Miss Guides' urban walk crosses fact and fiction

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      The Miss Guides: GOLD RUSH! Art, Bars & Speculation

      A performance-based walk from Maple Tree Square, until March 21

      The Miss Guides don’t really misguide you—they “defamiliarize” you. They mimic historical walking tours while providing an alternative way of looking at our city. Billed as a “cultural walking collective”, the Miss Guides are three interdisciplinary artists, Natalie Doonan, Sean George, and Katherine Somody. They launched their joint practice last summer with Walking the Ruins: Fragments of Vancouver, a subversive ramble through downtown and Gastown.

      Their latest project, part of the Cultural Olympiad, is GOLD RUSH! Art, Bars & Speculation, an equally subversive take on what’s really on offer in Vancouver. (For information and tickets go to www.themissguides.com/.) It’s part fact, part fiction, part realignment of our understanding of the way Vancouver has come together as a city.

      In an extended rumination on the poetics of value, the gold of the work’s title ranges from the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush, which began in 1858, to contemporary investment options for the privileged, to symbolic motivation for Olympic and Paralympic athletes. As its subtitle indicates, the work also presents a then-to-now history of boozing, entertainment, culture, currency, and real-estate development. It’s all laid out during a 45-minute urban walk/interactive performance that is subtly provocative and blessedly free of pedantry.

      The walk starts at the ghastly and chronically vandalized statue of Gassy Jack in Maple Tree Square, where Water Street meets Carrall, Powell, and Alexander streets. The Miss Guides employ both live and taped commentary, mysterious exits and entrances, and an evocative sound collage. (The audience is provided with electronic listening devices.) We are walked into, through, or past a number of historical sites in Gastown and the Downtown Eastside, ending with drinks in the “VIP lounge” of a newly built bar in an old building on Seymour Street.

      We take in Blood Alley, Gaolers Mews, and the new Woodward’s development, with snippets of recited stories, true and mythical. At the site of Vancouver’s earliest jail, we are saddened but somehow not surprised to learn that the first person executed there was aboriginal. Quotations from historians, writers, politicians, and publicists, pasted into the sound collage, range from the profound to the boosterish. From George Orwell’s 1984, we hear “All of history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.” We walk past a number of temporary art projects, exhibitions, and installations, stopping to sip tea at Centre A and print a bill in the W2 Letterpress Studio. Across from 112 West Hastings Street, while listening to descriptions of the Great Vancouver Fire of 1886, we gaze at Isabelle Hayeur’s Fire With Fire, a site-specific video installation that simulates a building ablaze.

      At some point, we are advised: “Pay careful attention to your surroundings at all times,” the double-entendre evoking travel advisories for nervous tourists while also reminding us to look, really look, and reconsider what we know about Vancouver.