Multiversing The Rocks

Keith Gallasch

Looking for an engrossing adventure that tests you perceptually and temporally, taking you deep into The Rocks as both an actual and virtual space? The City of Forking Paths is a “physical cinema” work commissioned from Canadian artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller by the City of Sydney for the 2014 Biennale of Sydney. It’s now part of the Council’s permanent collection and currently available to experience for free from now into April. Book on the website.

I start out at Customs House clutching a small digital device and am soon treading cautiously down an alley where the audio instructs me to sit on an empty bench. On the simultaneous, pre-recorded screen image of the seat rests a copy of Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. I like this little parallel universe joke, but am also a tad spooked; I’d re-read the novel just a couple of days before and was currently immersed in the Amazon Prime series. Early in this hour-long wander through both familiar and quite unexplored places in The Rocks in a warm, humid twilight, I’m also struggling to achieve perceptual equanimity, eyes swivelling between real and virtual, mind noting curious, sometimes weird 2014/19 disparities and registering physical risks on stairs, cobblestones and busy roads.

Cardiff’s voiceover gently guides me through the streets, reflecting from time to time on the city, personally, historically, whimsically and metaphysically. Musicians appear onscreen, as does an actor, evoking some of the tensions of the darkening streets, while other sounds—birds, bats, waves, rain—double the aural world, juxtaposing phantom past and ephemeral present. There are forbidding laneways, vertiginously steep steps, sudden new perspectives on the looming Harbour Bridge and, on this night, an ochre-red Opera House, conflicting aromas issuing from eateries, a damp, cave-like early Sydney dwelling, boarded-up public housing lost to developers, and onscreen swathes of tourists sweeping by me on actually empty streets. I’m fascinated and disoriented. I get lost, wind back and set off again. After the 60-minute walk I carry away with me a satisfied sense of heightened alertness and a new awareness of The Rocks, doubling my sense of time and place and their fluid interplay. What parallel realities might The City of Forking Paths conjure if repeated in 50 years?

It’s ideally a solo experience, but works for groups as well. I went with three friends, each of us commencing the adventure alone at intervals of several minutes, but nonetheless meeting at various stages as we corrected our paths or lingered over striking finds, in the end hastening to a local alehouse to collectively muse over a fascinating experience. Keith

Top image credit: photo courtesy of The City of Sydney

5 March 2019