You Are Not Here!
I’m writing this from as I coast across the Dutch countryside by train to the city of Rotterdam. What, you might ask, am I doing in the Netherlands? Well besides stopping to smell the flowers and admire the windmills and sample the Gouda and whatnot, I am here to attend the bi-annual DEAF conference (Dutch Electronic Art Festival).
Specifically, I am here to present a project/game/simulation that a few good folks and I have been working on together for a few months (OK, they worked on it, I am just helping out).
It’s called YANH (You Are Not Here), and it is basically an urban tourism mash-up, fusing locations from one map, often in a conflict zone or isolated area, onto another urban area. Case one: Baghdad in New York.
The one I was graciously asked to help develop was Gaza in Tel Aviv. I know you must be thinking-Gaza in Tel Aviv? Gaza isn’t Tel Aviv, make no mistake about it, nor does the game propose that it can be (thus the name You Are Not Here…).
What is does do is allow participants to become “meta-tourists” of sorts, to experience a tour of Gaza in the streets of Tel Aviv, and as they do so, dial in site-specific audio codes to here none other than yours truly narrating to them what they are seeing as if they were in Gaza at this precise location.
We chose around 15 site-seeing-worthy locations in Gaza (ranging from the gastronomical to the political...example: Gaza's bombed out Palestine Stadium, and Kathem's ice cream parlor-a landmark and the most famous ice shop there).
The idea is to bridge the psychological and political divide, and challenge the conventional ideas about space and borders, says co-creator Mushon Zer-Aviv.
"We are trying to take terms like 'Palestinian' and 'Gaza' back to scale...terms that have been overblown or taken out of the human proportion by the media. We are trying to redefine the branding that has been imposed on Gaza by the mass media and years of conflict, and reclaim the mediated perception of the city."
“While the disengagement of Israel from the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005 was thought to open a new hope for Gazan civlians, it has practically turned Gaza to the biggest jail in the world You see most Israelis are tired of the 40 years long occupation and want to see it end. Yet in Tel Aviv the general mind-frame is that after the disengagement we are not IN Gaza anmore and therofre are not longer responsible for it. This is something we want to address through YANH."
My job has been to write out the descriptions of the locations our tourists are visiting, and narrate them for the audio tour. Easier said than done. Its been a real challenge immersing myself into the simulation-and speak through my voice to the participants AS IF they were actually seeing and living the location I am describing to them (“notice up ahead … if you look to your left…etc.).
Its not all rosy, as I mentioned (notice the broken beach umbrella icon in the map...as well as the broken palm tree icons in the Baghdad map). While we have chosen locations like Gaza’s most famous ice cream shop or historic stops like The Samara baths, we also guide them through the national football stadium, which was bombed by fighter jets last year, Gaza's beach refugee camp, and even try to simulate sonic boom attacks and electricity blackouts in the middle of the audio tour.
The project is due to launch in mid-May, when particpants in Tel-Aviv can obtain the finished, double-sided map (Gaza on side, correspondeing streets and locations in Tel-Aviv on the other, in english, Hebrew, and Arabic) from BLOCK magazine, who are collaborating with us, or download it for free from the web.
We are presenting the project on Saturday morning, and it will be broadcast live via video streaming 11:00-13:30 Central European Time, and can be seen online here on Saturday in real time (click on the Live Stream Real Video Link).