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

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

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Cognitive Mapping

While Fredric Jameson dedicates Postmodernism: The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism to the cognitive map problem, he does not provide a definitive answer on how to proceed. However, he does offer his analysis on the concept of cognitive mapping as it appears within postmodern theory:
These are, then, not really theories, but rather themselves unconscious structures and so many afterimages and secondary effects of some properly postmodern cognitive mapping, whose indispensable media term now passes itself off as this or that philosophical reflection on language, communication, and the media, rather than the manipulation of its figure (2009: 417).
He highlights the problem at its most fundamental level: if the system itself does not change, then all we are able to do is contemplate it within its system of effects (and with the tools) it produces. This is not a new problem for theory – the inside/outside dichotomy of language – but, it does leave us with the perennial problem of where to go. The concepts highlighted above – such as the need for tools to navigate the environment, and the materiality of space and its system of effects – lend themselves to discussion within the field of psychogeography and under the umbrella of cognitive maps, also.

Roger M. Downs and David Stea’s Maps in Minds: Reflections on Cognitive Mapping (1977) is an extensive geo-psychological study of cognitive mapping, although it does not deal with mental and physical space in any political sense. It offers a concise study of psychogeographical cognitive effects and provides definitions of cognitive mapping: “Cognitive mapping is an abstraction covering those cognitive or mental abilities that enable us to collect, organize, store, recall and manipulate information about the spatial environment” (1977: 6). They explain that cognitive maps are not just visual images contained in our minds but are also connected to our other senses (1977: 23). While they acknowledge ‘the social’ as one part of what influences our cognitive maps, they do not deal with the complexities of postmodernity as it pertains to culture and/or capitalism. However, since their text was published in 1977, it may have been too early to take a retroactive position on postmodern space.

In his essay ‘Cognitive Mapping the Dispersed City’, Stephen Cairns cites Kevin Lynch’s The Image of the City as his own influence. While Lynch provides an analysis by form – looking at various urban elements such as paths, landmarks and edges – he adopts a post-war narrative, the book being written in 1960. Cairns’s critique is in the way that Lynch’s cognitive mapping may be further used to decentre the subject in the form of how they appear as “‘the user’, ‘the community’ and ‘the people’” (2006: 193). This could be seen as both positive and negative, depending on differing perspectives attached to ‘where you stand’. Decentring is considered a common position for the individual to take up in the postmodern text (such as in deconstruction). When that text is the city landscape, this may enable an opening up of other views of the city, such as its edgelands. It encourages differing perspectives with regard to a sense of place. However, the concept of decentring may be considered as a devaluing of the citizen in the centre of public life (as it pertains to the city as civic centre).

Cairns is concerned with what is not representable in and of the city. Citing Harvey, Jameson, Baudrillard and Debord, he discusses the material reality of the city with its postmodern problems of wayfinding, while seeking out its ‘blind spots’ in an attempt to answer some questions about cognitive mapping. These “blind spots” appear on “a refined spectrum between social space and architectural space such that conventional representational logics simply cannot register them” (2006: 203).

Please click here for a free online article on Cognitively Mapping the Campus

Related Links:
GPS Trails on Campus
Blue Plaques on Campus

Cairns, Stephen. 2006. ‘Cognitive Mapping the Dispersed City’, in Christoph Lindner (ed.), Urban Space and Cityscapes: Perspectives From Modern and Contemporary Culture (London and New York: Routledge), pp. 192-205.
Downs, Roger M. and David Stea. 1977. Maps in Minds: Reflections on Cognitive Mapping (London and New York: Harper and Row).
Jameson, Fredriç. 2009. Postmodernism or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (London and New York: Verso).

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Open Source Mapping: GPS Trails on Campus

The following map shows the GPS trails of people who have walked around the University of Leeds campus area and have then loaded their data onto OpenStreetMap. OpenStreetMap is open source software by the OpenStreetMap Foundation and is a collaboration by its contributors providing free geographical data and mapping. Anyone can contribute by signing-up online. The data shown in the map below shows the walks made by people walking around campus while at the same time logging their route using GPS software on their smartphone. They have subsequently loaded this information onto OpenStreetMap. Some of the data on this map goes back to the campus dérives I did with Leeds Psychogeography Group in 2009 and our walks actually appear within the consolidation of trails you can see on this map.

© OpenSteetMap Contributors and CC Tim Waters

These lines are made up of tiny dots which are overlaid in places. The dots make up a trail by an individual, which can be seen when zooming into the map online. Each dot represents the moment when the GPS picked up a signal of that individual’s location. The darker the line, the more people have carried out this process while walking that particular route. Speed is indicated by a greater gap between dots. Pauses appear as a density of dots. The GPS device might indicate a route taken on a cycle or, also, in a car.

What is interesting about the above map is that no map outline is included in the image, nevertheless the outline of the campus appears in the accumulation of dots, as you can see by looking at this map which is taken from the Chamberlin, Powel and Bon Development Plan.

© University of Leeds and Chamberlin, Powell and Bon

This map (and the previous one on Blue Plaques) show the infinite possibility for cartographies to become ways of presenting personal and qualitative information while also handing over a degree of control of the mapping process and end result to the user/cartographer. The open source software that is often used for these types of collaborations also, to a large extent, disengages it from capitalist production and, hence, provides much more freedom of expression, production and distribution.

Related Links:
Open Source Mapping: Blue Plaques on Campus

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Open Source Mapping: Blue Plaques on Campus

Blue Plaques are signs that are placed on places of historical interest and are administered by English Heritage. This map shows those Blue Plaques on the University of Leeds campus and in the surrounding area: for example, there is one dedicated to Clifford Allbutt who was a physician at the Medical School in Leeds and invented the first compact medical thermometer. There is also one on the Students’ Union for the band The Who, who played in the Refectory in February 1970. The gig spawned their famous album Live at Leeds.

CC Open Plaques and Tim Waters

These types of maps can be made for one’s own use by utilising open source software, such as, in this case, Open Plaques. Data can be filtered and the map scaled to fit one’s criteria. Many of the images that can be produced from open source software are often Collective Commons (CC) attributed, which provides much more freedom than a regular copyright.

Related Links:
Open Source Mapping: GPS Trails on Campus

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Walking Inside Out: Contribution Details

Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography

Here is further information on the upcoming Rowman and Litlefield volume, which I am editing and will be included in their Place, Memory, Affect series. This blog will give a brief summary of the essays that will be contained therein. Please click here for the previous blog on the volume, which gives you a more detailed overview of the book and links to the authors’ own work: Walking Inside Out.

While psychogeography in its broadest sense is as a method of urban walking which responds to and critiques the terrain, there are many different approaches to it. This can be because of the way the walking is carried out or in the way the practical work is written up or analysed. This book attempts to bring the work of literary/creative psychogeographers and academics together in an edited volume that looks critically at psychogeography today. Contributions are from academics and researchers, and from those working in the area of urban walking. The voices expressed here highlight and explore the setting and climate as it is for psychogeography in the UK in the 21st Century. The essays provide current examples of contemporary psychogeographical practices, demonstrating the differences between them. Examples of the different forms of urban walking are discussed alongside different theoretical approaches. This book represents psychogeography is aimed at scholars, students and urban walkers alike.

How the City Appears
This section looks at visual urban phenomenon from communist architecture to public sculptures. 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 the cityscape and the minutiae that can be easily overlooked on a casual stroll.
Roy Bayfield
This essay comprises an account of a walk undertaken on the Sefton coastline of North West England in August 2013, with collaborators Robyn Woolston (artist) and Irene Delgado-Fernandez (physical geographer). An objective was set: to connect two types of human intervention on the coast, Antony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’ sculptures (‘art’) and a university research site that monitors the movement of dunes over time (‘science’).
Luke Bennett
In his essay Bennett will set out a psychogeographically informed account of the multiple lives of a small spot of pavement in order to explicate this rich realm and its various facets and tensions. In doing so he will also reflect on the novelty of this approach, and the survival strategies that he has evolved, in order to endeavour to justify this preoccupation and set of methodological strategies within the academic disciplines to which he is affiliated.

Phil Wood
Wood is drawn to places of neglect and abandonment, especially in isolated and obscure parts of Eastern Europe. He is intrigued by the region’s turbulent history of both cultural conflict and hybridity. Wood’s journeys are unaccompanied, deliberately under-planned and occasionally serendipitous. Most are illicit with a frisson - not always imagined - of danger. His essay includes walks around Kaliningrad, Lviv and Odessa.
Memory, Historicity, Time
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. The three essays contained here 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, culture and geographical space.
Merlin Coverley
Arthur Machen’s self-proclaimed ‘London Science’ was a means of gaining mastery over his adopted city through an exhaustive attempt to map and communicate the otherworldly atmosphere of late nineteenth-century London streetlife, through an exploration of the outermost reaches of the suburban city. These urban wanderings were documented in works such as The London Adventure (1924). 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of his birth, and this essay will outline his pioneering contribution to psychogeographical ideas and practices.

Alastair Bonnett
The active and creative capacity of memory and nostalgia to both guide the steps of ex-residents and fashion critical forms of engagement within the city are addressed in this essay. Using interview material drawn from people who once lived on Tyneside, it examines how the past, present and future are mapped onto spatial practice. This argument drawn into dialogue the memory rich content of literary psychogeography, contrasted with the anti-nostalgic strategies of avant-garde psychogeography.
Gareth Rees
This essay looks at a common urban phenomenon - memorial benches - as a way of exploring how human identities are encoded in the landscape. Like many coastal towns, Hastings is a repository of memory, where people come to contemplate the past, as well as to create new memories. As Gareth E Rees drifts through the town, tragic moments from his life are reanimated by the topography, while the voices of the dead begin to speak.
Power and Place
Looking at psychogeography from the perspective of an artist, writer and academic researcher, these essays 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 individual can challenge dominant power structures through the act of walking. Looking at the activist nature of psychogeography, today and in the past, these texts offer and examine specific case studies so as to analyse its efficacy as a means of radical political engagement and social change.
Ian Marchant
This essay documents a series of psychogeographical interventions by the agri-prop theatre company, Reborn Rebecca. The Welsh Rebecca Riots against taxation continued in Radnorshire into the 1930’s. Reborn Rebecca revives this tradition via a series of documented walks to Powys CC Headquarters to demand that they vacate County Hall, giving the buildings over to the Free University of Radnorshire. This essay asks: are psychogeographical examinations of power over land possible outside the city?

Morag Rose
This essay offers field-notes from autoethnographic experiments in Feminist anarcho-flânerie. Inspired by the Situationist International there is an explicit political agenda to Rose’s walks which reveal power relationships and inequalities within Manchester. Using psychogeography as a tool for community engagement she blurs the boundaries between activism, art and academia. This essay gives voice to some of the tales uncovered by her adventures and explores the potential of dérive methodology.
Christopher Collier
Enjoying a resurgence in the 1990s, psychogeography has seen further renewal within contemporary practices. However, the drift of psychogeography away from antagonistic and autonomous contexts into more institutional forms requires a reconsideration of any claims to criticality. Collier proposes that recent artistic iterations of psychogeography potentially fail to account for the convergence of their playful, participatory methodologies with the recombinant modes of subject construction that characterise contemporary post-Fordism.
Practising Psychogeography/Psychogeographical Practices
By examining the walking and spatial practices of individuals who specialise in psychogeography as a critical methodology, these essays look at how it can be used as a tool and developed in specific ways so as to put forward the practice as an analytical device. These urban walkers have worked through their walking strategies, and created their own type of psychogeography, which suits their own individual requirements, enabling them to analyse the city in a specific way.
Victoria Henshaw
Sensory walks have emerged in recent years as a form of psychogeography which seeks to explore sensory characteristics of the environment and their perception by people, by examining experiences gained through one or more of the senses whilst walking through physical, usually urban environments. However, the characteristics of the sites through which sensory walks are implemented impacts directly upon the experiences gained, the data collected and the resulting overall findings and thus if a pre-identified route is to be selected, this warrants careful consideration. Drawing from experiences of implementing smellwalks in cities across the world and focussing specifically on a detailed study with fifty-two participants in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, and subsequent group smellwalks in European and North American cities, this chapter includes examples of issues encountered whilst undertaking and designing such sensory research.

Phil Smith
Smith will consider the central role of multiplicity in mythogeography and its reconnection to certain strands within British psychogeography, such as the workings of Alan Moore and Tim Perkins and the ‘drifts’ of organisations like the Loiterers Resistance Movement. He will argue that mythogeography continues to pose a challenge to certain limited and revivalist elements, but at the same time celebrates the panoply of practices that even where there is no acknowledgement of the influence of the tradition of the International Lettristes/Situationist International, betrays a knowledge of them.

Tina Richardson
Richardson's essay will be on her own psychogeographical practice, schizocartography. She has developed this particular urban exploration methodology from the psychogeography of the Situationists and the theory of the philosopher/psychoanalyst Félix Guattari. Concentrating on the concepts of affect and aesthetics, Richardson has taken Guattari’s theory on "schizoanalytic cartographies" and applied it to psychogeography, using archival explorations and philosophical enquiry in order to help bring a particular form of theoretical critique to urban space. Schizocartography attempts to discover the tensions between discourses of power in space and the social history and heterogeneity hidden in the topography. This essay will be in addition to the introductory essay.
Outsider Psychogeography or Walking ‘Outside the Box’
The two contributions in this section do not sit within the usual arts-based humanities walking practices, with the authors using psychogeography in their own discipline in creative and constructive ways. These essays look at the interdisciplinary nature of psychogeography and how it can be introduced into the social sciences as a way of helping individuals via an engagement in urban space. They also open discussion of the value of psychogeography in its acknowledgement as an affective methodology.
Andrea Capstick
For many people with dementia, memory for places known in their youth remains strong in the face of difficulties they now have with short-term memory. This essay draws on a series of walking interviews with people diagnosed with dementia in order to explore a more collective reconstruction of place memory.

Alex Bridger
Some of the main limitations of psychological research on environments are that there has been scant focus on how people politically experience their social worlds. Moreover, much of the existing research in psychology is limited in terms of focusing only on place-identity and studying behavioural processes as if cognitions and attitudes are ‘things’ that can be found in peoples’ heads. Bridger will explain what the limits are of that existing research and will explain why an anarchic, anti-psychological and radical critique of environments is needed. Bridger makes an argument for a situationist-psychoanalytically informed approach to psychogeography. He will draw on specific psychoanalytical concepts including free association and disorientation.