On Psychogeography

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Manhattan, fabric on wood, 18″ by 24″, 2014

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Iceland, fabric on card, 18″ by 24″, 2015

When I first moved to NYC, I looked for a map. In London there’s the A to Z a handy small map book you can take everywhere. But that doesn’t exist in NYC, people just asking others which way is X street- tourists and natives alike. I really liked this approach to navigation and along with Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, it made me think of other individual approaches to map making.

Something I had been introduced to long ago was psychogeography, a concept of a map reflecting the pyschology of the city, created by an individual’s response to the city. No one’s two maps are the same, and built of the places we, as individuals, place importance on, rather than equally giving billing to every street/area on the map.

The term originates with Guy Debord, part of the situationist art movement, in 1955 and can be defined 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.”

It’s an idea that embraces drifting- the dérive-  exploring the city through a sense of wonder. In “Theory of the Dérive” 1958- Debord essentially created the manual of how to drift, “In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their usual motives for movement and action, their relations, their work and leisure activities, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there… But the dérive includes both this letting go and its necessary contradiction: the domination of psychogeographical variations by the knowledge and calculation of their possibilities.“**

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Guy Debord’s map of Paris “Psychogeographic guide of Paris: edited by the Bauhaus Imaginiste Printed in Dermark  by Permild & Rosengreen – Discourse on the passions of love: psychogeographic descents of drifting and localisation of ambient unities” ***

The film Robinson in Space, was one really great example of pyschogeography in London, filmed by Patrick Keiller, it’s rambleurs journey of all the places Robinson loved in London.

However, I was more inspired by the idea of individual’s maps, and the idea that these maps can also change over time. Personally, I have moved back and forth between London and Los Angeles -incredibly different cities in terms of culture, people, architecture, urban planning- and the ping ponging between the two, would always inform how I saw the other- both as a memory ( i.e a memory of L.A while in London) and as a physical space ( going back to L.A after having grown in London), the other becoming idealized and more foreign the longer I was away. L.A became a city within one of Marco Polo’s travels in Calvino’s Invisible Cities, described by hazy memories, often which looking back were probably more fallible than not.****

The maps I created are of cities I have lived in, or visited, some with an immediate response, some with a response of many years of overlapping memories, some as a time capsuled response to a particular year.

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London, paint and sequins on organza, 29″ by 29″, 2016img_7103

Los Angeles, paint and sequins on canvas, 18″ by 24″, 2016img_7105

London II, paint, fabric, sequins, beads on wood, 24″ by 24″, 2014

 

For more basic info on psychogeography see here

For a great article of 2 British psychogeographers /writers- Ian Sinclair and Will Self see here

For another interesting set of psychogeographic skyscapes from Tokyo check out this

For a smell map of NYC see here

 

*Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, 1955 by Guy Debord.

**Situationist International Anthology. Berkley: Bureau of Public Secrets, by Ken Knabb, 1995

***http://imaginarymuseum.org/LPG/Mapsitu1.htm

**** for an interesting read on the Science of Memory- look at Pieces of Light by Charles Fernyhough, which examines how we create memories, and how we remember them, often falsely.

About CT

Claire Townsend is a freelance costume designer/maker and theatre practitioner.
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