The Portland Office for Imaginary History 2016-23

The Portland Office for Imaginary History 2016-23

Performance, objects and interventions at b-side Festival 2016, 2018, 2021, 2022, 2023, Isle of Portland, Dorset

Alistair Gentry in uniform as an imaginary history ranger (khaki shirt, cap and yellow hi vis jacket), leading a tour and showing an image through a transparency viewer.
S(lie)de viewer. Photo by Peter Millson 2018.

The satirical tourist information bureau that keeps on growing.

The Portland Office for Imaginary History was a commission for b-side Festival in 2016, 2018 and 2021-2023, a satirical tourist information bureau providing entirely false visitor information, ecology, paleontology, maps, (non) fact sheets, stories, walks and souvenirs from an imaginary Isle of Portland where women, immigrants, working class, disabled, LGBTQ+ and other marginalised people get the historical recognition they deserve. The Office for Imaginary History also encourages locals to view the place they live in with the same excitement that they would if they were on holiday. When not out leading up to six tours daily, I was in the office telling stories, providing directions and maps, and selling postcards or souvenirs. It now lives on among the community even when I’m not there, and continually expands into ventures such as off-roading safaris with wheelchair users, sold-out bingo nights featuring cards with nearly a hundred drawings of local wildlife, and collaborations with local groups. I’m currently and through 2023 working on a community mapping project, focused on accessibility.

The office first ran 10-18 September in 2016 and you can check out the full programme and documentation here. Scroll down for lots of photos of the office, performances and objects by myself, Peter Millson, Brendan Buesnel, and Paul Box. See my previous commission for b-side 2014 here.

Brown tourist arrow sign with purple pentagonal logo and white lettering: "Portland Office for Imaginary History"
Exploring the Historical Kidnap Area. Photo by Peter Millson.

The Portland Office for Imaginary History returned to b-side festival 8-16 September 2018, as a mobile unit. This time I led expeditions – including wheelchair/mobility scooter-accessible tours – around Portland to see all the imaginary history with an amazing new transparency viewer and s(lie)des. See more photos from the 2018 tours here.

The mobile unit returned again for the September 2021 festival, again at maximum capacity! See more photos on this page.

Seen from ground level, people on mobility scooters. Each scooter has a colourful sign on the front with a circular design and the the words "b-side festival".
Mobility scooter safari. Photo by Brendan Buesnel.

In 2022 we went offroading in our wheelchairs and scooters! See more photos in this post.

Medium shot of people driving mobility scooters offroad, others out of focus in the background.
Offroading. Photo by Peter Millson, 2022.
Postcard from the Isle of Portland showing tourist information signs: Keith Finch's House (closed), Lizard Man, Fish falls, and Historical Kidnap Area (300 yards).
Postcard by Alistair Gentry (signs for imaginary sites of interest).

(Above) Tourist disinformation signs.

Flora of Portland print by Alistair Gentry.
Photo by Peter James Millson 2016.
Alternative facts for visitors at The Office for Imaginary History. Photo by Peter James Millson 2016.
2018 edition Portland Office for Imaginary History map, with new tours and imagination viewing areas.
Photo by Paul Box.
Free opportunity to imagine your own fabric, colour and design with every purchase of a souvenir t-shirt. Photo by Paul Box 2016.
Gift shop souvenir items by Alistair Gentry: functional candles in the shape of Portland’s forbidden animal; imaginary dinosaurs not based on paleontological evidence from Portland’s fossil beds; fabric insignia patches (not for official use, entertainment purposes only, impersonating an Imaginary History Officer may lead to persecution); artificial craft eco pebbles, which unlike real pebbles are legal to remove from the Isle of Portland.
Photo by Peter James Millson 2016.
R***** candles in the Portland Office for Imaginary History gift shop. Photo by Peter James Millson 2016.
Photo by Peter James Millson 2016.
(Sold out!) walking tour of Portland’s wilder areas with members of the public and a local herbalist in search of real, folkloric and totally imaginary plants and historic sites. Photo by Peter James Millson 2016.

(Below) Some of the Office for Imaginary History’s “fact” files: the surveillance budgies of Project Prettyboy, the Prince Albert Analytical Engine, Mrs. Feathers’ Portland-set novel The Adversities of Fannie (1812), horned lagomorphs, Dorset’s wife sales, the Portland Lizard Man, and the history of the Office for Imaginary History itself.