What is psychogeography?
Psychogeography is the effect and influence of a place/location on the mind, emotions and behaviour of an individual or population. It is the diverse activities that raise awareness of the natural and cultural environment around you, the attention to senses and emotions as they relate to place and environment and can also be a political and critical of the status quo.
What is Dérive?
Dérive is “A mode of experimental behavior linked to the condition of urban society: a technique of transient passage through varied ambiances.” Situationists used “ambiance” to refer to the feeling or mood associated with a place, to its character, tone, or to the effect or appeal it might have; but they also used it to refer to the place itself, especially to the small, neighborhood-sized chunks of the city they called unités d’ambiance or unities of ambiance, parts of the city with an especially powerful urban atmosphere. “Lynch Debord.”
Psychogeography is essentially about the awareness, or lack of, that we have when engaging with our day-to-day activities; we are so focused on getting to and from places like work and school but we don’t pay any attention to the journey, so much so that we miss out on a lot of things that could (or could not) hold any significance. We don’t stop to really think about why we are attracted to some places rather than others. We don’t really notice things consciously.
Although psychogeography was not recognised as a term until the early 1950s, the idea has been around in literature for much longer, like in the poetic writings of Poe or Blake. Particularly interesting are Thomas De Quincey’s autobiographical accounts from his work Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1886):
‘’… Sometimes in my attempts to steer homewards, upon nautical principles, by fixing my eye on the pole-star, and seeking ambitiously for a north-west passage, instead of circumnavigating all the capes and head-lands I had doubled in my outward voyage, I came suddenly upon such knotty problems of alleys, such enigmatical entries, and such sphinx’s riddles of streets without thoroughfares, as must, I conceive, baffle the audacity of porters and confound the intellects of hackney-coachmen. I could almost have believed at times that I must be the first discoverer of some of these terræ incognitæ, and doubted whether they had yet been laid down in the modern charts of London. ‘’
De Quincey’s use of psychogeography inadvertently paints the action as an act of privilege, whereby those with disposable time and income can afford to wander the streets and discover their secrets. The political drive behind psychogeography became more apparent in the 1950s with the Situationists. The situationist movement were staunchly against what they called ‘commodity fetishism’ and invested in the anarchy of play as a mode that defied the capitalist system. One of these acts of play was psychogeography. Exercises typical of a situationist psychogeographer include using maps of different cities to navigate your own, cutting up maps and rearranging them, and the art of dérive or unplanned journeys.
But what relevance does psychogeography bear today? With the increased use of GPS or Google Maps it seems that we have become altogether more and less connected, with the digital world at our fingertips whilst the real world takes a back seat. Journalist and self-confessed pyschogeograher Will Self describes this as an alienation from ‘the physical realities of our city’, a notion that has both social and political implications, particularly for those that dwell in the Big Smoke.
Consider the dependence upon systems external to the individual mind or body to navigate space; becoming unaware, for example, of how we have reached our destination even during regular journeys because of a reliance on GPS. Debord goes further and suggests that cities are capitalist designs made to accommodate the increased sale of automobiles, and exploit the need to travel from A-B, thus the increased inability to navigate our surroundings individually contribute to the infiltration and dominance of capitalist culture.
Walking also has gendered implications. In her 2006 book Wanderlust, Rebecca Solnit writes about walking in San Francisco: “I was advised to stay indoors at night, to wear baggy clothes, to cover or cut my hair, to try to look like a man, to move someplace more expensive, to take taxis, to buy a car, to move in groups, to get a man to escort me – all modern versions of Greek walls and Assyrian veils.” Thus she ascertained that “many women had been so successfully socialised to know their place that they had chosen more conservative, gregarious lives without realising why. The very desire to walk alone had been extinguished in them …”
Matthew Cusick cuts apart maps to create stunning collages and sculptures, including these portraits. The Dallas, Texas artist collects maps and cuts them apart according to color and shade, pasting them into these compositions on a board backing. But the particular maps chosen also have meaning in reference to the subject: “The people I construct out of maps represent certain ideas and moments in time that resonate deeply with me,” he says. “The maps I choose for each work relate to that person’s timeline and history. I’ll use these maps as a surrogate for paint but also as a way to expand the limits of representational painting. Each map fragment is employed both as a brush stroke and a unit of information. The human form acts as a matrix in which inlaid maps from different places and times coalesce into a narrative.”
Delicately interwoven like veins, the tiny green, blue and red strips of maps used to create these incredible sculptures are molded around a packing tape form to create a three-dimensional shape. Artist Nikki Rosato removes the land masses, leaving nothing but the roads and rivers behind, reinforcing the paper with wire as necessary. Rosato told Wired UK: “Through the removal of the land masses, the places almost become ambiguous since all of the text is lost. Unless someone really knows the roads and highways, it is almost impossible to identify the place.”
Maine-based artist Shannon Rankin uses little discs of maps to create installations, collages and drawings “that use the language of maps to explore the connections among geological and biological processes, patterns in nature, geometry and anatomy. Using a variety of distinct styles I intricately cut, score, wrinkle, layer, fold, paint and pin maps to produce revised versions that often become more like the terrains they represent.”
Chris Kenny fashions scraps of maps into complex three-dimensional forms, reducing entire continents to strange shapes hung on a wall or turning flat images of the world into globes. Kenny says he replaces “the cartographer’s logic with an absurd imaginative system. The roads float and interact in unlikely combinations that allow one’s mind to ricochet back and forth between disparate locations and associations.”