Friday, 27 November 2015

A Psychogeography of Lofthouse – Part 1

For the ‘Ruhleben - Lofthouse Park Civilian Internment Project’

On November 25th 2015 Tim Waters and I carried out a drift around what had been, in the First World War, a prisoner of war internment camp in Lofthouse, Wakefield, West Yorkshire. The particular area that was the camp, is adjacent to a modern housing estate located opposite the golf course.

The image below is taken from Wakefield Libraries Collection and I found it on 'The Neglected Books Page' which discusses a book called Time Stood Still: My Internment in England 1914-1918, by Paul Cohen-Portheim. The book is about a German civilian who was interned at Lofthouse. The overview of the book (linked above) is worth reading as it gives you an insight into life there from one person’s perspective:
“The past was dead, the future, if there should be a future, was a blank, there was nothing left but the present, and my present was the life of a prisoner.” (Paul Cohen-Portheim).

The objective of our walk was psychogeographical to the extent that a) we were looking for material archaeology in the terrain that may lead to clues of the area’s past and b) we wanted to get as sense of the aesthetics of the space as it is today.

A good example of material archaeology are drain covers, inspection covers, manhole covers and infrastructure grills of various kinds. They can often tell you about the industrial (and social) history of an area. Sometimes you are able to date the object itself, which then indicates infrastructure work during a particular period in the area’s history. The above cover is for Yorkshire Water Authority and is on the north of the area that would have been the original camp. Yorkshire Water no longer use the ‘authority’ part of the name, so this dates it prior to the privatisation of water authorities in the UK under the Water Act of 1989. The company name is Brickhouse Dudley, and as this article in Black Country Bugle explains, the company used this name prior to 1967. So we can be sure that this part of the water system was either installed, extended or updated at some point prior to that time.

The above image is on the large set of flats on the entrance to the estate. Tim and I thought it very odd that windows on a new building had been filled in. It is reminiscent of the window tax of the 18C and 19C.

While we did walk around the new estate, we felt the periphery of it would lead us to more 'concrete' clues. This blob of concrete, with a smudge of yellow road-marking paint on it, was quite near the water and electricity infrastructure hub, which was surrounded by bollards in a most striking way, placed to prevent any temptation of the will to park!

While we were at this above spot a woman pulled out of the estate in her BMW, which indicated to me that this was probably a ‘middle-class’ housing estate, although Tim thought that the empty jar of olives was a better indication. I had to agree.

This fenced-off ‘scrubland’ to the south of the new estate probably partly covers the area that was the original camp. It would have been interesting in term of signs on the ground if we could have accessed it. Peter Duffy dominated this side of the estate. When we came across this sign we were unsure what the company did. But it later became apparent, when co-incidentally our different route back to the station took us past their HQ. They are civil engineers.

The picture below is both a random image of a psychogeographer in action, but also it is the gateway from the new estate onto a public footpath that takes you into a nearby field.

We went to the edge of this agricultural field and tried to look on the ground for any old bricks or stones that led to any clues.

I later read that the site used to be Roper’s Brickworks. From what I can tell Roper’s seems to be related to this quarry which dominated the Lofthouse Gate area at one time: Lofthouse Gate Brickworks. In the book Welcome to my World the author, Charlie Walker, says:
“I had obtained a job at a local brick yard: Roper's Brickworks at Lofthouse Gate near Wakefield. It was owned by Aberford Quarries and managed by a great bloke called Cliff Farrar. Cliff lived in a big house nearby and had become the manager after marrying the previous owner’s daughter. Yes, Cliff’s wife was old man Roper’s daughter.”

Part 2 of the blog is available here.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Twenty Six Psychogeography Stations – Launch

TWENTYSIX PSYCHOGEOGRAPHY STATIONS by Darrant Hinisco is now available for purchase. It is based on the famous artist’s book by Ed Ruscha TWENTYSIX GASOLINE STATIONS (a truly psychogeographical artist’s book), and faithfully follows its format and style. This is what Darrant Hinisco and Tina Richardson say in the preface:
This artist’s book is a collaboration with my publisher, Tina Richardson. Between us we have curated this set of photographs from my own collection, mostly from my travels in the United Kingdom and United States. The photos included herein are a response to the psychogeographical phenomena known as ‘perambulatory hinges’ or, how I have termed them here, psychogeography stations. I would like to thank Tina for all her help during the making of this book and for producing it as an Urban Gerbil Publication. 
Darrant Hinisco 2015
In August 2015 Darrant approached me to produce his first artist’s book after coming across a copy of STEPZ: A Psychogeography and Urban Aesthetics Zine in a second-hand bookshop in Lisbon. Darrant had already begun working on a collection of his urban landscape images and on discovering STEPZ decided he would like his images to be published under the rubric of psychogeography. I would like to thank Darrant for trusting me with his first publication and I feel honoured to have worked with him on putting this collection together.
Tina Richardson 2015

TWENTYSIX PSYCHOGEOGRAPHY STATIONS is an Urban Gerbil Publication and you can read Darrant’s pre-launch announcement here. Photographs are reproduced in black and white and the cover is red and white as shown. The 50 page, A5 size book costs £4.99 plus postage at 63p to UK (for international postage, please enquire). You can pay by cheque or paypal. Please use the contact page here to reach Tina Richardson, to purchase the book and for other queries. Thank you.

Related links:
STEPZ: A Psychogeography and Urban Aesthetics Zine 

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Darrant Hinisco: ‘I have never called myself a psychogeographer…’

The following is an announcement from Darrant, pre-launch of his new book, which should be available from next week!

I have never called myself a psychogeographer and didn’t know much about it until recently. Although I had considered my own practice to be one that engages with urban space in a critical way, I didn’t realise that, in a very fundamental sense, this is what psychogeographers do. While I understood that walking is a key part of some artist’s practice (take for instance the Walking Artist’s Network), it wasn’t until I came across Tina’s grassroots psychogeography zine that I realised I had actually been undertaking psychogeography.

It was by chance that I found STEPZ in a second-hand bookshop. It had somehow made its way to Lisbon where I was staying, rather like a message in a bottle winding its way to me from England. I had one of those ‘ah ha’ moments when you suddenly make a discovery and in that instance the world opens up for you. So, in August I contacted Tina to ask if she would help me put my first artist’s book together and publish it with Urban Gerbil.

Tina and I selected the images together. The form of the book itself follows a very specific retro format: those of you who know about the history of the artist’s book will probably recognise it (I won’t provide the spoiler here). As for the relationship of the images with each other, and their labels, I allowed Tina to guide me on these as I wanted her influence to go beyond that of just the editor of the book (hence the philosophical and cultural references). While the book states it is by me (Tina insisted), it is really by both of us. As Deleuze and Guattari said: “The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd”...

Darrant Hinisco November 2015

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Announcement: Urban Gerbil Publications

Urban Gerbil Publications is a small production, not-for-profit organisation that specialises in the field of urban aesthetics/semiology, psychogeography, walking practices, space and place, the city and urban living. Formats and types of publications include: zines, artist’s books, poetry, fiction/non-fiction/creative non-fiction, grassroots academic journals, newsletters, magazines and maps.

Professional services: editing, publishing and production.

TwentySix Psychogeography Stations by Darrant Hinisco, our first 'official' Urban Gerbil Publication, will be available soon.
STEPZ: A Psychogeography and Urban Aesthetics Zine is a Particulations/Urban Gerbil publication and is now on the syllabus of an undergraduate module in the US.
Concrete, Crows and Calluses (2013) is a Particulations Press book.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Places of the Heart – Psychogeography for Architects!

Places of the Heart: The Psychogeography of Everyday Life by Colin Ellard (2015)

This is a short review of/commentary on Colin Ellard’s new book. Ellard is a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Waterloo. Here's a quick summary of what he does (from his own website):
I work at the intersection of psychology and architectural and urban design, conducting experiments that measure how your brain and body respond to different kinds of settings. I also write accessible books and articles based on my scientific work, and travel the world trying to figure out how to build better places.
And this is the summary of the book from the blurb on the back cover:
In Places of the Heart, Colin Ellard explores how our homes, workplaces, cities, and nature – places we escape to and can’t escape from – have influenced us throughout history, and how our brains and bodies respond to different types of real and virtual space. As he describes the insight he and other scientists have gained from new technologies, he assesses the influence these technologies will have on our evolving environment and asks what kind of world we are, and should be, creating.
I came across Places of the Heart on twitter by simply searching for the term #psychogeography, which I do on a regular basis, since it is my academic field. While I was waiting for it to arrive in the mail, I posted on my Facebook page a link to the book. While the general consensus was that it might be ‘too sciencey’ to be psychogeography, I am generous with the use of the term and also wanted to reserve judgement till I had read the book. Having now read it, I think it deserves a place within the contemporary canon of psychogeography, even though it does take a scientific approach, which some people may think goes against the subjective aspect of ‘classical’ psychogeography and might be considered reductive. The book has chapter headings such as: ‘Places of Lust’, ‘Boring Places’ and ‘Places of Affection’, so it is clear from this that we are still talking about how people ‘feel’ about place – and what is wrong with backing that up with some neuroscience! While I could write more about this side of the book, what I would like to do is provide an anecdote which actually helps situate the book within a specific field of study (and practice) which may be of interest to people who might only tangentially be connected to psychogeography: architects and architecture students.

In October I was invited to the Canterbury School of Architecture to talk about schizocartography (my own version of psychogeography) and at the end of the lecture I wanted to recommend some books to them that were at the intersection of psychogeography and architecture. I took with me Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography (obviously, since this is my own edited volume and also came out this year, so is very current), The Psychogeography of Urban Architecture by David Prescott-Steed (2013) (also very recent, and the title is a clue to how it might interest my audience) and Ellard’s new Places of the Heart.

These three texts are very different from each other in content and style, yet they all use the term ‘psychogeography’ in the title. Walking Inside Out, as the subtitle suggests, includes chapters that represent British psychogeography today. While architecture does appear in the content (it even has its own section in the index), it is more broadly related to urban space in general. A number of the index references to architecture cite the Situationists critique of architecture under the rubric of their unitary urbanism project, although there are other references. The Psychogeography of Urban Architecture, while very psychogeographical in that it includes many of psychogeography’s common themes - subjective responses to urban space, walking in the city, personal accounts, cultural/philosophical critique, etc – it does not directly discuss architecture, but in a way it is always talking about it. You cannot really separate architecture out of a critique of urban space. However, in the use of the word as it pertains to architects, the title may be misleading to those not from a psychogeography background. Rather, the book is not about architecture per se, even though it is a super book in many other ways.

Out of the three books I took to Canterbury, the book I actually recommended to the architects (the lecturers) and the architects-in waiting (the students) was Ellard’s book. The biggest section in the index is ‘architecture’! Ellard talks about Gothic and Malian architecture, he talks about public housing and retail architecture and he even discusses “cognitive science’s collision with architecture”:
It seems a risky course to so scientize design that the creative vision of architects is force-fed into a reductive sausage grinder that can only produce quasi-Corbusian designs of the kind that we’ve already tried and found wanting. Nevertheless, allowing architects to have unfettered access to fecund imagination untroubled by psychological realities of what seems to work in a building also seems unwise. (page 219-220)
Also, interestingly, this was the book out of the three that the students were most interested in, although I appreciate it may have been because I was recommending it in this specific setting. So…despite the fact I should be promoting my own book, I think that this would be a good book for architects who might be interested in how the field of psychogeography intersects with their own work. Then, once they have read that, they can read Walking Inside Out to find out what is going on at the cutting edge of British psychogeography!

Related Links:
Concrete, Crows and Calluses – Book Review
On Walking – Book Review