TEXT BY 撰文 x JAY, CHUN-CHIEH LAI 賴駿杰
IMAGES COURTESY OF 圖片 x TIMES MUSEUM 廣東時代美術館
The moving train where we sit always attracts us to ‘see’ the scenery outside, and the speed of motion also removes the passengers from the sense of place, acting as a barrier. Even in a relatively slow tram, serving as a common way for commuters in a city, the windows through which they see mostly serve as utterly usual views. It shows ‘nothing’ more than a space that hosts daydreams; in this way, the moving coach is a place without any productive values. However, the project conducted by the British artists collective Circumstance, Sitting-Still-Moving – Times Museum Art on Track, aimed to change this impression and to transform the tram into a carriage that not only carries people but also brings them a novel story, or a past-cum-forgotten history regarding the local community.
Circumstance is an artists group founded in Bristol, which attempts to create unusual approaches, through which people can revisit the everyday and natural circumstances surrounding them. The term ‘natural’ here plays a crucial role. They make up a cinema but without any cinematic mechanism. Instead, they encourage viewers not merely to join the project but also to take parts in natural environment—to be a part of the world! The key components include musicians, composers, technologists, programmers, writers and designers who work inter-disciplinarily with each other. The multiple forms they use to realize the projects are designated to public participations. One of their main claims is: “Using both emergent and commonplace technology, we try to make films without cameras” thus becoming a critically intriguing point of understanding their practices.
With supports by Guangzhou Tram, the collaboration between Times Museum and the artists overcame a lot of difficulties, especially the technical problems with electricity. Moreover, the wireless headphones over the participants also become a waiting-to-be-solved problem. That is, the signal transmission to which the headphones have to be connected and corresponded. According to the curator Veronica Wong, how to interpret the English texts into Chinese served as a significant challenge due to the different context. During the journey, the eyes of passengers became the lens – or if you’d like, the windows – that not only functioned as a gateway through which people received passively what came to them. Rather, the listeners would be intrigued by the stories described and would therefore ‘look for’ something answering the stories or inductions. This action, to search for targets, is similar to the motion of lens – see, search and think. On the other hand, the way of knowing the outside world here not only ran monodirectional, from viewers to the scenes, but they would also be taught by nature – the most wise and great teacher all over the world.
Due to the main missions given to the Time Museum, they are engaged with producing a public platform where people can share and make their own stories. In this way, the museum is not merely a place for people coming and ‘being educated’, but also becomes as equal to the residents as well as the artists. As the curator said, the museum has been constantly trying to break down the physical limitations and dipping into the everyday life shared by local community. By doing this, the curator wishes to advocate the participants’ sensations by regarding the city more than the ‘knowledge’. For this reason, how to create dialogues between the artists and the residents thus options essentially as one of the most difficult things. However, the first challenge came to this project indeed stood upon the question of knowledge about the city. It was not easy for a non-professional resident to comprehend the history of changing with regards to this place, needless to say the artists as foreigners. Therefore, the Professor Yuan Qifeng who is a specialist in Geography and City Planning, played a supporting role of know-how for interacting with the local people and their histories. Based on the understanding the artists learned from Yuan, they composed a new piece of sound track and recorded it in Guangzhou, which they believed that it perfectly corresponding to the local context of history.
It may make sense if comparing the sites in which the project happened to cinemas – both are closed space – where viewers are immersed (‘theatre-like’ as one of frequent methods taken by Circumstance), there was a fundamental alteration devoted to by the artists, that is the way of perceiving. Precisely, they tried to diverge from the ‘seeing’ as believed as essential to the ‘listening’. Not only listening to the stories, conversations or sounds that would be changed with different geographic locations, the individual headphone accompanying the passing images but co-produced a distinct immersive experience – just like sitting within moving pictures. Those two different kind of motion pictures are both driven by ‘machines’: a running tram and a film projector; while, the former forced people to approach what they’d have seen, which was completely contradictory to the way of sensing the images projected in a cinema.
The curatorial team offered two different versions: the daytime and the night one whence the light on the tram would be turned into a whole darkness. Passengers therefore can concentrate on the sense of listening – to the city. Additionally, participants were also encouraged to interact with the other sitters by following the instructions. It is this reason to make participants feel hard to be immersed within this specific film, where the viewers no longer think themselves isolated and only need to feel their own exiting status. Consequently, it led towards totally distinct experiences from seeing films in the so-called ‘black box’. Instead of a self-centric consciousness, people started to encounter others who have always been ignored as strangers in the coach. Through this, they built up temporary relationships among others. Afterward, what can be expected is that, they begin to smile, talk and be friends – and, perhaps, they could find some people to talk about the shared historical stories that were handed down by the older generations. It is an alternative, but a natural way of story telling. In this sense, the view (the scenery) the passengers see will constantly change according to the location, time and the ‘temperature’ that derives from people’s conversations. The metal coaches have thus been transformed into a live space where emotions flow, breathing as organic creatures and carrying the common memories towards the future.