its inherent impotence. One of the taglines we often use for Speculative Tourism is “building monuments for the future” - a sort of resistance to how heritage culture and tourism chain us to the past, or at best to an ongoing present. So tourism was supposed to be mostly a platform for us, almost ironically, to present this artistic-activist project through.
WAN We are particularly interested in your project called Speculative Tourism: New London. Is the Audio Guide available for this?
SM Yeah! Since this particular project was commissioned to be an installation in the historic Hygienic Art gallery in downtown New London, these are not tours per-se, but rather a collection of single-track audio plays that all happen at the same spot: sitting at the bar at the entrance of the gallery, looking at the street outside the window. The tours were made by mixed groups of students from Connecticut College and artists and activists from town. All tours are a sort of intro to the Hygienic building, all reimagine the building as serving different purposes in the future: a radio station, a ritual place, a dock when sea levels rise. You can find the tours on our website, together with some photos from the installation. It won’t be as immersive as being there, but it’s a taste nonetheless.
WAN Where and when can we participate in your workshops and how can we use the audio guide?
SM The audio tours from our other past collections are available through a mobile app called Tales and Tours, but you have to be on-location to unlock them. That’s the deal, we really wanted this project to be local to the places it deals with, and for people to discover our speculations juxtaposed with physically walking through their present reality.
You can follow our blog through our website, where we have recently started documenting our research and methods.
The next community workshop will take place on November 2nd at UADE university in Buenos Aires. We’re also cooking something bigger in Berlin, probably a tour collection, no dates yet but probably early 2020. Since we’re just a 2-person operation, we mostly update on upcoming events through our personal social media. You can follow Mushon on Twitter @mushon and follow me @shalev_moran.
This interview has been edited and condensed.