Review: ‘Blind Chance’ (Bristol Biennial)
‘Blind Chance’ is the work of London-based artist Ting Tong Chang. Having previously presented the piece in Poland several years ago, he brought it to Bristol on what was – thankfully – a very sunny Saturday. Had the weather been different Jon may not have been left with such a glowing recollection of the whole experience.
I knew very little about ‘Blind Chance’ before I got there except the fact that I was going to dumped in the outskirts of Bristol and I had to find my way back home. The description on the Bristol Biennial website was vague about whether I’d be alone or with others, how far away from the centre I’d actually be left and just generally how it was all going to work. Already the artwork was living up to its name.
— Jon Aitken (@jonbehere) September 13, 2014
I got to the pick-up point just outside Colston Hall with time to spare – this was a mistake. Already a small crowd of very worried people had formed, all in the shadow of the ominous and wholly blacked out coach parked next to them. Eventually, as the sweat patches started to appear, we were invited to board. Though many of the same conventions were there – the patterned seats, freezing air conditioning, a faint trace of vomit – it did not feel like a classic school trip. Instead, as well all sat in the darkness, we found ourselves suddenly isolated from Bristol with no control over the situation. We were asked to wear eye masks to make sure we couldn’t see anything, and the coach pulled away.
Throughout the journey there were strange, ambient noises being played as well as clips of a few recognisable voices like Stephen Hawking; I found I couldn’t really concentrate on it because I was too busy focusing on being blindfolded in a moving vehicle.
After an indefinite amount of time the coach began stopping and certain people were asked to leave. The wait was agonising, until finally I felt the coach slow and I was told to exit. I clawed my way down towards the driver and burst through curtains at the front.
The light wasn’t as blinding as I hoped it would be, nor was it some kind of rebirth scene from The Matrix. Instead, I was confused (and judging by this photo, annoyed):
I didn’t have a clue where I was, nor did I know whether the guy in blue had just got off the coach before me or if he was just someone, you know, on a stroll. But he was walking with confidence so I automatically followed him – until he reached the end of the road and turned back, obviously utterly lost. Behind me, the coach had already pulled away, leaving me on a busy A-road.
It turned out he had got off just before me and my relief was probably far too evident. There was a road sign near us; it said ‘Bristol’, with to a big arrow. Logic prevailed and the grass verge became our friend.
The next few minutes involved ignoring how neither of us truly knew where we were and also how many cars were going past us at 60mph. Nobody offered us a lift.
In the distance we saw two figures walking towards us looking suspiciously like they too had no sense of direction (I mean this literally, they both looked assured in their life choices.) They joined us and we became a wandering troupe
It was interesting to note that in the earlier briefing from Chang there was no explicit instruction to not use the technology we all undoubtedly had in our pockets to help us get back home; instead, we actually wanted to get back without it. In contrast, the further we walked the more texts and phone calls we received from friends and colleagues who’d been dropped off in even more remote locations, or had already found a pub. Some had been left completely alone, a frightening prospect particularly for those who didn’t know Bristol at all (ie the phone-less guy from Norway who pleaded with Chang before we left to be dropped off with somebody else.)
Our way back finally left the road as we discovered we were next to Ashton Court, and subsequently picked up my weekly running route. Immediately the fear and mystery dissipated and was replaced with the realisation of just how long the walk back was actually going to be. At least there were deer to look at.
We said our goodbyes soon after and it made me realise how we’d come together as a group to work out a rough plan, motivate each other and fight evil. But in all seriousness, I spent an hour and a half with complete strangers on Saturday and it was great; ‘Blind Chance’ rewarded me with people I got on with and a location that wasn’t completely off my radar. It could have been a lot worse.
Chang’s statement on the Bristol Biennial website explains how the piece is inspired by the story of Eric Wang, a Chinese immigrant who died ‘when his bike collided with a tour bus in London’. Apart from the obvious presence of the coach, I struggle to see the connection between the two, though the artist does later reference exploring ‘spiritual displacement’ which I can completely relate to. There may have been clues to the Wang anecdote in the audio piece throughout the coach ride, but I had already become so self-analysing by that point I was unable to think about anything else but my own position. This didn’t change throughout the process. Being lost was a strange sensation, especially when I’d forced it upon myself; I realized I was desperate to find other people, safety and validation.
I’m still left wondering if I had been dropped off completely alone with no clue as to my surroundings, would I have asked a passer-by where I was?
I mean, how do you explain that you paid to be blindfolded for an hour, and then abandoned in the countryside?
‘Blind Chance‘ is by Ting Tong Chang and was part of the Bristol Biennial. The biennial continues throughout this week with a huge programme of events, installations and performances. Find out more on their website.