TourismThe following interview was conducted in person between MarieVic and Brackett Creek Exhibitions (Tessa Granowski) on June 1, 2022 in Los Angeles. We speak about her upcoming show Tourism at Little House at Dries Van Noten.
BCE: It’s Wednesday, June 1, 2022. We are sitting in a pool in Los Angeles… just some New York tourists in LA.
MarieVic: The weather is gorgeous. Let me check the temperature… 75 degrees at 06:00 p.m.
BCE: The sun is still shining.
MV: The sunset is not expected until 08:00 PM and the UV index is very low, making it pleasant for me to be outdoors.
MarieVic with the Hollywood sign
BCE: So how did the roller-skating project that is featured in your upcoming exhibition Tourism at the Little House, Dries Van Noten start?
MV: The roller-skating project started a while ago when I was on my way to Texas to meet up with a lover and we were going to go on a road trip.
BCE: Why did you start in Texas? Because it's so romantic?
MV: No, it was just a convenient middle point for the two of us. And something about the idea of the road trip kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I thought it was a little too passive. I wanted to be able to participate in it and not just be consuming landscape and consuming gas. I wanted to be more physically interacting with the road. I grew up roller-skating. I always loved it. I love that it’s a sport of balance. I love that sensation of riding through town just with my own feet and sliding through the urban landscape. And so, it occurred to me pretty naturally that roller-skating on the road would be great. And then why not be pulled by a waterski rope? Because, why not? It seemed so obvious. And then off we went. And so, I tried this roller-skating video idea for the first time in Texas. And I really loved it because being on the roller skates allowed me to be a lot more active in the road trip. Evidently, it created interaction with people on the road, and it was a way of being part of the landscape that I thought was extremely interesting. But this was just a first sketch, a first draft.
BCE: How did you manage to film yourself?
MV: I installed a camera on a tripod in the trunk. So, it's a selfie. The video is a long selfie. Then I decided to shoot that same video again in Cuba. And this is when the video took its title, Tourism. It made sense there because tourism is very predominant in Cuba.
BCE: What year was that?
MV: I went twice, actually. In 2009. And I went back in 2013 or 2014. I'm not sure, but it definitely was before the borders were reopened to Americans. And as a French Citizen, I was allowed to get to Cuba.
BCE: And what is tourism? Is it different than traveling?
MV: Tourism is like shopping. It is an element of consumer culture. It allows us to gather experiences and get a piece of another territory or culture. Traveling is not easy. It can be expensive or uncomfortable. Tourism is a simplified adventure, it is accessible. And that's why I call it shopping, because it's allowing people to have access to something they desire.
BCE: Susan Sontag kind of talks about this in On Photography. Do you remember when she was talking about certain cultures being active users of photography when they're traveling? Because the photograph is this way to consume something in a way also to bring it back to somebody who didn't experience it and to prove it to others. The photos become the souvenirs.
MV: Yes, exactly.
BCE: It's almost treating an entire city and its people as the product. And what's the most efficient way to do it? How do we fit it all in while on a Double-Decker bus?
MV: [laughs] Exactly.
BCE: Art seems more often to deal with travel, both as an impetus device for artmaking and exploring place free of questions of time, whereas maybe cinema is more adept to examining the role of tourism and its relation to time in a more nuanced manner, watching people in the landscape. But your exhibition and video are explicitly watching you pass in the landscape and watching the landscape and its citizens watch you. Do you want to talk about that and your work's relationship to cinema?
MV: One thing that the video does is that by being active on roller skates yet passive in relation to the space I navigate through, I am reenacting tourism. The roller skater in the video is passing through the landscape, turning her back to it, following her track. And so, by actively becoming a tourist, I allowed the viewer to see the mechanism of tourism and also the landscape. There's a little bit of a switch that happens.
BCE: Right. It’s like turning the observational documentary film back on itself and repositioning the filmmaker as the interloper and the focus. Reminding us that the camera doesn’t get to disappear when you are filming someone in another country or a foreign place or reminding the viewer that they are always also the tourist by doing the watching, the consuming.
MV: But I also personally see the experience of cinema as a form of vacation, which is different than tourism.
BCE: So, changing the subject a bit. From spending time with you day-to-day, fashion seems to be part of your daily art practice, whether you're wearing a visor as a halo or painting half of your eyebrow pink, which has now become a daily thing. When did that start for you? And can you tell me a little bit about your fashion background, maybe a little bit about your mother, who seems to be somewhat of a fashion influence?
MV: My mother is definitely a partner in crime, for sure. I was always interested in dressing up. I was fascinated by uniforms and outfits. As a child, I remember wanting to dress like my grandfather.
BCE: Is this your mother's father?
MV: My father's father, actually. He was very intimidating and left a strong impression on me. I would borrow his hats or his glasses and play dress up with whatever I would find around the house. I was always drawn to how people carry themselves. What you wear is a reflection of how you want to present yourself. And from that perspective, I think there's plenty of room to play, and I do like to play. And then when it comes to my mother, my mother is indeed a very stylish person. We have this mutual desire for this creative outlet.
BCE: I love that it's also a daily exercise. Like, every morning asking, what new arrangement can I put together from this limited set of clothes but still somehow express who I am?
MV: Yeah. I mean, you and your sense of fashion is like your own trademark. For example, you and your cowboy boots or cowboy hats.
BCE: [laughs] Do you want to talk a little bit about you and your mother's fashion project at the beginning of COVID?
MV: Yeah, absolutely. So, I spent three months at the beginning of COVID back in Paris, France, which is where my mother lives. And I invited her to take part in this daily ritual during a very strict lockdown. We were only allowed to get out of our houses 1 hour a day. And this was to either get groceries or do a workout, or whatever. And so, I utilized this 1 hour a day that we were allowed to leave our house to meet with my mother on a specific street in Paris. It's called Avenue Montaigne, and this is where all the fashion houses have their flagship stores. So, we would dress up and meet in front of those boarded up stores. And I would take her portrait, and then I would take my portrait, staring at one another, remaining 6 feet apart. Each day was an occasion to not only see one another, but also entertain ourselves by dressing up. At a time when most people were wearing sweatpants and yoga outfits, the two of us were trying to surprise one another in coming up with different outfits.
MarieVic and her mother in front of the Dior store. Image courtesy of MarieVic.
BCE: But you ended up looking so good together. Were you coordinating?
MV: Well, eventually I spent a lot of time preparing the outfits because I wanted it to be a composition. I make it sound very candid, like, we would meet every day in front of a storefront, which is exactly what we did, and that’s how it began. But I would also scout and spend a lot of time observing the Avenue Montaigne looking at the storefronts and trying to figure out ways of dressing in front of specific storefronts, synchronizing our outfits or desynchronizing our outfits, trying to make something that was visually interesting and not just a mother-daughter hangout. Because what started off as a hangout soon became work material. And so, yeah, I would work on the composition and the outfits in relation to the storefront, but also in relation to one another. And I wanted it to become a sort of collection because we were doing that every day for a little over a month. I wanted this to become something that's both repetitive but with variations that shows a certain endurance if that makes sense.
BCE: Totally. How many days did you end up doing it for?
MV: Around 40 days.
MV: So, we now have 40 or so diptychs of images of me and her in this mute dialogue towards one another. But yes, ultimately it became that I would work on the outfits and bring them on site, and we would change on the street. And so sometimes I would have to come with a variety of outfits because I wasn't sure what would work or not. And Paris at that time was almost entirely empty on the streets, so we had the street to ourselves. Turning one of the most prestigious streets of Paris into our dressing room was kind of fun.
BCE: That is amazing. I've already decided I’m going to learn French just so I can speak with your mother.
On that French note, and back to tourism, the Baudelairian “flâneur” is more of an aimless wanderer, but someone who is detached and alienated from a consumerist system, so it seems like maybe a tourist represents quite the opposite.., a consuming wanderer, someone who helps drive these foreign economies, no?
MV: I very much agree with this declaration. The flâneur is a drifter. It's someone who's more adventurous. And adventure is exhausting, whereas tourism is prefabricated. It doesn't mean it's not exhausting, but it's a different exhaustion. It's got more of a sugar rush type of quality.
BCE: Is flâneur an actual term that people use in France?
MV: Yeah, definitely.
BCE: Like, is it an insult?
MV: Not at all. It’s quite romantic actually. The drifter is a bit of a dandy. Guy Debord’s Theory of the Dérive is something that I enjoyed discovering as a student. I've only ever lived in cities. I grew up in Paris, I live in New York. And that notion of the flâneur or the drifter, or the Walter Benjamin notion of psychogeography, they were all very present for me in experiencing a space. What happens when suddenly you take a path that you wouldn't normally take? Or follow a stranger in the street? Possibilities unfolds. But it's also extremely exhausting and tiresome. And again, I go back to that notion of adventure. Adventure requires a lot of energy. You follow a path that's not mapped or that's not anticipated. Whatever comes your way is a potential challenge, you have to be extremely adaptable in order to exist in this world. And that's exciting because it opens up possibilities. So that's definitely not only an eye-opening sort of experience, but also it enhances your possibility of existence, unlike tourism, which is entirely different.
BCE: It’s like pre-packaged food.
MV: Exactly. It's pre-packaged food. It's convenient. Like fast fashion. It's convenient. I'm not criticizing tourism. It's just something that exists. And I've been a tourist many times, and I love sometimes being a tourist. I love being a tourist in New York. I love going to Little Italy. I think it's just like shopping.
BCE: Yeah. I like being a tourist in my own city. When I lived in LA, I would intentionally go to the Venice Boardwalk or to the Hollywood Walk of Fame because there's a certain level of anonymity when you're participating in tourism, because you almost become this collective being that moves together and that can feel nice. Also, we can see the Hollywood sign right now!
MV: It's right behind us!
BCE: Back to you mentioning fast fashion, though. So, you included some fast-fashion slippers in the Tourist exhibition. Want to speak a little more on why you chose to do that?
MV: So, the show is trying to invite the viewer into an experience of the work. You have two video screens that are playing the roller-skating video. You've got the images extracted from the video that are blown up and put onto the walls when those selfie stands are inviting the viewer to turn their back to the prints to take a selfie. And then the slippers are those home slippers that are made of rubber, in very light tones, they are like a punctuation in this show. They mark either an absence of someone who was there and just left their shoes there or an invitation for someone to step into somebody else's shoe to wander around the exhibition.
BCE: Right. I remember one time you had those in your house as well and someone stepped right into them on the way in to sit down for dinner.
MV: That’s right! So, it is a friendly looking object that is also highly toxic. It’s a global product, made in Asia, sold in America. And then they are also toxic because it's just like plastic that is too cheap to have a seamless existence in this world.
BCE: Right. We already buy those type of objects knowing that they won’t last. They're already existing in that island of trash the size of Texas.
MV: Yeah, exactly.
BCE: Okay, maybe we could end on this question. How many times did you fall roller-skating? And is that why you covered your legs? And who was driving the car?
MV: Well, I covered my legs for two reasons. First, I cannot be in the sun. I'm allergic to the sun. So, I had to cover up. But also, yes, I fell many, many times. And speaking of my mother, she was the one driving the car!
BCE: No way!
MV: Yes, my mother is actually driving the car in this video. She went with me to Cuba. I would actually love one day to cut an audio piece with all of her warning screams because she thought i was going to get hit by crossing trucks, cars, horses, donkeys… It was epic! Extremely chaotic! It was stressful for her, afraid of killing her daughter or seeing her daughter killed by a truck. And I fell many times.
BCE: How did you even get her to agree to this project?
MV: Well, she's up for an adventure even though she didn't really like it and I’m extremely grateful for that.
BCE: I think that’s a great place to end. Thank you, MarieVic!