Tag Archives: psychogeography

manifesto one: unfinished from the vaults

 

I’m getting nostalgic and graduating soon, beginning to transfer emails and the like, and I discovered this in my Drafts box of my Zimbra account.  I vaguely recall having written it in Microsoft Word, but then sending it (as yet unfinished) to myself so it would be accessible on my Dad’s iPad.  It was, I think, for the purposes of referencing it in my impassioned justification to my parents, in a small cafe in SoHo, of my intentions to become a professional psychogeographer.

Re-reading it, I’m reminded of how quickly I fall in love.  And that it really is fun to get lost and wander on occasion — or perhaps that this is what makes life worth living.

—– Original Message —–
From: “Anna Swanson” <swansona@carleton.edu>
To: “Anna Swanson” <swansona@carleton.edu>
Sent: Thursday, 23 June, 2011 11:08:26 AM
Subject: psychogeo rant

INTRODUCTORY THOUGHTS

I am undeniably enthralled by the world of potential that is this ‘psychogeography’ – a slippery term, at once very specific in its historical implications, yet expansive as we apply it in a backwards glance to all manner of artists, drug addicts, authors, wanderers, theorists – many (the vast majority) of them male.  But while it is a historical practice, it is exploding as I write, largely because, it seems to me, post-modern theory and art is obsessed with place and space and the dichotomy and interplay of those concepts, obsessed, to an extent with ourselves, and the data we generate, seeking theory and art in daily practice, the epitome of which could be said to be walking.  On one level, this is incredibly silly, to say that simply taking a walk is suddenly critical or artistic, but it speaks to the smashing of this boundary between low and high culture – the introduction of the idea that perhaps everyone, even without knowing it, can be an artist and a theorist without even realizing it, simply by carrying out their daily lives.  Perhaps, proof that life and art are no longer separate, or never were, and have finally been seen as the simultaneous processes that they are.  For me, life and art feel like the same stretch of sidewalk; it is simply a matter, I think, of changing one’s shoes and, yes, going for a walk.

But here is the thing: psychogeography is not simply walking.  Yes, walking is a big deal, historically, but when we look back at this so-called original definition of the concept, the words of Guy DeBord in 1955, we simply encounter it as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.”  Not, of course, that this is the be-all and the end-all of the field – quite the contrary as we observe its rapid proliferation and thrilling transformation into all sorts of crazy and critical manifestations.  But psych geography is just that – our emotion and behavior in dialogue with our environment.

I think that on an entirely personal level, this is fundamental to my own interest in psychogeography.  It appears as a coping mechanism for my mental processes, a means of combating inertia, because it insists on movement, to some extent.  Even when it is concerned largely with mapping or physically stationary labor of interpretation, the mind is on a journey that is noble but not inert, following paths that in themselves are the creation of meaning.

But I began this meditation with the intention of clarifying, somewhat, the (vaguely) exact nature of psychogeography in this very moment and the approach that I might prepare to take to it, as an artist, explorer, theorist, and lost little kid.  In many ways, psychogeography speaks to the college student on the cusp of adulthood, to the Peter Pan in all of us, because it makes okay our natural tendencies towards uncertainty about the future and our sense that anything can happen; it takes the fear we have of this looming ‘REAL WORLD’ and gives it credence as art and theory.  It makes noble our existential angst.  Uncertainty about the future is by this estimation the norm, and is therefore, most certainly, quite certain in our lives.  It is a beautiful and natural thing, like sex and war and photography and dance.

Phil Smith has been drawing a distinction between ‘psychogeography’ and ‘mythogeography’ – which, for his purposes, is probably a good thing to do, and is an important step in outlining the psychogeographic vocabulary that I believe needs to be laid out, to a certain extent.  This is one of the many aspects of psychogeography that I see as something worth sinking my teeth into, as it were – things that need doing, for my own personal understanding, and perhaps for the coincidental benefit of a few other individuals.  Who knows?

By my reckoning, psychogeography (and art, and theory, and perhaps all things) should be grounded (or sky-ed) in intellectual and/or visceral notions, but should never forget LIVED EXPERIENCE – which should prove impossible if psychogeography is practiced in a ‘proper’ manner (although I am also of the opinion that, as psychogeography is at heart the practice of taking an interest in the self and the world, it is near impossible to do so improperly, except perhaps by being non-existent aka dead, in which case the point of practicing anything is likely moot).

[Just as a side note of interest, in the first draft of this manifesto, the length of this document after typing the word ‘moot’ was exactly the length in word count of the year AD of the Battle of Hastings.  I find this intriguing, although not necessarily ontologically meaningful.  Simply of note.]

CONTINUUMS

Psychogeography is taking all sorts of forms in this modern moment.  Some undeniable trends are the integration of new technology into the understanding of our (particularly urban) environments, such as GPS, Foursquare, Smartphones, Google Maps, and a host of other technological (almost all internet-based applications).  But this, for me, begs the question: what about those of us without Smartphones?  Is it really the case that we can’t engage with our environment without the aid of such constant technology, such constant integration with the virtual?  There seems to be either a deep and unsettling irony to the necessity of using virtuality to explore our relationship with place and space and movement, things that are arguably very much grounded in the ‘real’, or else a need to accept that this is simply another facet of the modern urban landscape.  The latter seems to be the easier option, as rejecting technology, luddite-like, is not surprisingly a significant challenge in this day and age, and it seems to be what we are doing as a broad psychogeographic community.

Still, to explore this need for technology through the means of psychogeography itself would be a very interesting piece, although one with an expiration date, because soon I myself may have a smartphone, and as the ubiquity of such technology exponentiates, the applicability of a critique may become less and less.  Who knows.

But, in true consideration, virtual life/technology/internet is itself becoming so much a part of both our psyche and our landscape (even the physical landscape – just step into Times Square and you have all the proof you need) that integrating new technologies into our exploration of how our psyches interact with those landscapes makes complete sense, and perhaps to the point that failing to integrate such technologies is a sort of blindness in itself.  Who knows.

But , to return to the thought that was intended to begin this section, psychogeography is almost anything right now.  This is both daunting and thrilling.

To drift, something has to be at stake – status, certainty, identity, sleep.
In a drift, self must be in some kind of jeopardy.

“the streets are full of lost and lonely texts”
Assemble a street poem.  Chalk it on a wall.  Curate your graffiti for ten years.  Photograph it regularly.

Say a mantra or read a poem, every time it ends turn left/right, take a picture
Find all of the words of a poem in order in the city, photograph them
Draw with chalk
Stalk someone
A street poem of chalk

Whenever I see someone taking a picture, ask them to take a picture of me, and take a picture of them (or take a picture together)

THEMES // METHODS

 

telephone feat. gps

After several years of utter bliss with my Sanyo Katana, I was recently forced to recognize its growing ghetto-ness and make the plunge: upgrading to a smartphone. Consequently, I am now the proud owner of a Samsung Transform with Android technology. (And sadly, no, I am not getting any kickbacks from anyone for these opening lines of blog post. Lovely as it might be to actually make a little money this summer.)

Aside from transforming (!) the way that I communicate via text message, the acquisition of a smartphone presents interesting opportunities and ethical questions to the developing psychogeographer that I am. Many of the coolest things that are happening in (what I am dubbing, for lack of a better term) “organized psychogeography” rely on online integration with mobile technology, such as Tim Clark’s Ice Cream Island at Figment NYC or any number of urban games and reimaginings that involved QR codes and the ability to link an individual in the real world to an online network or augmented reality.

In this overwhelmingly digital age, we tend to assume that everyone is pretty much internet capable, all the time, at least in the Western world. But what about people who can’t afford to upgrade to this new incarnation of the teched-out cellular device? Before I got my own smartphone, I had been ruminating for some time on my own exclusion from large sections of the psychogeographic community and playground, and had some moderately grand designs on creating some psychogeographic trek/art piece that addressed what I see as a modern tendency indicative of underlying issues of privilege and socioeconomic disparity. I may still craft such a piece, but part of me feels that it would lose its impact in light of the fact that I now possess Android capability, wherever I should wander.

More broadly, this raises the question: should the elevation of life by the power of art be restricted based on means or access to technology? In the best of worlds, of course not. On the one hand, not having a smartphone could be comparable to simply not living in New York, if you want access to The Met, but it still presents an interesting opportunity to consider the disparities in wealth and access to art that do, undoubtedly, exist. Also, this isn’t just a psychogeographic issue: consider the $20 entrance fee at the MoMA. (Consider it, artists, and then check out how to culture jamufacture your own pass.)

However. Now that I am Android equipped, there are a lot of cool directions in which I can (and am already beginning to) expand my own practice of psychogeography. Honestly, the main reason that I begged my father for an upgrade was that it was much cheaper and more multi-functional than purchasing the independent GPS tracker that I had been dreaming of as a means to track my progress through the strange and mysterious urban jungle of the Big Apple. Thus, I have initiated myself into the branch of the field that Tim Clark’s professor has dubbed ‘obsessive psychogeography’ (and realizing that I had already been doing this by hand with distances, routes, and times for cycling adventures since the impressionable age of 14 or so). Here is one of my tracked treks as yet, using the opensource technology for Android, MyTracks, exported very simplistically to GoogleMaps (I will do fancier, more artistically abstract things with raw GPS data once I get the hang of this and develop some conceptual frameworks):

chasing light, instead of ice cream trucks


One other worry that I had about getting a Smartphone was that the navigation apps would put an end to my frequent practices of finding myself truly lost – a skill at which I am shockingly adept, given my chosen path in life, although it is perhaps an indication that I will at times diverge, perhaps inadvertently, but ever with the sense of greatest adventure, from that path. Or maybe it’s just that becoming a full-time psychogeographer allows me to legitimize for inherent inability to navigate by the shortest distance from A to B without serious preparation and/or practice.

My sudden discovery that I was deep into Queens for the first time yesterday afternoon was proof that this is not an issue: I can carry a smartphone, and still lose myself. I was attempting to bike to the Upper West Side to do some filming for my documentary on Tick Out of Time, and having made the trip twice before, I thought it would be interesting to see if I could do it now without using the directional assistance of my Samsung. It did prove interesting, in all the best psychogeographic ways. Knowing I had to head vaguely northwest to cross the Pulaski Bridge and then the Queensboro into Manhattan, I set out in that general direction. Unlike the Ritter Sport gridding of The Island, North Brooklyn and Queens (I have yet to discover quite where one becomes the other) comprise a whole different candy bar. I have never been to Queens proper, and somewhere around 51st ave, I turned a corner to be confront be a sea of graves, spreading out beyond the horizon it seemed: the Mount Zion Cemetery.

Over 210,000 departed Jewish souls.

And then, returning, I crossed two bridges over an unexpected tributary of the East River, the first a great green steal rattler that, I noticed only after having traversed it, exhorted cyclists to “dismount and walk across”. This thrust me into the winding, wheel-rattling back roads of an industrial park that seemed to capture my first impression of Queens: towering factorial edifices and trucks scuttling between unreal cardboard blow-ups of Honest Tea and Vitamin Water.

At some point I re-encountered Bushwick Avenue, by pure luck and general reorientation of the self/cycle combo in relation to the river, which I followed home, musing on my first, sweaty encounter with Queens. My thoughts followed my pedaling feet down a consideration of the way that psychogeographing via bicycle transforms the practice. It’s much less tempting, and much more of a hassle, to pause and photograph at such apace, at least in the way that I have become accustomed to making pictures. When I take out my Nikon, I tend to be deliberate, focusing on enigmatic bits of humanistic evidence or pieces of light and angles of buildings that strike me. But, if I learned anything at all from watching Art School Confidential last week, I am awfully young to be having my own style — especially in how I manifest my psychogeographs. I may start taking pictures with my phone, or taking continuous video, or consider means of attaching cameras to my body (ala the Looxcie, which I may get the chance to ogle this evening!), or even going, on occasion, to the Will Self-ian extreme of pure literary presentation (more thoughts on that illustrious fellow to follow in due course, I assure you). Of course, the medium of translating any performance piece, if we are considering psychogeography to be as such (and I think it is, but maybe only sometimes), must depend on the nature of that piece. So ‘psyclogeography’, if you will pardon my coinage of a new and rather excruciatingly punning term, may call for a unique brand of recording and understanding, just as it must influence the nature of the psychological and physical journeys that it enables. Either way, it showed me Queens as I had never (quite literally) seen it before.

My trusty two-wheeled psychogeographic steed.

in which i fully embark into the world of art

Perhaps I am a glutton for…productivity (as opposed to punishment), but I would like to announce that I have now signed on to a second internship, and a pretty sweet one at that.  Last week, I sent an email out into the ether in response to a perfect-sounding video-streaming/new media/networking/psychogeographic-sounding internship call, and was pleasantly surprised to hear back on the same day with an offer to be taken onto the project.  So last evening, I met Andrew Demirjian at Rags-a-Go-Go, an awesome vintage shop on west 14th street, where part of Andrew’s latest video installation piece, Scenes From Last Week, is just getting set up.  The set-up is pair of video streams in opposing store-fronts, which record and play back in real time, but also play back the synced footage from previous days.  As days pass, the installation goes from being simply paired shots of today/yesterday to arrays of 4 or 6 or more days, inviting passersby to glimpse the past and notice patterns in the daily life of two sections of urban space in Chelsea.  Andrew has also put out a call to performance artists or anyone interested in being featured to engage the repetitive nature of the media by returning daily and performing for the camera, or sharing a series of words, or whatever might strike one’s fancy — the project is very much about the social engagement and reaction of its viewers and participants, the interaction between past(s) and present, as well as the patterns of the urban setting and the interaction of the physical and psychological aspects of our environment.  It is very much, I think, a form of psychogeography that keeps the psychogeographer as a practitioner of stationary surveillance, getting momentary glimpses into a sort of always on-going but unrecognized psychogeography of the collective commuting community of Chelsea.

A previous incarnation of the current installation, from the perspective of the camera watching people watching themselves in real-time.

Andrew’s current work and interests seem to align pretty perfectly with mine, and also with the summer projects and obsessions that I already have going: documentary/non-fiction film, psychogeography/algorithmic art production that engages the urban space.  From the sound of it, I will be fairly involved in helping him create a second installation at Eyebeam, where he is an artist-in-residence, from the footage gathered by the current installation — this installation will deal more directly with Andrew’s main research there, which is in exploring the viability of algorithmically-edited non-fiction film as an interesting alternative to standard narrative approaches to filmmaking.  We will be experimenting with different ways to combine the footage, and to take this vast database of days and days of recorded sidewalk happenings to create patterned combinations of footage, drawing on Andrew’s interest in the rhythms of music and perhaps my interest in the syllabic patterning of structured poetic forms such as haiku or the Shakespearian sonnet.

Basically, I am incredibly stoked about this internship, although it really seems more like a cross between an artistic partnership and a private independent study, with Andrew even offering to give me some articles on new media by Lev Manovich to read, in response to which I enthusiastically told him that “I dig theory!”  (And having already read a little of Manovich’s work, I definitely don’t mind getting some reading assigned — it’s really fascinating stuff on databases and surveillance and modern incarnations of Foucault’s panopticon and whatnot.)  More and more I am realizing that I want to marry my love for film with my broader artistic and academic interests in psychogeography, and more and more I am realizing that within film, what I really love making is non-fiction: documentary, experimental, non-narrative, what-have-you.  Doing so algorithmically is almost like engaging in a psychogeographic exploration of the filmic medium and a given set of footage, which is totally cool, and perhaps exactly the sort of direction I’ve been looking for.  I think I said it recently, but it’s no less true: Living the dream.  Living the dream.

The official opening reception for Andrew’s installation is this Friday, July 15th, at 218 W 14th St (Rags-a-Go-Go in Chelsea) from 6 pm to 8 pm, and the installation will run from July 15th to August 15th.  If you happen to be in the Big Apple this weekend (or in the next month!), come check it out!  I’ll be there taking documentary footage, like I do.  Quite probably WITH A CANON 7D!  O___O

if i can make it there

I don’t think I’ve ever given Liza Minnelli enough credit.

Yes, maybe her money notes have an unmistakable edge to them, and yes, maybe she has grown up in the shadow of her mother’s talent and tragedy, but after watching Scorsese’s New York, New York at Anthology Film Archives for the first time last night, I really do appreciate Liza.  (I’ve always been on a first-name basis with her, mostly due to my having picked up somewhere in my youthful musical theatre career an impression of her that consist of drawing out her first name in what I thought to be a decent version of her voice, a rather unfair and entirely ungrounded in actual knowledge of Liza Minnelli performances.)

Martin Scorsese's 1977 tribute to my new home.

Sometimes I doubt myself as a CAMS major, but watching this movie reminded me how I always remind myself why I love movies.  You devote 155 minutes to Scorsese, and to Liza, and by the end you care so hard about Francine Evans that you are sitting in a dark, half-filled theatre with hipsters and academics and nostalgic aging New Yorkers and snappily-dressed queer dudes from the Village, and you are sobbing as you listen to that iconic number.  The words mean things to you that they would never have meant a week ago, but now you have moved to New York, if only for the summer, and all the time you have spent thinking “WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH MY LIFE?” is made into a needle by those words, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere…”  It pierces the left side of your chest and you feel yourself swelling and deflating at once, tears streaming down your face, and it feels SO GOOD.  Films that make you realize how you know yourself remind you why you wanted to spend your life studying these strange little miracles called movies.

Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro as lovers and musicians in New York, New York.

New York, New York is built on a love story, but it is at its heart, a love story about this city.  Francine and Jimmy don’t last.  But each of them finds success (sort of), which we see through Scorsese’s brilliant contrasting of their respective final renditions of the theme song.  You end up alone, but you have this city, and your art, and your self — three things that speak, in concert, directly to my own fascination with psychogeographic practice.  But most of all, the film, which is beautiful in spite of (because of?) the rampant drug use and sexual intrigue that went on behind the scenes in its production, spoke to the way that I am rapidly falling in love with this place — madly, head-over-heels in love.  It inspires passion like no other location I have ever encounter; New Yorkers, a motley and lovely band among which I aspire to count myself, all seem to have incredibly strong feelings about the city.  About the bagels, the pizza, the water that makes the bagels and the pizza the best in the world, and in particular about themselves.  So many of the residents have pet theories about what makes New York ‘New York’ or what New Yorkers are or ought to be, and so many of them seem willing to discuss this with me, from the fervent recommendations from the lady ahead of me in line in the bagel shop a few mornings ago on Long Island, to the pleasant surprise of an animated conversation with a high school girl from Senegal on the 1 train heading to 86th Street.

Maybe this is all a sort of glorified narcissism, and this self-absorption is what underlies both the on- and 0ff-screen dynamics of New York, New York.  But it is perhaps our selves that we know best, and in creating art and thinking critically about what we know, these lived experiences as New Yorkers and human beings, perhaps we can find by induction some small bit of truth or clarity that sheds light on the human condition.  This, I think, is what Scorsese and Minnelli achieve in last night’s film, and what I ought to be trying to achieve in my time here.  So forgive me for doubting you, Liza, and keep on singing your anthem to this eternal metropolis of misguided dreams and minor miracles.

post-transitory thoughts

I have now officially been a New Yorker for three days.  After a week spent getting over a surprisingly tough round of post-Denmark jet lag and the overwhelming joys of seeing everyone I love on the Carleton Campus, I have again moved on, this time to THE BIG APPLE, where I am interning at Anthology Film Archives and hopefully helping (and documenting) fellow Carls Gabe and Henry as they make a feature film.

In many ways, being here is like beginning yet another study abroad program — although I have visited the city as a tourist about five times previously, actually living and working in New York is as foreign to my experience thus far as being in Japan or Denmark was.  And living in Bushwick, which is heavily populated with Puerto Rican families, the predominant language is even Spanish, so I may have to brush up on my language skills here as well.  So if you count New York, by the end of this summer, I will have spent 9 of the past 12 months ‘studying abroad’ — which is strange to think about, and perhaps underlies the sense of constant movement and exhilaration coupled with a lack of permanence that I have been feeling.  I am very transient, on the cusp between student and tourist, between theorist and traveler.  And this, in large part, is what is drawing me so strongly to psychogeography — an awareness of the necessary motional state of being that is my life for now, and my youthful and energetic and perhaps over-eager desire to discover and create and postulate and explore.  Because the essence of psychogeographic exploration is really to explore with curiosity — with an open mind and open eyes.

Admittedly, my approach to New York still feels very star-struck, in many respects, from my realization that the “Goings on About Town” section of The New Yorker is now actually applicable to my daily life to my giddy disbelief at simple things like jogging in Central Park or buying tofu and milk and Gushers with Theo at The Food Emporium (cue RENT reference…).  Incorporating “Bleecker St” and “The Bowery” into my vocabulary is kind of thrilling.  And while I was first struck by the so-called ‘sketch factor’ of my living arrangements (and have been struggling not soundtrack all aspects of my life with further RENT references), a little bit of unorganized psychogeography this afternoon revealed the charm and character of my Bushwick neighborhood (and at the risk of generalizing, gave me the feeling that I had been plunged into a Spike Lee film).  I went out in search of a library card and a set of sheets, and ended up walking Bushwick Avenue at least 15 blocks or so, and meandering back until I reached Knickerbocker Avenue, which the Bushwick BK had informed me would be the panacea for all my shopping needs (which it was, since I only need sheets, and I found those, but was disappointed to learn that the Spiderman pattern only comes in twin size…).

On my walk, I learned a few things about the visual culture of the area — or rather, what one can learn about the area itself from visual presentations therein.  There are quite a lot of flags flying in the area, and while a few of these are standard stars and stripes, the vast majority are Puetro Rican flags, which is an obvious but interesting feature of my walk today, given the shocking lack of racial diversity among which I have grown up living.  Next: I have a habit of pretty much always wearing a bandana or keffiyeh around my neck, and I tend to choose the color or pattern based on a combination of what is clean and what will go well with whatever shirt or other articles of clothing I have on.  Today I opted for green, and while strolling through the further reaches of Bushwick, I was engaged in conversation regarding the color of my bandana — “You like green?”  “Green in good, right?” “We like green, but green don’t like yellow.” etc.  Luckily I was wearing the ‘right’ color for my brothers in the hood this afternoon, but I could just as easily have pulled out my yellow bandana, which is a sobering thought.

I was reminded quite suddenly of the different meanings of something as simple as a single color (or less simple, perhaps, when it carries the gang-related baggage that has become attached to the bandana as an article of clothing within areas of major cities) — and, once out of sight of the kids commenting on my neckwear, promptly removed it in case I ran into any ‘yellows’.  The inner-city semiotics of self-presentation are a perfect case-study for the specificity of culture in the meaning of any visual that becomes proscribed as a ‘symbol’.  This is also a fascinating case of reader-response criticism (and the integral nature of cultural context): as the ‘author’ of my outfit, my intended meaning of “I am a hipster look at my thift store ironic fashion and film-related t-shirt with this cool green bandana” was not read that way.  I’ll probably reserve my neckwear for Manhattan, where I know my audience will be a much higher hipster-to-normal-person ratio, so as not to prove Roland Barthes right once and for all.  But really, Bushwick is quite safe — just an excellent spot to meditate on medium specificity and knowing one’s viewer.

weekly update (like snl, but on thursdays)

Ten days have elapsed since my last blog post, but they have been far from uneventful.  In the course of a rather ambitious psychogeographic expedition, I had the opportunity to became intimately acquainted with both the former sites of the Berlin Wall and the German health care system.  I saw Robert Beavers and P. Adams Sitney go head-t0-head, as it were, at the Arsenal Cinema screening of four of Beavers’ films, in a slightly tense but fascinating juxtaposition of the critic and the artist, and had the immense pleasure of seeing the entire first reel of Early Monthly Segments for the second time in the space of a few days — there is truly something to be said for repeated viewing, especially when it comes to avant-garde cinema.

The following day, I returned to Robert and Ute’s to spend a wonderful, inspiring, and thoroughly enjoyable several hours discussing film, Japan, and life, watching Ute’s latest cut of her film Young Pines (working title), cooking a delicious dinner of salad, potatoes, white wine, and white asparagus (I’ve never had it in the states…so good!!).  I often feel that as a student, there is a sort of impenetrable veil between my status as a student and the ‘real world’ of working artists and publishing scholars and people who are not in a strange transitionary phase between child and adulthood that we call college.  But spending that evening with Robert and Ute felt like that wall was shattering (how appropriate, in Berlin…) — being engaged as, if not a peer exactly, at least a fellow member of this small but dedicated community of people who care about experimental cinema and unique critical and aesthetic ways of approaching the world, as an initiate into part of the world of artists and thinkers that I intend to live my life among.

Since my last entry, I have also survived a psychogeographical experiment in wakefulness lasting 41 hours and producing several pages of automatic text and roughly 700 similarly ‘automatic’ photographs, I have survived the trip to Copenhagen (where we are now comfortably situated for the remaining week of our European adventure), I have survived The Rapture (although not without the intriguing appearance of bleeding holes in both of my palms…), and I have survived my very first real interview, with John Mhiripiri, the director of Anthology Film Archiveswhere I will be working as an intern this summer!

All this is to say, it’s been quite the week or so, on top which is of course the release of the newest Lady Gaga album, Born This Way, which I have listened to approximately 37 times already, in its entirety, and follows nicely on the iPodic heels of the audiobook I just finished last Wednesday, Tina Fey’s Bossypants (both of which are, as aural texts, seminal to the current debates that compromise quasi-4th-wave feminism, and on which I would love to expound in a later post…).  Clearly, my brain is swimming in critical and artistic commentaries and revelations and epiphanies, some of which will hopefully be shared on this forum for thought, but in the mean time, I am also swimming in media projects, the least of which is a massive-ish personal book of photography, theory, and musings from these ten weeks in Europe, which I am theming around the word and concept ‘traces’ (nod here to Derrida, of course).  It will, handily enough, have an online incarnation, so look forward to that in the near future (this is NOT an empty promise — I’m working with a deadline!!), but in the mean time, forgive me in advance for another probable lapse in blogging, and certainly let me know which of the many fascinating recent events of my visually cultured experiences you want to hear about at greater length!

Now to charrette — as John Schott always says, ‘ANDIAMO!’

introduction to psychogeography

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.

going crazy

“I have never been so intellectually turned on.”

Those were my exact words this morning, eliciting a skeptical glance from my friend Sam.  They came post-lecture, a lecture in which I took notes feverishly and simultaneously did research on the internet and tried to type as quickly as could in order to capture all of the new ideas pouring into my brain.  The topic of the lecture?  Psychogeography.

Okay, maybe I’ve been falling madly in love with this concept since I read a sizable chunk of Mythogeography a few days ago.  Or perhaps, since the tender young age at which I realized that I get lost really easily — a revelation that has made me conscious and appreciative of the intense processes of locational self-re-discovery that I am always subjecting myself to, whether somewhere strolling in the cornfields of Minnesota or running at random in the light of early-morning Berlin.  Definitely from the moment I read Michel de Certeau‘s Walking in the City, and first conceived of the city as text — now, I am discovering that there is an experiential-experimental, critical-creative world of almost-academic reinterpretation of the city that makes meaningful my tendency to lose myself and my love of the urban landscape and the loveliness of being alone and looking for nothing in particular and therefore finding everything.  This is psychogeography.  This is the legacy of Guy DeBord, of Baudelaire, of Dada and Surrealism and the Lettrists and the Situationists, continued today by Will Self and Iain Sinclair and Stewart Home, and now, ME.

As part of our new media studies trip, we’re supposed to be designing derivés (psychogeographical walks) for ourselves, and I am simply brimming with ideas and excitement about this.  I’ve been testing some of my thoughts as I wander the city, thoughts not yet organized to truly count as self-contained performances of walking, but nonetheless — I’ve followed other people at random, followed only people holding hands, created street-crossing algorithms, put my iPod on shuffle and turned every time the song changed, I’ve gone out into the world as a departed soul with the goal of determining if I have gone to heaven or to hell.  In stumbling about through a multitude of potential psychogeographic ways of exploring, I am sort of engaging in a meta-psychogeographic, randomly associative walk through my own mind and my newly-forming conception of all the things that psychogeography is now and may yet be.  Hopefully before I depart Berlin, I can fully engage with several of my many many MANY ideas, and I will undoubtedly make use of this blog as a forum and medium for translating my performances and experiences into document.  But I have a feeling this will be something I do beyond Berlin.

When I fall in love, I fall hard, I fall fast, and I fall pure.  This is hopeless romanticism of the mind and of the feet.