The Tour is Fiction
UI: You know so much about the city, so much more than we do and we’ve been living here since forever. You must have done a lot of research.
William Schwartz: We actually did very little research.
Paul Hansen-Mitev: It’s made up.
WS: Yes, it’s partly fictional.
UI: Oh is it?
PHM: Yep. A lot of the facts they said, are in fact, not actually true.
WS: Half the process was learning about the city, and the other half was kind of accentuating what we were seeing in the city and responding to it in kind of an exaggeration of reality, but also mirroring that reality. Learning about the area ten years ago, fifteen years ago, twenty years ago, and knowing it now, today’s state could be seen as unbelievable by the decades prior. Time has a weird effect in normalizing change, it’s easy to forget the craziness of change. The tour is not completely honest to this current moment in reality, but maybe more honest to a future reality. It’s all a little sci-fi.
FB: We felt that even though we wrote the stories, our stories are real and the area is fiction.
UI: I feel like you dooped me. Cause you didn’t really tell me what I was going on. You told me I was going on a tour and then I ended up walking around this place. In the end I liked it, but I just didn’t know what it was. I thought it was an informational tour, but it was just an art thing.
WS: Notice there’s no fine print, we’re being transparent, at least to a certain level. We reiterate the same words over and over “Book Now” and “Real Nice” and “40 Minute Walking Tour” like other advertisements in the area. We don’t mean to doop, we are just selective with the information we share beforehand.
WS: We haven’t found any real traction working together with people, everything seems, understandably, isolated due to the city’s car culture. Here, life seems to take place in private spaces, spaces which we are not invited into, for good reason, because no one knows who we are. So after rethinking we reformulated our thoughts and ended up creating a performance.
Making of the Tour
UI: I think the script is really good. Can you tell us how you wrote it?
FB: We wrote it together. We were on Google Docs for days, we sat in this room, with five laptops, and everybody was working away at the text. We all came up with ideas.
UI: You guided us through the bushes and then back over here around the corner. That was a nice compression of the space. You know, in Phoenix it’s an open landscape, you can see the horizon and everything in front of you. You don’t need to super-focus and watch your step. That was a nice feeling to get that, mixed with me looking around for everything. Like “what is real, what is not, where is it, where are we walking.” There were a lot of things compressed for me. And setting the pace to do that.
Angela Ellsworth: I found myself wondering what was real and what was not. With the person sleeping and the cats around, what did you…were the cats real?
Linda Sheppard: I found myself looking around, asking “where am I? What is that?” and wondering the same thing about a couple of people we went by, “is that…part of the tour?” It was entertaining, to have this different perspective from the one I’m used to every day.
About Roosevelt Row
AE: The irony is that the reason we don’t feel welcome and are indifferent to this, is like what you mentioned about “niceness” and how spread out we are. There is no place like the agora, where people go and talk to each other, maybe buy stuff, and just hangout. There is not a single place like that in Phoenix.
Bodies, participants, looking at something, where there is nothing and just being there. Whether it is a fictional story or a real history, it doesn’t really matter. I feel, acknowledging those empty spaces are really significant moments.
Kyle Daniels: What do you think would activate a community here?
WS: The activation is what we are a little nervous about. I had a conversation with an older gentleman who on the one hand was saying that he can no longer afford the apartment he’s been living in the past 8 years, and how he now has to find a new apartment. He said that it was terrible and then said we need to look at New York, the same thing happened there, on the Bowery. He had this colorful story about the artists making a neighborhood liveable, and then how the artists are kicked out and how it’s unfair. Then, with the same breath, he said, “Eh man, you have to check out Grand Street, that’s where it’s at! This is where the rent prices are low, this is going to be the next big thing.” It is exactly this mindset that is not helping such situations. In a certain way we are a little nervous when we see artists as the voluntary front line for this sort of development. There’s no real exchange.
WM: But like an edgy mall. It is supposedly the art mall, which is a problem. The edgy mall, which is still a nightmare.
KS: We weren’t targeting any kind of group or sort of people. So all sorts of people came together, bringing different points of view on the different parts of the tour. Really interesting personal perspectives, too. There was, for example, a homeless person.
MP: This tour is about civilization. Talking about an apocalypse. But it is also about the future. Our position in the society. I think, that that’s the value of it.
Kara Roschi: The idea of the nice, is this what you felt being in Phoenix? If you weren’t a native person, would you truly feel “The Niceness”?
FB: “The Nice” is a mask that we used for a lot of things that we encountered since arriving here. A word that was coming up again and again was “the apocalypse,” that some sort of apocalypse must have occurred here, or that an apocalypse is happening at this very moment. Everything seems so final, we felt like this is the end of ideology. This is it, this is where it is all going to end up. This is what everybody seems to have accepted. You work and you have spare time, that you spend in shopping malls. You spend your money on entertainment and then you work again. It is a super naive view, of course, but we saw more and more of The Nice in the way the city communicates. It is all about development. Many people that we encountered perpetuate this communication as well. The story that: “There was nothing before and now there are 100 businesses.” We heard this a couple of times. Or “South of the rail tracks there is nothing, because it has not been developed yet.” It conveys the idea that if something is not economically developed it is, simply put, nothing. We heard a lot this kind of talk and tried to put it together, creating the concept of The Nice that is shaping this city.
WS: We were creating this ideology coming from the city’s expectations of its citizens and how they conform to the city’s grand image of itself and how the city is to function for its hypothetical population of future residents. What it is creating is a beautiful, perfect, facade to a complex and problematic background.
So it is clear what kind of city Andrew, the robotic voice, is trying to present, to offer you. He suffers from some kind of amnesia, he’s removed from reality.
FB: One other important aspect of The Nice is that “you keep the others at a nice distance with a smile.” It is about the smile, the niceties that are keeping a community from forming. It stands in the way of it. It is about this attitude of looking how to use other people for one’s own benefit and to use the niceness for this exact purpose. This is something which was most staggering for us. We saw The Nice as being the concept which was hindering a community to form. We saw it as a reason for it not to be there.
That is also something about the Southwest. Because we tend to be spread out, there is a kind of artificial connection. But it is never too close, because we are never spatially close. In New York, nobody’s smiling, people are not smiling to each other. Because there are too many people, too close together. For example, California has a lot of the smiling, The Nice as well, L.A. in particular, so I am wondering if it is about the landscape itself, that promoted this smile, this thing you are talking about. It is safe. Usually you are in a car, you know, not walking.
EP: I think that this sort of thing can be a great start of a conversation about why we don’t move beyond the surface, why is it hard to just confront somebody, or why is it hard to get into people’s pretty reality.
Barbara Niklas: How did you decide that you wouldn’t read the script aloud, but instead have the robot voice?
WS: Because Andrew has an intrinsic authority in his voice, and it’s clear, he doesn’t have an accent or mumble, or get nervous. It feels like the right kind of form for this kind of information. We were five different people, five different stories, five different ways of expressing ourselves, and Andrew was our singular, and somewhat schizophrenic voice.
CL: Andrew combines our voices in the text. It’s the same for how we chose the music, we wanted it to create an atmosphere that surrounds the text.
RG: So how did you guys select the music?
WS: The music we made ourselves, for the most part, it’s all remixed.
RV: Two songs we made into loops. The first being ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ and the other is ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking.’
KR: The Nancy Sinatra song begins, but it never comes to an end… and then it goes on. How did you choose those references?
WS: I was playing the Bee Gees one night, and then Rados proposed, “what if we could just hold onto this moment in the song?” So this led to him making a remix of the song with this prolonged moment, and again we’re in this coma. Just stuck in the situation, colliding across a frozen situation. Then he gave that Nancy Sinatra song the same treatment.
FB: It is about walking…
CL: It’s the same thing, before the climax, it just repeats.
WS: And there are some recordings of Finn playing a ukulele that Konouz acquired in Bisbee. Finn was plucking around on it, triggering Charlotte to hit record. Like with a lot of experiences and moments throughout our stay we reused and remixed the material and plugged it into the tour.
CL: The way Finn was playing ukulele, sounded to me, a bit like a waiting room song. I really thought it fit to this walking, between Andrew’s storytelling.
I think the music in the parking lot is really something, Vangelis.
JK: Did everyone notice the person in the sleeping bag twice?
PHM: Homeless people here, they’re congregated in this part of town like in every large American city. I did appreciate that, that was a strong political statement.
JK: Well for me, you know, I’ve been homeless in the street. I’m currently semi-homeless, staying on a couch on a friends porch. For me, they’re often times the unseen people, the ones just by appearance, we don’t necessarily reach out to. So, for me, it was huge, because I’ve been in that position where I felt like I was not a member of the community just because of my living situation. I was really thankful that they put that in. I was hoping he’d move a little bit. I was wondering if it was a sleeping bag or a body bag. (Laughter)
KR: What was the concept behind having the homeless person in multiple locations? Is it the interaction you are looking for? Or an awareness? You are keeping it somewhat open.
WS: There have been so many different interpretations, and we do want to keep it like that. But it is sort of bringing the background into the foreground, in a very real sense.
AE:You increase the visual awareness exponentially. You do become very sensitive to your surroundings, or what is part of it, or what is not. Even I, at a certain point, saw things that could have been staged. The bicycle accident that we passed, coming out of the parking lot, for instance.
AE: In your narrative, there were some moments which stood out. When you think about development on the land. That was a really wonderful moment. It seems like the people who own these plots just wait until the prices raise more. I just read a story about a super tall skyscraper in Seattle, over a thousand feet. It is said that the developers are billionaires. But they claim that they are activating the city and do ground floor retail. But literally, three quarters of the building is for billionaires. I think that developers just do the same thing. They just go after this super wealthy contingent that doesn’t represent the majority. That is really bad for the community.
WS: What is success and progress in the city? When businesses begin to pop up, this is good thing, but at what point does it make it inaccessible to the people who have always lived there?
When we look at an empty lot, it isn’t an empty lot, there is a lot underneath it.
EP: “Nothing is there, so a business won’t thrive, so I won’t start a grocery store, or a healthy restaurant” or something like that. I think that this kind of language is interesting to hear, because it continues to be perpetuated.
WS: We encountered it countless times in the history of Phoenix from its founding to its present, that there has always been the story of development, that both targets and a defines who a desired resident of Phoenix is, and isn’t. This has been clear through abundance of large scale developments that have occurred in the downtown and surrounding areas over time. And this has been a pretty corrupt, racist evolution of the city. Maybe you have noticed that we have barely mentioned the Hohokam: “In the beginning of the city there was a vast expanse of red earth, tumbleweed and nothingness…”
Phoenix’ Production of History
WS: Phoenix has an incredibly skewed history. It seems to be a hypothetical group of people that the city is serving. That’s what we wanted to present in the introduction: “We want to welcome our guests of the city, you are what makes this city great! And we also want to thank our locals for coming by.” The city, through different gestures, has opened itself for a hypothetical, nonetheless, a very specific population. At the same time it’s pushing another certain population out, ostracised from the city itself. There is a clear identity in the notion of growth and success, infinite growth, and we see it in the downtown and through living here.
The City of Phoenix is working more for developers, property owners and outside investments than it is for the general public. Or to use the city’s own term, the common good. This is a huge, and I have a problem with that.
PHM: So, I assume this was an art project, and it is not necessary for local history to be emphasized. They claim Phoenix is new, but it isn’t new! This was a city where, 700 years ago, there were many many more people living than there were a hundred years ago even. There was a component that was very politically incorrect about how you started with one person coming from the civil war, that clued me off that there was something missed here.
FB: Yeah we totally agree! What we are trying to do is kind of reverse psychology. We’re trying to mimic the way that the city officially represents itself, and to ridicule it in that way. Because obviously there was a civilization here before and we find it so strange that never is that evident and everything is portrayed as new, that there was nothing and now there is development and now there is business. This is the kind of narrative that we were trying to mock, by doing exactly the same, but doing it over the top so you notice there is something fishy.
WS: Fifthteen years ago, if you told the people of this neighborhood that this will become the most expensive area in Phoenix, and if you would tell them that there are land speculators sitting on empty lots waiting to sell them for the right price, they’d have a hard time believing you! This is where our absurd take on reality comes from. In a certain way we were going in this project with an apocalyptic view. A city plagued by amnesia, that forgot its past. And this pacifying quality of simply accepting this set of ideas.
Phoenix’ Residents – A Resort Culture
Once you’re here, it is important to be nice and to have a lifestyle, as opposed to other core values that could be articulated. So you did tap into something that’s emphasized in the resort culture. People have enough food and space and swimming pools and things.
PHM: So I am balancing some criticisms I have, trying to understand that with that authoritative voice, you kind of did a social experiment too. I’m impressed by that. You could put certain things in there that are plausible and implausible but you could also slip in some very loaded information and get it past many people. In a sense what you did is provocative. There’s something really missing here, and who’s responsibility is that? Well I’m here. And there are other people here that are willing to care about this neighborhood. You are showing a gap, a cultural absence that we have. At every corner there isn’t a marker or a story and there isn’t a tradition about knowing about this place.
Defense – Phoenix is Interesting
JK: I’ve seen my downtown grow up. Maybe ten years ago you would come here at 8PM and it was a ghost town. There was nothing going on and just now it has started to become a cultural center for the city, a lot of art, people doing things like this. There is communication going on.