Living Under the Tourist Gaze

Living Under the Tourist Gaze

The Phenomenology and Imagination Research Group held a seminar on 19 January 2015, led by Bevis Fenner, with the title ‘Living under the tourist gaze: AirBnB, dwelling and the reflexive negotiation of environmental meaning under the conditions of late capitalism’. The session expanded the previous session’s exploration of what constitutes ‘dwelling’ and ‘home’, led by Patti Gaal-Holmes, to take on notions of ‘existential authenticity’ and performativity in ‘dwelling’. This article provides notes and commentaries drawn from the seminar by the participants, Patti Gaal-Holmes, Noriko Suzuki-Bosco, Yvonne Jones, Yonat Nitzan-Green, Jane Bennett, Cheng-Chu Weng, Simiao Wang.

Texts for Seminar:

  • Ning Wang – Rethinking Authenticity in Tourism Experience (pp. 359-366)
  • Dean MacCannell – Staged Authenticity: Arrangements of Social Space in Tourist Settings (pp. 591-598)
  • Tim Edensor – Performing Tourism, Staging Tourism (pp. 71-79)

Following on from Patti’s seminar on dwelling and making yourself  ‘at home in the world,’ Bevis opened up a discussion about the extent to which we can open out to external influences in order to disrupt ‘habitual ways of being’ without loosing our sense of ‘home’ in ourselves. Vilém Flusser’s provocative suggestion that we need to move away from the encased individualism of houses and build for a collective future, is extremely inspiring. Yet to what extent is it possible to share our private spaces of dwelling – opening our houses and minds to others? Moreover, what are the challenges for cultures in which ‘bricks and mortar’ notions of dwelling and Cartesian relations to the world have become habits for dwelling? For Heidegger, dwelling ‘remains for man’s everyday experience that which is from the outset “habitual” – we inhabit it’ (Heidegger, 1978: 247).

The seminar was based around a draft chapter for Bevis’ thesis document, which explores the idea of ontological authenticity or that which Wang (1999) terms ‘existential authenticity’ in tourism performance. Specifically, he used auto-ethnographic perspectives and observations as a former AirBnB host to explore some of the ways in which tourist performance and ‘staged’ social relations might impact upon ontological authenticity in everyday life.

Bevis Fenner: It turned out to be a very exciting and engaging seminar in which we debated both the nature of authenticity in tourism and everyday life, and the distinctions between host / guest, tourist / non-tourist, which perhaps led us to question both the status of the art object and the need to assert the intention of the artwork in order to govern its reception. One of the key issues that came up was the notion of performance both as a way of directing the self and as a means representation for others – what does playing the tour guide ‘do’ from an ontological perspective? This also brought into play the issue of authenticity in performance and how as tourists we seek ‘the real’ in other peoples, places and things. Yet, as Patti pointed out, this highlights the fragile nature of ontological authenticity, as the ‘authentic’ settings of host communities force us to question whether we are tourists or travellers, friends with hosts or simply their customers. Indeed, as both Cheng-Chu and Yonat pointed out when I said that I wanted to “get under the skin of tourism”, tourists are often thought of as shallow, depthless with nothing under the skin – they are caricatures like Duane Hanson’s sculptures!

As the conversation unfolded, we began to realise the complexities of authenticity in tourism. Ontological or ‘existential tourism’ was discussed in relation to the post-human. Yvonne got us to consider whether or not she authenticity was based on experience rather than the veracity of objects by stating that she had ‘fake’ lenses in her eyes. After reflecting on the way that technology distorts or changes notions of authenticity, Simiao pointed out that just as one might visit a ‘fake’ place like a theme park but experience it in an authentic human way, so too is it Yvonne’s ability make use of or appropriate the lenses in multi-sensory experience that makes her relationship with them ontologically authentic. Yet, as Yvonne noted, even seemingly authentic objects can be inauthentic. She argued that there is something inauthentic about Venice, in that it is left in a crumbling state, very few people actually live there, and there is a sense in which the peeling paintwork and opulently acetic candlelit settings would not exist in the ‘outside world’! We touched upon the notion of ‘staged authenticity’ as the maintenance of aura, which brings to mind, on the one hand Baudrillard’s simulacra, and on the other Benjamin’s notion of the ‘aura’ of the art object. However, what became apparent was that performance and ritual were a necessary to social relations and that tourism often offers strict boundaries for this – ‘habitual ways of being’ a tourist which offer ontological security (Edensor, 2001). We also discussed role the objects that we bring away with us as ‘pieces of home’ and Jane suggested that these were perhaps a kind of reproduced private space – our backstage whilst on tour!

The discussion then moved on to debate the notion of the public and private self in relation to the home and how it differs from culture to culture. Noriko pointed out that the performative roles were a strong part of Japanese culture and there is a respecting of these boundaries in which no-one visiting someone’s home or a public inn would expect to look behind the scenes. Likewise, Simiao explained the ritualised socio-spatial boundaries of traditional Chinese home and how these reflected social and religious hierarchy and reverence within the family structure. This brought about a fruitful fork in our conversation in which, we firstly discussed ideas of the self and the home in relation to both individualism and collectivism, and secondly the role of performative ritual and ceremony in cultural representations – a Benjamin inspired notion linking the ‘host space’ of tourism with the art gallery, and the rituals of representation lost in an age of mechanical reproduction. Indeed, as Cheng-Chu suggests ‘[w]here is the sense of focusing? Do people’s action embodied with a space?’.

We then considered the effects of de-traditionalisation both in the East and the West as bringing about the rise of individualism and its compounding of Cartesian divisions between inside and outside, self and world. The rise of counter culture in the 1960s seems to have perpetuated notions of self against society, in which one’s own future more important than that of one’s family. Indeed, Yvonne, gave a personal anecdote in which she described moving as far away from her parents’ home and the responsibility of family. She talked about refusing to return home when she was 21 and engaged to be married, despite being offered a car! She explained that they were disappointment as they considered she belonged to them, should be guided by them and do as she was told. Interestingly, in the ethics of individualism the home seems to become on the one hand, a refuge from ideologically contaminating ‘outside’, and on the other, a publicly-private space – a shop front for the self – through which is an express of identity to others. Here, the home becomes a contestable space of representational negotiation and hybridity, in which self and ‘home’, are perhaps, interchangeable. Interestingly, I began the seminar with a quote from Richard Sennett about the rise of the protestant ethic in the West and its affect on spatial structures. He argues that the protestant ethic, is at the heart of individualism, which is, in turn, the foundation of capitalism. For Sennett, ‘[o]bsessive inner struggle may imply a deep hostility toward the needs of other people, a resentment of their very presence. Other’s interfere; to get in control of oneself, nothing “out there” can count’ (Sennett, 1990: 45).

At this point the nature of my own practice was brought into question, which as Yonat pointed out becomes a form of performance in which the status of the artwork is negated but the aura is retained and reused in negotiation of representation both for and by others. In different settings my paintings are ‘read’ in different ways by different people, and the contexts take into account this multi-accentuality. These discussions allowed us to question the enlightenment notion of tourism as a negative form of behaviour in which we demand to see or have, that which we desire in our minds to the exclusion of the objective world, as it is as opposed to how we think it ought to be. Instead, we considered both art and tourism as exploring a gentle politics of Being – as both an openness to the world and a letting things be.

Cheng-Chu Weng: It is a lovely seminar again; I wish, I am able to hold a seminar as this in the future. The question of what is the authenticity did open up the glory discussion. I am impressed in the way your practice set up to adjust the issue, for instance the elements of practice: painting, AirBnB and tourists.

I remember in the seminar the question Yonat asked about, how do you put your position with your painting? This is the question I want to ask as well. I assumed your answer will be evoked the issue of gallery or Benjamin, W.’s aura. The answer from you seems much more complex; due to it intervene the specific viewers. I do feel the relationship between you and your painting is cold. As a painter, I do feel painting is part of me, presenting works as I am naked in front of people. For you the paintings are empty? Painting is working in specific environment? At the page 13, you said “[…] the white walls and spotlights of the hall space…. However, this is not a gallery we can dwell in.” I do agree the form of painting is hard to demonstrate in different environments, especially the light. Whilst paintings take out from the studios the light do change the aura. Furthermore, I do agree the idea of painting should not be understood or view by the specific people and place, which is the reservation for Dadaism and Pop art. On the other hand, I do find moderns’ visions have been disturbed by the technology seriously. Where is the sense of focusing? Do people’s action embodied with a space? As you argue that the idea of performing. However, I think ‘formal’ galleries do pervade the phenomenon of concentrating, and ceremony. A few months before, I visit Richard Serra’s exhibition at Gagosian Gallery. The securities look like come from movie “Men in Black”, they seems had been chosen, model size with black suits. Viewers seem to also respond to the phenomenon the artist created. Both of they are performing.

While reading the text, I do find the position of the host as a the shadow/ illusion maker in Plato’s cave story. Tourists are searching for the exotic experience, yet actually they are in the shadow of the cave. In the end of the seminar, I think from the group desecration did answer my doubt that why do not present the issue as Duane Hanson’s tourists serious? Although the narrative of the tourists’ feedback/ commit of the AirBnB or painting are general ideas for me, the responds from they are providing the holes of the research. This holes create the link between practice and theory.

Thanks, Bevis and the phenomenology & Imagination Reading Group. I do not only find learning the theories from yours, but also find enjoy of sharing the ideas. The idea of sharing is the treasury. From Noriko, Patti, to Bevis seminars are provides different text from phenomenology, yet gives the same sense of being-in-the-world. I like to conclude the idea by quote Merleau-Ponty’s theory:

 […]; we have found underneath the objective and detached knowledge of the body that outher knowledge which we have of it in virtue of its always being with us and of the fact that we are our body. In the same way we shall need to reawaken our experience of the world as it appears to us in so far as we are in the world through our body, and in so far as we perceive the world with our body. But by thus remaking contact with the body and with the world, we shall also rediscover ourself, since, perceiving as we do with our body, the body is a natural self and, as it were, the subject of perception(1945:239).

Following the discussion of family, identity and the being-in-the world do reminds me John’s seminar The Big Night: Into the Ultacity, the idea of escape. Could we imagine the society as the movie The Road? Moreover refer to the idea of family, peak up the memory of the lovely film from German filmmaker Doris Dorrie’s Cherry Blossoms. It is interesting that in the end link to Patti’s. As well as the lovely collection book in WSA library John Bently’s The Old House.

Yvonne Jones: Ontological authenticity, using the notion of authentic within existential philosophy and a definition of ontology, we are speaking of being, becoming, an existence and reality that is genuine, made in the traditional or original way, not a copy.

Within the session my attention was attracted to the over riding concept of AirBnB as a means to achieving authentic experiences of place and people.

Moravec claims that our future is one of very little original experience, and that the senses have no future (1997). While this sounds extreme (to me) the sources of our daily experiences have already altered at a fast rate with the developments in technology. We ‘see’ events across mediated information, witnessing from a distance, via film, TV, the internet and social media to name a few. How often do we see the world (once removed) through glass, be it the window of our house or the windows of the vehicles in which we travel? From Patti’s session, Flusser (Building Houses) writes of walls and the holes of windows and doors where the window becomes an instrument, allowing that ‘one could peer outside without getting wet’; he is describing a distancing of direct experience. He refers us to a Greek term theoria meaning, knowledge without danger or direct experience. Moravec’s belief moves along the spectrum of indirect experience to where there will be a time, he claims, when the vast majority of our knowledge will be sourced from one gigantic computer out in the universe, revealing to us all we would wish to know, with very few moments of original (authentic?) direct experience. He used this model to include ‘all the wonders of the world’, being made known to us. This notion is an evolution and extension of Flusser’s model of holes in walls that allow us to avoid direct experience, to a model where we cease to experience anything directly or through the senses; no direct experiences, but seemingly ‘avoiding danger (and direct experience)’. Where would we be dwelling at that point, how authentic a human would we be, would we all be tourists of the inauthentic?

In his work, Bevis is exploring ontological authenticity. The session was stimulating. That people are today seeking out the backstage in order to have authentic experiences of authentic people and places, is itself exciting. It holds the potential of instigating a discussion and debate that offers a choice for our future, rather than now and future living beings becoming subsumed into a literal posthuman existence without challenging it. While the notion (of literal posthuman existence) appears at first sight to be extreme, there is an evolving path, that, without discourse could lead to such a goal.

Authentic also means made in a way that faithfully resembles an original. Moravec believes a bio material machine can be created in the future, one that ‘me’ can be transferred into, out from ‘my’ old or injured born-corporeal body, leaving the original behind and discarded. Would this faithful resemblance be authentic, would it be characterised by the existential understanding of authentic with the capacity of being, becoming, would this faithful resemblance have an existence and reality that is genuine? It would not have been made in the traditional or original way, via sexual reproduction, but it would be the same genetic construct as the “me’ who was transferred. This is after all only extending idea of incorporating an artificial limb or a natural lens being destroyed and replaced by an artificial lens. In the scenario of such a literal posthuman would, as Simiao says, the ability of ‘me’ to appropriate the bio-material machine make it ontologically authentic?

That ontological authenticity is being sought out, suggests there is already an awareness of our reductive capacity for genuine experience. The emptiness expressed in Bevis’s practice, his paintings, offers an experience for the viewer that questions our experience of existence.

Thank you Bevis for your session and all who participated. The sharing of information and the open talk within this supportive group (PIRG) is productive, a place of real learning and advancement of thought. The group is innovative in its methodology it stimulates and encourages authentic thoughts, responses and comments.

Yonat Nitzan-Green: Bevis wrote: ‘I would like to open a discussion on the extent to which we open out to external influences in order to disrupt “habitual ways of being” without loosing our sense of “home” in ourselves.’

I was interested to see how a discussion will be opened up within the academic environment (Winchester School of Art), bearing in mind HIRG/PIRG moment of transition; not only in term of location (moving from Southampton University café to the PGR seminar room) but also in term of method and methodology. I was aware that Bevis’ opening statement reflects, un-intentionally perhaps, this moment of transition. At the beginning of the session I mentioned very briefly the method of conversation which was used at all previous meetings and the method of presentation which is used in academic seminars. I suggested that a synthesis between the two methods may be a base for PIRG methodology. In line with the topic of this seminar, Bevis’ presentation hosted the method of conversation perfectly, thus, I, and I believe, the others, felt at home.

I go back to the question: what is it to feel ‘at home’?

Bevis writes: ‘For Heidegger, dwelling “remains for man’s everyday experience that which is from the outset ‘habitual’ – we inhabit it” (Heidegger, 1978:247)’.

I looked at the etymological meaning of the word ‘habitual’ in Hebrew and found that it shares the same root as ‘leg’ הרגל, רגל . This is close to the Aborigines’ nomadic way of dwelling (Michael Jackson’s At Home in the World, introduced by Patti Gaal-Holmes). There is an ancient word in Judaism – ‘holidays’ – רגלים which also shares the same root as ‘leg’. It refers to the tradition of walking from all parts of the country to the temple in Jerusalem on special, sacred days. Thus, the word ‘habitual’ maintains a dialectical meaning: the everyday habit, on the one hand, and a special occasion, on the other hand. It also preserves a connection with the body; it is through and with the body that we dwell. I mentioned the kibbutz childhood system of children groups moving house every two years; another daily routine (not mentioned at our meeting) was walking from the ‘children’s house’ to the ‘parents room’ to visit one’s parents every evening for about 3 hours; then walking back to sleep at the ‘children’s house’. No wonder I feel empathy and find in me some sense of familiarity with the Aborigines way of life.

Bevis introduced two concepts ‘auto-ethnography’ and ‘existential authenticity’. I think it is a good idea to put here something about each of these concepts.

‘Autoethnography is a form of self-reflection and writing that explores the researcher’s personal experience and connects this autobiographical story to wider cultural, political, and social meanings and understandings. It differs from ethnography —a qualitative research method in which a researcher uses participant observation and interviews in order to gain a deeper understanding of a group’s culture— in that autoethnography focuses on the writer’s subjective experience rather than, or in interaction with, the beliefs and practices of others. As a form of self-reflective writing, autoethnography is widely used in performance studies, as a method in living educational research and English.’ (From Wiki:

I looked at ‘existential authenticity’ as it is explained in Carol J. Steiner and Yvette Reisinger, ‘Understanding Existential Authenticity’ (see link:

‘Heidegger uses the term “authenticity” to indicate that someone is being themselves existentially (1996:247-277). This is deeper than being oneself behaviorally or psychologically. To be oneself existentially means to exist according to one’s nature or essence, which transcends day-to-day behavior or activities or thinking about self. Because existential authenticity is experience-oriented, the existential self is transient, not enduring, and not conforming to a type. It changes from moment to moment. As a result, a person is not authentic or inauthentic all the time. There is no authentic self.’ (Carol J. Steiner and Yvette Reisinger, ‘Understanding Existential Authenticity’, p. 303).

This made me wonder about the kind of authenticity that emerged in people who lived communally during their early, formative years of personal development.

Another point that interests me is Bevis’ choice of positioning his paintings within this presentation. I have noticed that the images seem to be like any other standard tourists accommodation; the paintings appear in all but one of them, always at an angle and surrounded by other domestic objects, which emphasize their objectness.

In his analysis, Bevis’ intention is made clearer. He termed ‘everyday tourism’ as ‘a work in progress’. In that context, the paintings (his paintings) are in a space/role of mediation. He writes: ‘… the aura of the artwork is never destroyed by mediation but is always in negotiation with context, through which hybrid meanings are produced’. I sense that for Bevis AirBnB was not only a financial necessity, but a performative act in a performative space where questions about existential authenticity could be explored.

To further understand representation in relation to mediation Bevis writes:

‘In discussion of web aesthetics as a reframing of the mediated nature of representational practices, Manghani suggests that re-mediation or the framing-of-framing is an aesthetic of hypermediacy, “which represents our… desire to foreground the act of mediation” (Manghani, 2013: 163)’.

Now, placing mediation at the foreground, Bevis’ paintings ‘are not simply commodities but actors within a commoditized performance space. They play emotional role …prospective visitors … through… suspension of disbelief, envisage ways in which the space could become a temporary home’ (Bevis’ text). Heidegger writes: ‘dwelling itself is always a staying with things’ (Heidegger, 1978b:247). Bevis suggests that ‘perhaps in their ambiguity and obtuseness the paintings allow such dwelling?’

Although not in Bevis’ text, I am reminded of Bachelard’s meditation of home and reverie. Bachelard writes:

‘… the house is one of the greatest powers of integration for the thoughts, memories and dreams of mankind. The binding principle in this integration is the daydream. Past, present and future give the house different dynamisms, which often interfere, at times opposing, at others, stimulating one another. In the life of a man, the house thrusts aside contingencies, its councils of continuity are unceasing. Without it, man would be a dispersed being.’ (Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, pp. 6-7).

Reinforcing Bevis’ suggestion, I would add that the paintings accommodate the tourist’s gaze; housing their daydreaming.

Noriko Suzuki-Bosco: I have been looking into the area of Human Geography recently to try and understand ‘where’ and ‘what’ a place is.

In the book ‘The Lure of the Local’, art critic and writer Lucy Lippard gives definition of ‘local places’ as an ‘existing hybridity’ and that ‘each time we enter a new place, we become one of the ingredients of the existing hybridity’. She suggests that ‘by entering the hybrid, we change it; and in each situation we play a different role’. (Lippard 1997, p.6)

Lippard notes, ‘Place is latitudinal ad longitudinal within the map of a person’s life. It is temporal and spatial, personal and political. A layered location replete with human histories and memories, place has width as well as depth. It is about connections, what surrounds it, what formed it, what happened there, what will happen there.’ (Lippard 1997, p.7)

I thought about the definition Lippard gives of a place in relation to the host –guest situation of a BnB. If a home is opened up to accommodate others, does that allow for more of this ‘hybridity’ to enter into the so-called personal space? How does this affect one’s relationship with their home?

Your question, ‘ ‘How much can we disrupt our habitual ways of being without losing our sense of home?’ and the two further points raised during the discussion, ‘what are we losing (by opening up our homes to guests)’ and ‘what are we protecting’ seemed ever more prevalent when contemplating this potential shift of home from a personal, sacred place to something more open, hybrid and fluid. From this understanding, is it correct to say that a home opened up to others are never complete, finished or bounded but are always becoming – in process? Maybe a fixed notion of a ‘home’ only exists in our nostalgic, rose tinted ideal?

Furthermore, Lippard suggest that the ‘pull of a place’ continues to operate in all of us as the ‘geographical component of the psychological need to belong somewhere, one antidote to a prevailing alienation’ (Lippard 1997, p.7). Is this why people seek ‘home from home’ experiences when choosing a ‘cosy’ BnB, the desire to be in a home?

I have been pondering over the last question we ended your session with, ‘When you break your “rootedness”, what do you replace it with to call a “home”? ‘

I wonder what this ‘home’ is.

Jane Bennett: It was interesting to note your guests’ comments about being amongst “real” art; perhaps part of what they seek in their search for the back-region is gained from the reflected aura of the art object. The performative function of your paintings in this situation brought to mind Jacques Derrida’s ideas about framing (The Truth in Painting, 1987): the tourist’s performance is in a framed setting, a part of which are your paintings. But the effect of the paintings themselves extends beyond their own frame and their work is additional to their function as an object in a number of ways. Firstly, in the authentic aura of a hand-made object with direct connection to a person that reinforces the back-region illusion; they allow the guest to project themselves into this new world they desire to experience. Secondly, as you state, in their critique of the whole tourist experience in the emptiness of their subject matter and the way in which you have painted them. Just as the frame of the painting sets it aside from the outside world, so the frame (or stage) of tourist experience separates it from our everyday lives.

A further thought about the objects we carry around on our travels – perhaps these become the lifeline to our authentic selves, or ‘home’, which may be necessary lest we become too deeply embedded in our daydream as tourist and forget where reality lies.

Patti Gaal-Holmes: This was such a rich session with a lot to think about and some unexpected connections I found myself making. Since the January session I have stayed in airBnB again (this time in the UK – Taunton) and my experience there made me acutely aware of this ‘act’ of being and entering into the intimacy of someone’s home. Bevis had already raised the ideas for his presentation so it was good to be more aware of the ‘role-playing’ involved. I have previously stayed in AirBnB in Copenhagen (twice) and somehow feel that for traveling abroad it is a better option than a hotel/B&B. Perhaps this is also because the cultural negotiations are also eased by being hosted by a local person who can give tips and ideas about places to visit off the ‘tourist’ radar; and one gains entry into the culture more ‘authentically’ perhaps? Or perhaps a myth?

The idea of cultural difference and how we negotiate this is of immense interest to me and your citations from Lippard, Noriko, are very interesting: in how ‘we become one of the ingredients of the existing hybridity’. She suggests that ‘by entering the hybrid, we change it; and in each situation we play a different role’. (Lippard 1997, p.6). Perhaps by staying in an ‘authentic’ home (AirBnB) we take on the hybridity in cultural difference more readily than when staying in ‘homogenized’ hotels which could be anywhere?

I was also interested in how Bevis discussed his artworks and their role in providing the ‘right’ décor with reference to tourist brochures and which guests felt was so important as being authentic ‘real’ art. Cheng Chu’s point about the ‘cold’ relationship to the work was interesting but perhaps this is also due to the content as these are not angst-ridden expressive works which would be more difficult perhaps for ‘exposing’ oneself; which one already does as a AirBnB host by opening up the personal space of the home.

Our discussion about the cultural differences in traditional Eastern collectively orientated families as opposed to Western individualism was interesting and it was invaluable to hear Cheng-Chu and Simiao’s contributions too. Perhaps as tourists we want somehow to also gain some understanding of how other cultural systems work as we can only really very tentatively step into them: unless we live elsewhere (as opposed to a brief trip/holiday).