Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Walking Inside Out – Conclusion Extract 3

It’s Psychogeography’s Turn

Attempting to define something as ‘new’ that has not appeared out of a distinct break from the past is beset with problems. In academic theory the tendency is to use the word ‘turn’ (linguistic turn, spatial turn and so on). I would prefer to describe the current movement in psychogeography as more like a gentle bend in the road. I see the motifs under discussion here as representing leanings rather than seeing them as a clearly defined set of criteria about what something is and what something is not. This is not a radical break. There are qualities of contemporary urban walking that are Situationist, in the same way that there are similarities with the 1990s resurgence of psychogeography. An epoch of any kind does not end one day and the next day begin with a whole new set of different or opposing themes, as can be seen when discussing modernity ‘versus’ postmodernity within the framework of cultural epochs. They bleed into each other, but they also contain distinctions that respond to their cultural (politico-social) moment in time.

It could be argued that not enough time has lapsed to look at how and why today’s psychogeography is different from that of the 1990s. A lack of critical distance might mean it is not possible to state what today’s urban walking is in concrete terms. Labelling it in any way could be foolhardy. However, starting a dialogue about the changes that are taking place is important in a book about contemporary psychogeography. I also appreciate that attempts to define it may be considered to go against what psychogeography represents (labelling, constricting, limiting). Nevertheless, many of my own discussions in recent years with those in and out of the field, and those I have read in journal articles or online blogs, demonstrate that there is a general consensus that a revival is taking place. If this is the case, we need to consider what form this psychogeography might take and why. Not least because we should think about how it can be used productively in a changing historical, political and cultural milieu.

Please click here for more extracts: Resurgence and the Virtual and What is British Psychogeography?

Related Links:
Walking Inside Out – Available for Pre-order

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Pynchon in Public 2015

I’ve been taking part in Pynchon in Public for the past 3 years. Here’s what the Pynchon in Public website says about the Thomas Pynchon related event:
Hereby instigating an annual May 8th culture jamming festival to be herein evidenced by photographic, textual, cartographic and video documentation. To prove it really happened, that our world was not projected.
Post horns, W.A.S.T.E. insignia, the novels of Thomas Pynchon read unashamedly on trains, while still sub rosa. 
It is simple, it is inevitable, it has begun.
Below are my past contributions, most recent first.

2014 – I made three coloured tags with bows and put them on my front door, a car with my surname on it and a postbox:

2013 – I made a muted posthorn out of a map and put this on my study window so the traffic could see it. 'Honk if you like Pynchon' it says:

2012 – I made this tag for my hand luggage and attached it to my handbag and placed my bag on the table next to The Crying of Lot 49 on my train journey to Norfolk:

Here are the types of things that the Pynchon in Public website recommend you can do on May 8th:
  • Reading books, in public, by or about Thomas Pynchon.
  • Reading work of his ‘heirs’, such as David Foster Wallace, Jennifer Egan, David Mitchell, Rachel Kushner, Neal Stephenson and Dave Eggers.
  • Reading work of authors who have cited Pynchon as an influence. These include: Don DeLillo, Ian Rankin, William Gibson, Alan Moore, Bruce Sterling and David Cronenberg.
  • Organising a local version of the W.A.S.T.E. postal network, as described in ‘The Crying of Lot 49′. See and Silent Tristero’s Alternate Mail Project for some UK local examples.
  • Organise a ‘Philately Gone Wild’ club night. Patrons could come dressed as their favourite Pynchon character, covered in mute post horn symbols in body paint or Weimar era cabaret stars.
  • Launching model V-2 rockets in an appropriate safe open area.
  • Adopt a Pynchon character’s name for the day.

I’m not sure what to do this year, but am thinking of adding temporary collars/tags to the local urban animals that I know (with the guardian’s permission, obviously).

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Walking Inside Out – Conclusion Extract 2

The Matter of Psychogeography

Conclusion Extract 1: Resurgence and the Virtual

The current interest in rewriting and remapping urban space has taken hold at a time when communicating with each other has never been easier (aided by the internet and social networking). This has coincided with a geo-political moment when people are aware they have a stake in a city that is diminishing before their eyes. The differing groups and alternative strategies that come under the umbrella of psychogeography today, more than at any other time, are making available psychogeographical tools to fellow urbanites in order to help them express their subjective response to living/working in and moving about the city. Psychogeography related events and projects - even if they are not necessarily overtly activist or even described as psychogeography - enable a re/connection with a material space that is always potentially under threat of being renegotiated into private/prohibited space.

This connection to the concrete space of our towns and cities reflects a desire to offer a material/archaeological critique which excavates signs contained in the terrain that might be contrary to the dominant discourse (something that could be placed under the rubric of schizocartography). It often involves an exploration of the social history of a space that may exist below the surface and might not be obvious on a cursory viewing. The study of material culture helps reveal social boundaries - and the very ‘matter’ under critique by psychogeographers is urban space itself.

Related Links:
Walking Inside Out – Available for Pre-order

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Psychogeographer in Residence at Willow’s Birthday Walk

As a blogger and psychogeographer, on Sunday I was invited to document Willow’s birthday walk (4 years old) in Hawksworth Woods, Horsforth. This was Willow’s inaugural walk in the newly appointed academic position of Horsforth’s Psychogeography Dog Fellow 2015, so I think it’s best if she tells her own story:

A number of humans arrived at the house at around 2.00 (including that weird walking women from 2 doors down who kissed me the other day and then got swollen lips, LOL!). Because of all the visitors in my gaff I got really excited and ran around a lot, practically knocking people over with my tail - I knew we were off out somewhere. Humans take so bloomin’ long to get ready and set out, however after allowing them to talk nonsense for five minutes, we were off!

I managed to calm down by the time we had to cross the road and behaved very well on the walk over to the woods. Here is me standing at the curb like my Dad told me to. I was rather troubled by the rules that I usually follow as, now that I am an official psychogeographer, I thought that this meant that I could, basically, do what I wanted. When my fellowship was announced, I was told that psychogeographers had historically been of a rebellious nature, so when I had to still wear my collar and continue to follow instructions I was somewhat bemused. Anyway, the minute I was off the lead I thought: I’ll show you who is in charge, it’s my party and I’ll be naughty if I want to!

I overheard the walking woman talking to my Mum about how hard it was to photograph me as I wouldn’t keep still for a minute – I mean it’s my birthday, right, and the wood smells so good and they’ve taken my lead off. So she had to drag me back from time to time for, what they called, a ‘photo op’. Here I am posing when Mum told me to pause for a moment so a photo could be taken of 'my best side'.

I found my current favourite stick in exactly the same place I left it (no other dog had stolen it – phew). And I spent the whole walk doing what retrievers do – fetching sticks that had been thrown for me by humans. I mean what could be better: imposing my will on the humans by carrying the stick up to them, dropping it, looking cute, and then making them throw it again – ROTFL! It was absolutely worth wearing myself out just for the sheer joy of getting them to throw the stick over and over again. That psychogeography woman told me that the philosopher Montaigne said something like “Do I play with my cat or does my cat play with me?”. Well, suckers, don’t be in any doubt. Here I am getting the young humans to throw the stick – get them trained early, I say ; )

I appreciate that I’m still finding my feet (get it) as a psychogeographer, but that walking woman kept giving me really confusing and contradictory advice. She said that the walk should be playful and based on chance encounters (a ‘dérive’ she called it – a pretentious French term, I called it), and that there should be no privileged hierarchy in the group, but then the humans kept giving me, and the smaller humans, instructions. So I decided that we should get together and lead the group, so here is me with a small human at the front in what you might call our ‘avant garde’ position ; )

At the end of the walk, which I do every day and had already done earlier today – not that I am complaining I love being outside, running free, sniffing free – I always get to play in the river. I can’t tell you how marvelous it is to do two of my favourite things at the same time. The weird walking woman said that retrieving sticks and splashing in the river would be the equivalent for her of drinking wine and playing with her gerbil. While you may think this is a euphemism, I happen to know that she has a gerbil – my furry cousin who lives two doors down – so I know that she really understands that picking up sticks in the woods and jumping around in the water is a fab thing to be doing on one’s birthday. So thank you all my human friends, large and small, and that mad psychogeography woman (who always eats all our cheese when she comes round), for giving me a lovely birthday walk. And thank you to the University of Leeds for endowing me with the new fellowship. I promise to be the best psychogeography dog you have ever had, if not the first!

Related (animal-psychogeography) links:
Walking with a Gerbil: Pas Le Grand Départ Dérive

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Walking Inside Out – Conclusion Extract 1

Resurgence and the Virtual

Our desire to not only explore the social history of a particular space, but also to express it in a personal and affective way that responds to the aesthetics of that place, is one that comes about through description via our imagination. It is an individual expression which is different for everyone, in other words a psychogeographically articulated response. Alastair Bonnett says a “much broader group of people are now interested and involved in psychogeography, many of whom have no interest in the Situationists. It may be argued that this is a form of depolitization or that psychogeography has outgrown the limited and exclusionary world of the revolutionary avant-garde” (2013 Oxford Bibliographies Online: Geography). If this is the case, then the sharing of psychogeographical accounts from whatever perspective (activist or otherwise) have been enabled through contemporary technology, with websites, blogs, social networking and aided by new ‘geo apps’.

The digital and satellite way of creating maps enables a synthesis with the older peripatetic method of simply talking and writing about walks. It allows the psychogeographer to include more tools for tracking their walks, presenting their information and making it available for others to access. These maps and forms of data collection show the infinite possibility of cartographies and ways for walkers to present personal and qualitative information. They offer a large degree of control of the mapping process to the user/cartographer. The open source software that is often used for these types of collaborations to a large extent disengages the data from capitalist production and, hence, provides more freedom of expression, production and distribution. This enables their use in explorations of space, creating mapping-oriented art for pleasure or for a variety of community-based projects.

The current resurgence in walking has coincided with a renewed interest in cartography encouraged by the availability of digital tools. While these tools are often used by non-specialist users in community and arts-based projects, the contemporary psychogeographer is at once embracing and critical of the new technology, preferring to use it as one tool amongst many for creating, recording and producing output from the dérive.

Conclusion Extract 2: The Matter of Psychogeography

Related Links:
Walking Inside Out – Available for Pre-order
Axis of Exploration and Failure - Animated Map

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Monday, 6 April 2015

Stepz: A Psychogeography and Urban Aesthetics Zine

The Launch of a New Urban Walking Magazine

Stepz is a new hard copy (and digital) zine which has been set up by the contemporary psychogeographer, Tina Richardson. In the process of completing her edited volume, Walking Inside Out (due out July 2015), Richardson felt that there were voices within the field of psychogeography and urban aesthetics that she was unable to represent due to the limits of space. She set up Stepz as a way of expressing these voices. The summer edition, which will be out in June 2015, is a pilot edition and if it proves successful will continue. This is what Richardson says about the zine:
Lately I’ve been thinking about the future heritage of psychogeography. This issue came up when I was writing the conclusion for the new book, which is on what I’ve termed ‘The New Psychogeography’. As part of the conclusion to the book I looked at the previous resurgence in psychogeography – that of the 1990s and the London Psychogeographic Association (LPA). This led me to look at their material and, hence, I started thinking about the more ‘grass roots’ products of psychogeography (like Tom Vague’s zines and the Trangressions journal of the LPA). This material is more creative than a formally published book. I also wanted something that was going to eventually become part of psychogeography’s legacy, in say 20 years. I’ve added ‘urban aesthetics’ to the subtitle of the zine in order to open it up a bit and appeal to a slightly wider audience who might not necessarily know what psychogeography is.
Please note, until there is a dedicated website for Stepz, all information and the first edition will be announced on this blog.

Friday, 3 April 2015

The Rites of Passing in Mourning and Memorial

Kitsch Memorials at Lawnswood Cemetery

Lawnswood Cemetery is just off the Ring Road in North Leeds, north of Headingley and quite near the old Halls of Residence that used to belong to the University of Leeds, Bodington Hall. It has a really interesting topography which is worth checking out on Google earth. It is a well-kept cemetery with intricate pathways that enable you to weave your way around the complex terrain and even has a map at the entrance:

Lawnswood Cemetery has its own architecture manifesting in cloisters, archways and alcoves with memorials everywhere even these tiny kerb-level ones…

…however what I’d like to discuss are the, what I have termed, kitsch memorials, since these are the ones that often cause controversy in graveyards as depicted in the British media.

While there are strict rules at Lawnswood Cemetery about what you can and cannot place at your gravestone/memorial I include a couple that I describe as kitsch. In an article about this on the BBC website sociologist Professor Deborah Steinberg says:
People need to make loss concrete. They need to evoke the person they are missing. There are lots of different gestures that do that for people. I've been to lots of graveyards where I've seen tons of memorabilia, plastic windmills and so on. The disapproval of it has a history about decorum and appropriate behaviour and the aesthetics of mourning. (‘Should Graveyard Wind Chimes and Plastic Displays be Banned?’ BBC 2011).

Placed under the rubric of ‘taste wars’ people are polarised about these self-created memorials, with those who are in support of them offended by the terms used (such as ‘tacky’). Professor Tony Walter says: "There is no right or wrong in all this. But it means that cemetery and churchyard management requires great sensitivity and tact, trying to achieve in death a tolerance of others' tastes and a class harmony that we fail to achieve in life." (ibid.).

Related links:
Friends of Lawnswood Cemetery
St Michael’s Church Graveyard (Headingley)
St Chad’s Church Graveyard (Far Headingley)
St George’s Field Cemetery, University of Leeds
Kitsch and the Danger of Guilty Pleasures