The Performative Camouflage in Micaela de Vivero's Tourist Series|
By Monica Vorbeck
"Work critically; attempt to create alternative relations with power, dispersing it, rejecting the idea that things have to be in certain way"
As a depositary of information, history, and knowledge, the book has been essential to our culture for the last 2,000 years. Literary works and political and scientific studies mirror such culture. It is because the book is such a powerful symbol that artist Micaela de Vivero chose its format to put together a series of photographs of her travels to many different places where she poses in front of monuments and tourist landmarks in Dublin, Amsterdam, Venice, New York, Honolulu, Koli, Helsinki and Graz. Certainly, the photographs of the Tourist Series are collected in a book, but it is a book quite different from the livre d'artiste, made by hand and in a code format (such as those by William Blake and Max Ernst, precursors of the genre, or Anselm Kiefer, who has made livres d'artiste more recently). The Tourist Series is not a livre d'artiste but rather a published bookwork (like the bookworks published by Ed Ruscha in the sixties). The Tourist Series format, more democratic because of its low cost, questions the art galleries' system of advertisement at the same time as it maintains the quality of the original work. Indeed, every copy of the workbook has a particular format selected by the artist.
The Tourist Series is, ideally, an ephemeral work because, as with any other book by an artist, Vivero's goal is to interact with the readers. To achieve such interaction, she invites them to take the book apart, that is, to take the photographs, which are actually postcards, and send them across the globe.
In this way, Vivero's workbook is the end of a process but also the beginning of
a new one, a constant work in progress consisting of disseminating in time and space the images of the traveler, the postcards that revert, parody, or restart once more the past and future journeys of the tourist/artist and the tourist/reader of the book.
Anyone can now play the role of a tourist. The tourist industry is a global phenomenon and an important source of revenues in the post-industrial era.
It has conventionalized cities in response to the demand for touristy spaces; landscapes are now consumed, they are sceneries especially designed for tourism. The locations listed in the tourist guides are idealized icons, fabrications so far removed from the everyday life of the natives that the tourist is reduced to witness them passively, from the distance, with no sense of the hurdles the natives experience. Vivero, playing the role of a tourist, creates instant images, photographic souvenirs of her journeys that, although personal or autobiographical, capture the conventionality of such contemporary locations. She therefore employs a performative camouflage to reveal their reality, a world full of trivial images. That is what her embroidered T-shirts do: by wearing them while posing, almost intruding, in those places, she mocks and questions their touristy condition.
The relationship between the texts embroided in the T-shirts and the location where the pictures were taken is ambivalent, open to multiple interpretations, and a challenge to the sociopolitical status quo. By the same token, it allows the artist to explore the role of language as an instrument of cultural power. Nowadays visual artists respond to a culture of endlessly multiplying hybrid forms. Internet, films, television, and advertisement combine both verbal and visual materials. Artists who combine words and images usually attempt to elicit a response that is not necessarily aesthetic. As early as 1917 Duchamp defined the artist as someone able to re-think the world and re-build our perceptions through language. It was an aesthetic program more ambitious than the manufacturing of objects for visual pleasure. Such is the essential principle in Vivero's art, who also works with sculptures, installations, and performance, always aiming at communicating an aesthetic program rather than just producing objects. In the Tourist Series, the touristy picture, at first sight immediate and spontaneous, is not the result of a whim, but rather that of an epistemological and intellectual process, a view of a reality that cannot be reduced to a documentary or an aestheticism. Thus, the series, like the contemporary art of photography, focuses on an idea rather than on manufacturing an object; it is the message conveyed that is important and not the representation itself, which may be arbitrary.