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The Communication of City- A City Tour

Text from Catalogue:

The equally interesting and problematic sensation of being immersed in a city’s history to develop an art project in a comparatively short period of time made us want to slide into an existing structure rather than highlight a moment of art. In The communication of City – A City Tour, we aim to engage with the city as well as the art tourists trekking through the city searching for exhibits.

Our choice to work within the format of a city tour is based on Biel/Bienne’s strong emphasis on communi- cation on a marketing level, and on our own interest in questions of representation. Another aspect is the relation to the exhibition we are taking part in as well as the broader discussions around art tourism, which involves using art as a propagating tool to attract tourists to a city. By appropriating an existing format of communication with tourists as well as with the citizens of Biel/Bienne, we add another city tour to the exist- ing list of tours through which the city has communicated itself in different times. The communication of City tour guides’ performance to a small group is a central part of the tour. Instead of taking the seemingly ap- parently “objective” stand of a tour guide, they interact with the visitors and questions the very format of the guided tour itself.

To find out how a city’s image is produced our working method was to meet with as many different ambas- sadors of the city as possible to collect their views on what constitutes the city and the transformation it has gone through. We met with people in local bars and public buildings, in Multi Mondo, a community space, offering language courses and legal advice for people of a migrant background, visited a tandem course in language exchange and the Tourist Office, talked amongst others, to a linguist specializing in bilingualism at the University of Bern, Bienne’s marketing director, and the city historian. Together with the guides’ personal experience, the sometimes contradictory information we have collected during our researching forms the basis of the tour material.

The transformation from Bienne as the ‘city of the future’ put forward in the late 19th century, to today’s ‘city of communication’ represents the shift from industrial clock production –an industry that was suc- cessfully to the city in the mid-19th century – to the age of information. Biel/Bienne is also named and propagated as ‘the bilingual city’. It’s status as an official bilingual city coincides with the city’s effort to attract communication companies such as call centres, mobile phone companies, and the ministry of communication, following the 1970s crisis in the clock industry. In Biel/Bienne all public signage and official communication is in French and German. Considerable effort is made to improve the mutual ac- ceptance of the two language groups and research the particularities of bilingualism in families, social networks and at work. At the same time bilingualism often seems to be increasingly referred to as a “problem”.

Yet another way of representing the city is produced by the Tourist Office of Biel/Bienne, which offers public guided city tours as well as private or corporate group tours throughout the year. The increas- ing popularity of the tours has led the Tourist Office to steadily increase the number of tour guides. A representative of the Tourist Board explained to us that when recruiting guides they look for people who strongly identify with the city and have a passionate relationship to it’s history as well as it’s contem- porary particularities. While public tours are always held in two variations, one in German and one in French, most private or corporate groups request German- language tours.

The Communication of City tours are conducted by guides already working for the tourist office or muse- ums in Biel/Bienne. But rather than following a written history or, canon, or concentrating on the romantic medieval old town like most tours given in the city, our tour will address a set of questions on the current communicated identity of Biel/Bienne:
What function do the guides have as an ambassador of the city? What led to the historical transforma- tion of Biel/Bienne into an official bilingual city? How do inhabits from the various different communities identify with this? How does the romantic image of an old town put forward in the public city tours corre- spond to the city’s contemporary identity? What lies behind the change of the city’s slogan to “the city of communication”? How is the Utopics communicating and who is it addressing?

–Saskia Holmkvist and Andrea Thal

Title: The communication of City – A City Tour
Site specific guided Tour in Biel/Switzerland
Concept: Saskia Holmkvist and Andrea Thal
Year of Production: 2009