Friday, 21 August 2020

A Psychogeography Bucket List

In early 2015 Anna Chism interviewed the British psychogeographer, Dr. Tina Richardson, ahead of the release of her edited volume Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography . This interview was featured in both STEPZ and Foxhole Magazine (vol. 1)

By Anna Chism
I eventually find Tina’s house just off the Leeds Ring Road. With a pub, bowls club, wooded area and dog-walking field opposite, it is a geographical combination of suburban-rural. I imagine it is an interesting space for a psychogeographer to reside. She has lived in this part of North Leeds for the past three years in a post-Victorian terraced house along with her elderly companion, ex-hippy turned nun, Sister Moonshine.
Tina could not be described as a reluctant interviewee, giving interviews to anyone who will give her a minute of their time. As part of the current revival of psychogeography she is one of the ‘the new psychogeographers’, the moment whereby psychogeography is becoming increasingly self-conscious and reflexive.
Tina welcomes me into her study – a room full of books and objet d’art resembling a pretentious kitsch version of Freud’s office-cum-consultant-room – and we settle by the window with our rooibos. I throw my coat over a fluorescent green plaster-of-Paris version of Rodin’s David and congratulate her on the record-breaking numbers of pre-orders of her new volume. And we begin.
AC: Tina, tell me the top three places in the world you would like to carry out a psychogeography-related project.
TR: At the moment – and this list would possibly be different if you asked me in a year’s time – it would be Dubai, Camp Bastion and Wymondham College.
AC: Well, I’ve heard of the first two, but where the heck is Wymondham College and what makes it a place ripe for psychogeography?
TR: It’s actually a secondary school in Norfolk not far from Norwich and it used to be a military hospital up until it became a grammar school in 1951. It’s a publicly funded boarding school and has a noteworthy campus format, and needless to say, an interesting history, which actually includes Anglo Saxon finds. At one time the pupils slept in Nissan huts left there by the British Forces and even up until the 1980s attended classes in the huts. Only one Nissan hut remains now, as part of the school’s heritage.
AC: What angle would you take if you had the opportunity to work on the campus?
TR: Well, while it would be easy for me to use the same methodology I did for my PhD – a schizocartography of a campus space (in that instance the University of Leeds) – I think Wymondham College lends itself better to one of hauntology. For instance, part of the original hospital has a mortuary, but more significantly than that are the anecdotal stories that have become memes promulgated by the pupils themselves. These ghostly stories about the college are passed on to all the new pupils by the older ones, often carried out in performative way at night and on specific dates each year.
AC: Tell me what it is about Dubai that takes your urban fancy?
TR: Ever since I’ve been a psychogeographer I’ve been interested in Dubai. I used to teach a class on it and used it as an example of a postmodern space. In a way it is a post-postmodern space. If Los Angeles represents the postmodern city par excellence, then Dubai represents the next phase of urban development, whatever the name for that might be. Dubai needs its own school of urbanism and theory like Chicago and Los Angeles had. This potential school would look at a dynamics of urbanism whereby actual physical space is created from ‘nothing’, either vertically, as in Blade Runner and The Fifth Element, or horizontally, for example like Dubai, from the sea, by creating islands of sand.
AC: What kind of problems might you anticipate if you were to carry out psychogeography in Dubai?
TR: I’m not sure what it is like for a woman to walk in Dubai. It is not a pedestrian-friendly city by all accounts. I did a project in Los Angeles – the city of cars – and that was interesting in a place where perambulation is a rare form of moving about the city. However, in regard to Dubai, my interest is in the spaces that have been formed out of the sea, such as the Palm Islands. These islands can be seen from space. They have changed the lie of the land on a very fundamental level and in an amazingly creative way.
AC: Thanks, Tina. Now for your final space. Surely you’ve missed the psychogeographical boat of Camp Bastion?
TR: Yes, I’m afraid that’s true. Ideally I would have loved to have done a project during the peak of its decommissioning, but it is coming to an end now. Camp Bastion is returning to the desert from whence it sprung, a bit like Dubai but in reverse. Camp Bastion was a city as well as a military airbase. It required a project in itself in the dismantling of it – actually costing six times more than that of its creation. It’s a unique space and it is this that makes it intriguing to me. Before Camp Bastion, Chernobyl was on my bucket list, but Chernobyl has been worked and re-worked a lot in recent times.
AC: How would you have made your case for doing a project in Camp Bastion?
TR: Well, I wouldn’t have passed the security checks even if there was the remotest chance they’d have allowed a 'civvy' on the camp. They would have taken one look at my website and thought ‘There is no way we are letting that lefty subversive anywhere near this base’!
AC: What other places are on your bucket list?
TR: Portmeirion, Fordlandia and Celebration would all be interesting places to explore, and for similar reasons, and are definitely on my list.
AC: Before we finish, can I ask you what you are working on now?
TR: I’m currently scheduling talks for the promotion of the book and working on the autumn edition of Stepz.

Before leaving the house, to head back to Leeds Railway Station, Tina successfully managed to cajole me into being the nth donor for the GoFundMe page for medical costs for the elderly Sister Moonshine and, irritatingly, insisted on walking me to Horsforth train station, pointing out all the "architectural phalluses" on the way!