The guide and the seeing man

video stills from single channel video with audio, 32:00 min, 2008


The primary attraction of the cross-cultural dress is the promise of ‘transgressive’ pleasure without the penalties of the actual change. Such metamorphosis does little to subvert existing power hierarchies, since the cross dresser may always reveal or revert to the white identity underneath the native clothes. (Gail Ching-Liang Low, White Skins/Black Masks: The Pleasures and Politics of Imperialism)


The film follows the stories of a Danish backpacker and a Tibetan tourist guide. The backpacker describes his attempts to illegally cross the Tibetan border in order to travel independently in the country. The guide describes his attempts to cross the Tibetan border in the opposite direction; escaping Tibet in the hope of going to school in India. These narratives are interrupted by the story of the video artist who sets out to do a critical work about tourism in Tibet. In different ways the three of them all fail with their projects, their subject positions are in continual negotiation and interconnected not seldom in situations of complicity and ambivalence. The film also offers an account of the long history of explorers, colonizers and adventurers who have tried to reach Tibet’s capital Lhasa in disguise. Clothes act as signifiers of pleasure and desire while simultaneously enabling surveillance and conquest. The title’s “seeing man” is borrowed from Mary Louise Pratt who uses the term to describe the European male subject implicit in European landscape discourse; he whose eyes passively surveys and possess, while maintaining an “innocent” position.


watch excerpts from the video

Åsa Elzén

mail@asaelzen.com

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