Friday, 5 September 2014

Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography


The first draft of Walking Inside Out has been submitted to the editors/publishers at Rowman and Littlefield International, so I have an update on the sections and chapters. If you would like to keep abreast of the book on twitter, please search for #walkinginsideout and/or follow me at @concretepost Thank you.

The Walker and the Urban Landscape looks at visual urban phenomenon from public sculptures to pavements. Concentrating on the appearance of the urban landscape, and how walking with a critical eye opens up the spaces in which we live and move, these essays draw our attention to both the aesthetics of spatial manifestation and the minutiae that can be easily overlooked on a casual stroll.

Roy Bayfield’s reflective walk, taken with a colleague, is set in Merseyside. His account provides an excellent example of a walking-based narrative. Bayfield responds subjectively to the landscape, including affective cues alongside contemporary politico-cultural references sparked by the phenomenon encountered. He weaves filmic, literary and geographical references together, producing a first-hand description of his walk from Crosby Beach to Edge Hill University.

Ian Marchant’s contribution comes from the field of creative writing and covers a walk in his hometown of Presteigne. Marchant ruminates on walking literature, and questions the label of ‘psychogeographer’, while making observations on the town he knows so well. The chapter includes personal references to the author’s life, historical information on Presteigne and commentary on his fellow townfolk. In a writerly way Marchant brings to life a walk that he takes with his dog every day and demonstrates how urban walking can becomes a reflexive tool, but also how creative writing can bring a place to life.

Luke Bennett’s chapter takes an analytical view of the work of the deep topographer Nick Papadimitriou. By highlighting passages from Papadimitrou’s Scarp, Bennett teases out conjunctions that arise in relation to the law and the built environment. Originally from a legal background, he uses his knowledge to bring a different perspective to urban walking, for example, by looking at public policy and geography in relation to Papadimitriou’s descriptions of the Middlesex landscape. Bennett’s essay references theorists from the field of geography, psychogeography and cultural studies, foregrounding both the landscape and the text of Papadimitriou’s from the perspective of someone who can see beyond the surface of space to the policy decision-making that lies beneath.

One of the ways past psychogeographical accounts have been used is to understand the aesthetics of a particular city at a specific moment in time. In Memory, Historicity, Time the essays deal with explorations and knowledge of the cityscape (in the past and today), by examining personalised accounts and histories. They reflect on how space is mapped out and how it is connected to memory, nostalgia, culture and geography.

In his essay Alastair Bonnett introduces the Situationists, and the way nostalgia influenced the creative aspect of their critique of the spectacle, in order to explore the memory of place for ex-residents of Tyneside. He discusses his interviews with the group and their issues with the modernisation of urban space in the way it affects them. Bonnett’s text includes qualitative research in the form of individual testaments and discussion on memory map-making. Situated within a psychogeographical framework, his essay also references Sinclair and the magico-Marxist work of Home, demonstrating that nostalgia is not necessarily a negative response.

Phil Wood uses the walks he has taken in Lviv and Odessa to explore the concepts of memory, trauma and loss. Drawing on his relationships with people from the region, and the friendships he has developed, he introduces fictional characters in order to explore the concept of amnesia and spectrality in urban space. The author uses deconstruction to highlight concepts around haunting and the visible/invisible. The historical and contemporary politics of the region is woven into the account to produce an essay which is both creative non-fiction and theoretical in its form.

Merlin Coverley situates the work of the Welsh author Arthur Machen within contemporary psychogeographical debate. By introducing the work of Sinclair and Self, Coverley fleshes out how the act of wandering was for Machen and reveals some of the tensions that psychogeography incorporates. He discusses Machen’s walks in London, his purpose for walking and the influence of the flâneurs, making reference to specific regions of London in regards to Machen’s texts. The essay elucidates two ‘fields’ of psychogeography: the Situationist strand and that of Earth Mystery. Coverley situates Machen within a psychogeographical lineage, in particular that of De Quincey and the North-West Passage, bringing a historical element to the volume.

Gareth E. Rees uses the urban phenomena of memorial benches as a way of exploring the themes of memory, memorabilia and the landscape. The author includes fictional dialogue and a storyline to fill in the gaps in what he perceives might be the lives of the people memorialised on the benches. Rees adds moments from his own life which are sparked by the aesthetics of the terrain, in particular the protagonist of the essay, his childhood friend Mike. This poignant and witty essay reflects the creative aspect of urban walking and the author demonstrates how the affective response to space can be used to produce a literary text.

Looking at psychogeography from the differing perspectives of a community artist and an academic researcher, the two essays in Power and Place discuss how urban walking can be used in an activist way through the insertion of the body into socio-political space. By demonstrating how psychogeography can become an intervention once applied to the modus operandi of a specific group, these authors explore and critique the way collectives of individuals can challenge dominant power structures through the act of walking. Analysing the more anarchic nature of psychogeography, today and in the past, these texts offer specific case studies so as to critique their efficacy as a means of radical political engagement and social change.

Christopher Collier’s chapter foregrounds this section by providing the historic background of the Situationist’s project of psychogeography within a framework of ontology and deconstruction. This academic essay examines the literary heritage of psychogeography and the problem of seeing its critical origins as being solely located in 1950s Europe. The chapter discusses the problematic of the term ‘psychogeography’, introducing contemporary psychogeographers to explore some of the ideas related to its (mis)use, appropriation and circulation. It discusses both the 1990s and the current resurgence of the practice and includes many useful examples and practitioners.

As the organiser of the Loiterers’ Resistance Movement (LRM), Morag Rose provides a personal overview of the origins and aims of the group within the context of her own experience as an anarcho-flâneuse. The author discuses concepts such as diversity and democracy within the LRM, offering her essay in a journal format in order to introduce the practice of walking as it is for the group. Rose demonstrates the passion some individuals have for city life and how this can be expressed through engaging with it on a very concrete level. She believes psychogeographical practices should be made accessible to anyone who is interested and that engaging with your city can be ludic and political at the same time.

By examining the walking and spatial practices of individuals who specialise in psychogeography as a critical methodology, the essays in Practicing Psychogeography/Psychogeographical Practices look at how it can be used as a tool and developed in particular ways so as to offer the practice as an analytical device. The urban walkers represented here have worked through their walking strategies and created their own specific type of urban walking. These customised psychogeographies suit the individual requirements of the practitioners, enabling them to analyse the city in a very specific way. The first two essays deal with the formulation of psychogeography as a methodology, while the last one looks at the various aspects of setting up a walk for the purposes of research.

In his chapter Smith provides the background to mythogeography, explaining how it emerged and developed over time. He compares mythogeography to historical walking practices such as that of the SI, and introduces many useful contemporary references. This reflective and critical chapter describes the evolution of a walking practice which has changed over time, providing examples of the walks and collectives involved. The essay also includes a useful discussion on the de-politicisation of psychogeography.

I developed my own form of urban walking critique at the beginning of my PhD. Required to create a methodology that would stand up to academic rigour, I used the psychogeographical practices of the SI to underpin my own approach which I call ‘schizocartography’. Incorporating psychogeography alongside a Marxist-oriented and poststructuralist analysis of space, I use Félix Guattari’s theory on critiquing the institution of psychiatry, and his work in Brazil, to develop schizocartography as a spatial tool. Schizocartography is a process that, while analysing the space under review, looks for the plurivocality presented there, offering counter events that might be occurring behind the veil of the everyday and that challenge the dominant representation of that space.

Victoria Henshaw specialises in sensory walking and has developed it as a methodology that provides qualitative research on the city. Her essay discusses the implications of organising sensory walks in regard to selecting sites, route selection and research data. Henshaw introduces the smellwalks she has carried out in Doncaster and with the Smell and the City Project, explaining the suitability of particular cities for research and the practical considerations for leading the walks themselves. The more formal science-based writing style of Henshaw’s essay (and Bonnett’s mentioned above) compliment the more ‘relaxed’ style of the creative-writing aesthetic of the psychogeographical accounts in the volume.

The contributions in Outsider Psychogeography do not sit within the usual arts-based humanities walking practices previously discussed. Here the authors use the interdisciplinarity of psychogeography within their own academic field in creative and constructive ways in order to introduce it to a discipline that might otherwise not consider it a standard practice. These essays look at how psychogeography can be used within the social sciences as a way of helping individuals via a direct engagement with urban space. The essays also open discussion on the value of psychogeography in its acknowledgement as an affective methodology.

Andrea Capstick, a lecturer in Dementia Studies, looks at remembering and amnesia in dementia patients and their ‘wandering’ narratives around a sense of place, such as getting physically lost and the act of forgetting. The author takes a spatio-temporal look at walking, place and the past, connecting ‘signposts’ that take the form of real events and places, to the patient’s narrative as a way of validating and understanding them better. This chapter brings social science, walking-based literature, philosophy, social history and psychogeography together. The essay includes qualitative research in the form of walking interviews and the author’s own research in verifying the validity of the participant’s memory of place.

Alexander John Bridger discusses the issues around using psychogeography within a predominantly behavioural/cognitive (and sometimes reductionist) discipline such as psychology. The author provides his own examples of walks and drift methodology to elucidate people’s experience in relation to their environment so as to examine the concept of détournement and to open discussion on mobile-methods research. Bridger attempts to introduce psychogeography within his own discipline as a way of helping other’s understand their spatial environment and therefore help them realise their lived experience more fully. He introduces references from his own field, and that of urban walking and spatial critique, so as to champion psychogeography in a discipline where it might be disregarded because of being considered ‘unscientific’.

Related links:
Walking Inside Out – Summary
My Name is Tina and I’m a Psychogeographer: Situating the Addictions and Abuses of Psychogeography Today

Saturday, 30 August 2014

The Park Tower Knightsbridge: Corn-on-the-Cob


While at the Royal Geographical Society this week, I went for a stroll over to Knightsbridge and discovered another one of Richard Siefert’s buildings: The Park Tower (1973). Originally the Sheraton Park Tower (and previously the Skyline Park Tower Hotel) it is compared to Elmbank Gardens in Glasgow (according to Wikipedia), but how they could not compare it to One Kemble Street in Holborn is a serious oversight.


Park Tower was renovated in 2013 and the Hyde Park Penthouse Suite sells at £7,200/night in this brutalist hotel. You pay extra for your own butler. The cheapest room I could find was £319.
Centre Point is often considered to be Seifert’s most famous building, but it’s Tower 42 that’s actually my favourite London building. A few of his buildings have been demolished in recent times, Wembley Conference Centre, for instance.

On www.postwarbuildings.com it describes The Park Tower thus:
The building consists of a 15-storey rotunda housing 300 bedrooms, on a two-storey podium containing bars, a lobby and reception areas. The tower is formed of a reinforced-concrete service core, around which rooms are massed on a frame supported by pilotis at podium level. The most distinctive feature of the Park Tower is the façade treatment of the rotunda. Likened by Charles Jencks to corn-on-the-cob, each of the twenty rooms per floor, is articulated by a projecting bay window and clad in ochre mosaic. This gives the building an extremely tactile surface, while the rhythm of the windows goes some way to alleviating the bulk and emphasizing the vertical. This cellular façade treatment was a particularly Seifert architectural device and many of his buildings share this motif.

Relates blogs:
Negotiating Brutalist Space at the University of Leeds
Brutalist Access Points and Disappeared Stationers

Thursday, 14 August 2014

‘Lose Yourself in Melbourne’

The Psychogeography of Urban Architecture by David Prescott-Steed


I’ve recently read the above book by sound artist and urban explorer David Prescott-Steed (Academy of Design, Melbourne). It has the informal writing style of psychogeographical texts that originate from creative writing rather than academia, which I really liked.

I especially enjoyed the introduction, which is rather more a wander through Melbourne than an actual introduction to the book, but the better for it. I’m going to include one paragraph of the introduction which mentions an advert for the city of Melbourne and include the link to the film itself
Lose Yourself in Melbourne.

“While the endless movement of the city shows it to be a place of many motivations and meanings, the Lose Yourself in Melbourne advertisement asks the viewer forget about all of these familiar patterns with which they might experience the city, such as where they involve our engagement in shopping or working. It invites the viewer, you and me, to let down our guard; to loosen up by letting go of preconceived, city-based goals. It wants us to sweep aside all of these conceivably routine or boring things. It invites us, instead, to simply ‘make it all up’ as we go along. When I first saw this advertisement, it was if it was asking: ‘Why get so consumed in all of the routine? The city is your built environment, of course. But why not use it for playing in? Why not embrace your opportunity to improvise everyday life? Quite literally, this is a chance to think on your feet. Take the shops, offices and street, and turn them into your playground.’”

The book is published by BrownWalker Press (2013)

Related Links:
Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography
How We Used to Live – A Psychogeography of Your London

Saturday, 26 July 2014

How We Used To Live – A Psychogeography of Your London


I rarely come out of a film feeling uplifted, or think this is my best film of [insert year]. Some of my years don’t even have my-best-film-ofs attached to them, as the films I saw were all so unmemorable. However my favourite film of 2014 is How We Used to Live (2013), written by Paul Kelly and Travis Elborough. I saw it this week at the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds.

I’ve never been a fan of Ian MacShane, but he was the narrator and his voice was marvellous. There was a spooky resemblance to John Hurt’s narration on the Art of Noise’s The Seduction of Claude Debussey (“imagine me saying the following”). The timbre of their voices is so similar. Interestingly, the music was not dissimilar to the Art of Noise, as St Etienne provided the soundtrack.

I should image that anyone who can remember the 60s, or who knows London from maybe at least the 80s, would find this film extremely nostalgic. From fashion, to music, to social history, we are taken through the decades from the late 50s. But this is not a stuffy overly sentimental historic trip. It is also amusing and includes strange little moments, like a young woman in a green dress being grabbed off the street and put into the back of a car. What happened to her? We don’t know. But the film is more because of these quirky moments.

The film uses British Film Institute archive footage and the film format reflects this history – no widescreen format for the postwar Brit. Also, the aesthetics of the titles, etc, is in keeping with the period:
“Whenever you go down the road, you travel not in three dimensions, but in four. The fourth dimension is the past.”
You can read a Channel 4 review here: Can You Spot the London You Know?

Related links:
For my favourite film of 2013: The Great Walk - A Film, a Mystery, a Cult. . .
Film overviews: Le Pont Du Nord and Urbanized

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Pas le Grand Départ Dérive (part 2)

The Pleasure of the Gerbil


This is the second part of the account of my not-the-grand-départ dérive (click here for part 1). These blogs have been written in the style of Patrick Keiller’s ‘Robinson’ films, but the protagonist is Sister Moonshine and the Robinson character myself. The blogs also use the theory of the semiologist Roland Barthes from his book Mythologies.

We crossed the Ring Road and headed for New Road Side, where the psychogeographer assured me there would be more bikeage. We spotted a cyclist on the Ring Road, although he wasn’t wearing yellow and appeared to be going in the wrong direction.


As we got to Horsforth’s other High Street, the psychogeographer approached the pet shop and, hoping it would be open in order to buy chewing paraphernalia for myself because “Chewing seems to be your raison d’etre”, she tried the door. It was shut. We both looked down the length of New Road Side. Not a yellow T-shirt, Union flag or handle-bar in sight.


She couldn’t hide her disappointment, having hoped to put up more posters of myself making, what she thought were, amusing comments in speech bubbles. I asked her what Barthes would say about the High Street. She said that despite him not being considered a psychogeographer, she could see much in his texts that referred to urban space and had just submitted a paper to a conference dedicated to Roland Barthes on this very subject.


As the psychogeographer drank a take-away coffee from one of those High Street coffee chains she criticises so much, I spotted these yellow markings on the road and asked if the council had painted them to match the yellow T-shirts. She spluttered an incoherent reply. Then I spotted this sign!


I hoped it wouldn’t start her off again, following the earlier response to the same sign we had seen nearer home. But she seemed happy to be able to reach the board this time and forgot her rant about how capital seemed to have an arrangement whereby it could bring all creative production within its sphere and successfully commodify it.


In the absence of any more signs of the Grand Départ, she started to photograph random objects, so I decided to distract her with further questions about Barthes: “What does Roly say about the aesthetics of place?” I said. She replied “In ‘From Work to Text’ he provides a beautiful example of someone walking in a dry valley and how all the available sensations – sounds, images, smells – make a plurality of meaning available to the stroller that are multi textual, displaying the heterogeneity of space that is very personal, taking into account the individual as much as it does the environment itself”. I asked her if this was anything like the assault course she makes on her bed for me. She gazed down the dual-carriageway and said in a considered way “We are all psychogeographers…”.


We set off for home past The Ringway public house and saw that it was now closed. I asked if this might also be connected to the decline of the grand narratives of Lyotard’s she had mentioned earlier. She said it quite possibly was, but rather more to do with cheap supermarket lager and how it was sold as a ‘loss leader’. I realised I had accidentally got her onto her favourite subject again – capitalism – and felt we had come full circle, not only on our walk, but also in our discussion.


The psychogeographer then began paraphrasing some guy called Lefebvre who, she said, had been a Situationist at one time. I managed to catch: “the space of capitalism is hegemonic and depends on consensus more than any space before it ever has”. I didn’t really understand this in relation to alcohol, thinking it was a bit of a leap, but I couldn’t face listening to a long explanation if I asked for clarification. Also, I was really looking forward to getting home, taking off my psychogeographer mantle, and just chillaxing in my coconut shell…

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Pas le Grand Départ Dérive (part 1)

Gerbil Lucida

I hadn’t had a proper conversation with the psychogeographer for a while because, as she said, “I have been deeply mired in the academic machinations of my viva”. But yesterday we discussed the pros and cons of the Grand Départ in Yorkshire. She apparently had reservations, the same as those she’d had over the London Olympics when she wrote ‘The Perturbed Psychogeographer: Contemplating Olympic Space, the Shard and Architectural Phalluses in General’. I asked her to summarise, for a laygerbil, what these reservations were. She explained she was torn between the community aspect it would hopefully encourage and the neoliberal co-opting of it by capital.

I suggested that we seek out, in our local area, contributions and acknowledgements to community spirit as it related to the Grand Départ and also look for signs of capital appropriation in Horsforth at the same time. She thought a semiology of the signs would be useful and advised we take a Barthesian view of the locale, entitling our blog by appropriating Roland Barthes' book titles.

We set off up Broadgate Lane where the only sign of the Grand Départ was the use of a yellow T-shirt on a letting agent’s sign, but the psychogeographer couldn’t reach it in order to put up her poster, so we moved on while she mumbled something about the preposterous connection between cycling livery and house rentals. By the time we had almost hit Town Street, 15 minutes into our walk, I suggested that maybe the Grand Départ had departed or perhaps had never even arrived in the first place. Then we saw out first piece of bikeage. This cycle was attached to the railings outside the Retirement Home:


In the High Street itself the best contribution was at the community café, where there were two decorated bikes.



In response to my witty remark about wanting ketchup with my Grand Départ, the psychogeographer collected her posters and blue tack and marched off down the road in search of more signs. I shouted after her “There appears to be some prejudice directed at gerbils here! Why are all the T-shirts only made for cats?”. When I caught up with her I asked: “In what cultural epoch can you situate this breakdown of community and why?”. She replied that in poststructural theory a French guy called Lyotard wrote The Postmodern Condition where he discusses the decline of grand narratives, which she believed was part of the glue that held people together, rightly or wrongly. I looked up postmodernism on my phone. A book called Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism appeared by someone called Jameson. I then understood her interest in postmodernism.


It wasn’t until we were getting towards the other end of the High Street that more signs appeared. In the toy shop window there were lots of mini yellow T-shirts, but apparently still none small enough for a gerbil. I asked the psychogeographer why she liked Barthes. She said that despite the fact that capitalism mobilises individuals through dominant signs, via anti-production and even through their very consciousness, she liked the way Barthes enabled meaning to be plural. She then started rambling about his Mythologies, quoting vast paragraphs. I managed to jot down: “But there always remains, around the final meaning, a halo of virtualities where other possible meanings are floating: the meaning can almost always be interpreted.”


The florists opposite had made an effort, but we had pretty much reached the end of the High Street by then. I asked the psychogeographer if we should go home and she suggested heading for Horsforth’s other High Street, across the Ring Road. So off we set, past the cycle shop, Holyspokes, and towards New Road Side as she continued to lecture me on the tensions between what she said were molar power structures and local, personal, rhizomatic molecular networks…


Please click here for part 2 of this Keilleresque blog: The Pleasure of the Gerbil

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Vernacular Mapping


Joe Gerlach’s article on vernacular mapping, ‘Lines, Contours and Legends: Coordinates for Vernacular Mapping’, looks at micropolitical actions in relation to cartography. He states: “Vernacular mapping inheres in the material co-production of cartographies by humans and non-humans alike whereby the underlying ethos remains intensely political, but in a tenor distinct from the representational politics allied traditionally to maps” (2013: 2). He summarises it as “the co-production of knowledges, materials and spaces” (2013: 10). Offering vernacular mapping as a model that integrates other mapping practices such as counter maps and indigenous mapping practices, Gerlach sees them as assemblages of enunciation and valid expressions of affective responses to space (2013: 11-13).

The assemblages of community that can be formed out of joined-up lines of flight, enable a cartography to appear that can become vernacular in its response: “these cartographic lines perform. Likewise, in their unfolding effects and affects, lines are performative” (Gerlach 2013: 5). The lines of flight are performative inasmuch as they are both transversal – taking untraditional routes – and execute actions. The schizocartography reflected in the map above highlights what Gerlach would describe as “cartographic articulations” and it is this that makes it performative (2013: 13). The map represents the culmination of a number of dérives carried out on the University of Leeds campus during the summer of 2009 which were carried out in conjunction with members from Leeds Psychogeography Group. Cartographic articulations operate against the grain, counter to the well-trodden urban path, while at the same time recognising the dominant structure for what it is, what it does and what it represents.

Please click here for an online article on Vernacular Mapping on Campus

Bibliography:
Gerlach, Joe. ‘Lines, Contours and Legends: Coordinates for Vernacular Mapping’, Progress in Human Geography, July (2013), 1-18.