A Gowanus artist turned her studio into a makeshift travel agency — but instead of selling vacation packages, she gave away mysterious adventures.
Now, Sal Randolph is re-creating the experience of her “Bureau of Unknown Destinations” project online, offering digital, downloadable, do-it-yourself psychogeography kits.
“I’ve been giving away tickets in a sealed envelope to people and they don’t know where they’re going,” said Sal Randolph, who founded the “Bureau” in late 2011, as part of Proteus Gowanus’s year-long exploration of artwork having to do with migration.
By offering visitors to her studio sealed envelopes containing a train ticket to a destination within two hours of New York City, a train timetable, a notebook to record experiences, and a short assignment (find one word that embodies the environment you visit and write it down, for example), Randolph set out to give New Yorkers a spontaneous experience unlike any other.
“The main thing that giving a gift does is activate an unexpected situation, or a new situation in a person’s life,” said Randolph, an artist-in-residence at the Union Street arts space. “Gifts make things happen, and I never know what’s going to happen. For me, the art happens for the person who is on the trip while they’re having his or her experience. In a sense, the person who makes the art is the traveller.”
After giving away 100 tickets, Randolph has turned her attention to the wilds of the internet, where she aims to enable travellers both in New York and across the world to “unknow” their own environment and surroundings by participating in an adventure aided by her digital psychogeography kits.
The kits don’t include a train ticket, but they do contain seven different ways to randomize the experience of travel including a guide to shuffling timetables at train stations; a downloadable sheet of paper that can be folded into a notebook; a set of cards with factoids and information about destinations reachable by train from New York City; and suggestions for adventures for those who can’t afford a train ticket out of the city.
“There’s a long tradition of experimental art that seeks to get beyond people’s habitual ways of being, in hopes of having a fresh experience, and this is very much a part of those traditions,” Randolph said. “The unknowing of your destination allows you to put aside your habits of mind and body for a certain period of time; there’s a pent up desire for the unknown, and to encounter that little bit of confusion, disorientation, anxiety and excitement and pleasure.”
The Bureau of Unknown Destinations at Proteus Gowanus [543 Union St. at Nevins Street in Gowanus, (718) 243-1572]. Saturdays noon–5 pm. For info on psychogeography kids, visit www.unknow