Today was my first official psychogeographic walk.
After an individual meeting with John Schott this morning, in which he fully endorsed my new fascination (and me as a person, so thank you, Professore…) then challenged me to create something for Conflux next fall, I set out from Schonhauser Allee at 12:20 pm. I headed in the vague direction of 188 Brunnenstrasse, where we were supposed to meet at 14:00 at the Neu School for Fotographie to hear a talk by painter-photographer-professor Thomas Anschütz.
The practice of psychogeography, or at least Situationist-inspired conceptions of it, seems to me so far to be defined by the establishment of rules (although they may really be more like guidelines, to paraphrase a great pirate of our cinematic age). Working from or within restrictions has always been a way of inspiring creativity, whether as necessity giving birth to invention or Lars von Trier reinvigorating Jorgen Leth with The Five Obstructions (incidentally, I highly recommend this film). So I began by outlining these rules (or guidelines) for myself.
1. I must always be moving in the direction of my destination.
2. I can only walk if am also reading from the Introduction to Merlin Coverley’s Psychogeography as I move.
3. Every time I reach and cross a threshold, such as a gate or archway or either end of a bridge, cross an intersection, or turn, I must stop and write whatever word I have just read on the ground with sidewalk chalk.
4. Every time I write a word with chalk, I must photograph it from above.
The goals of this inaugural walk were many: to create an urban poem through chance that could be reassembled visually and would remain transcribed onto the streets for anyone who wished to discover it, to experiment with re-writing the city by physically marking it, to approach written theory in a non-traditional and almost automatic way, to distract my sense of sight from navigation to reading and therefore force myself to rely on my other perceptions to avoid collisions or sense when to stop, to experiment with recording my walks photographically, to inhabit the role of performer as well as observer and theorist of the urban environment. (Among many other unarticulated or subconscious goals, I am certain.)
So — was I successful? Although I feel this question cannot be answered negatively when one is engaging in a practice that creates a framework with the ultimate goal of simply seeing what happens, I would say yes, resoundingly so. Practically speaking, on this first walk, I was able to maintain my guidelines and work creatively within them, and I did feel like my relationship with the city, and my movement through it, was very much transformed by the performance. Elements of chance — a flower seller stopping to observe me, a delivery truck parking over one of my words before I could photograph it, the brief moment in which I was completely uncertain where I was in relation to my necessary destination — all of these things are part of what made it enlightening and worthwhile. I am still debating about how best to capture (or whether one should capture) the psychogeographic drift, but the photographic trace (which will be very shortly forthcoming!!) of the walk will itself will prove interesting and poetic and meaningful because it is a street poem that is what photography is to painting — full of the beauties of chance and serendipitous meaning.