Session 3: Performing the city: psychogeography and experience

The third session of the Latymer Mapping project welcomed guest speaker Chris Collier, who introduced us the ideas and history of various ideas of using and encountering space differently, such as Derive (or drift), psychogeography and performative space. These practices have been arrived at through a variety of influences, including art movements Situationists International, Lettrists, Dada and Surrealism, Romanticism in the literature and poetry, and cultural figures such as the 19th century Flaneur.

Chris presenting to the Group on Situationism, Psychogeography and Derive

Chris presenting to the Group on Situationism, Psychogeography and Derive

Psychogeography was defined in 1955 by theorist Guy Debord 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.

Another definition is:

a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities…just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape.

During the break, we listened to some ambient recordings of places from the local area, trying to focus on the way sound affects our sense of place and memory.

We then tried our hand at a surrealist game, involving the Irrational Embellishment of the City!

In 1933 the Paris group of surrealists conducted a series of collective games that involved participants articulating automatic responses to various pre-selected stimuli and in March that year the topic was ‘some possibilities for the irrational embellishment of the city’. The activity was conducted through the technique of ‘psychic automatism’, basically free association, and participants were required to propose how to ‘conserve, displace, modify, transform or suppress’ each of a list of thirty-one Paris monuments.

Taking well known London Landmarks, such as Nelson’s Column, Horse Guard’s Parade, The Millenium Dome, and Centre Point, we split into two groups and imagined ways in which these monuments and spaces might be put to use differently.

It sparked interesting conversations about class, wealth, and the experience economy. Whilst this game may have seemed subversive in 1930’s Paris, some of us felt like our suggestions would make viable proposals for tourist attractions in London. It was noted that our proposal of a giant twister board on Horse Guards Parade was not so dissimilar from it’s planned use in this year’s Olympic Games:

Beach Volleyball 2012

During the London 2012 Olympic Games, the Beach Volleyball competition will take place on the Prime Minister’s doorstep at Horse Guards Parade.

We also considered the Admiralty Arch standing between Trafalgar Square and the Mall. Suggestions ranged from the fun and absurd – turning the arch into a skating park, an outdoor cinema or on its side as a giant frankfurter-inspired piece of public art, to more serious musings on a subversion of its current use and reflections on current economical and political policies in the UK – ousting the ministers who can use the office spaces in the arch completely free of rent and providing social housing, and turning the arch into an enormous LCD display counting the rising UK debt (and with potential for further expansion should the need for additional zeros arise!)

In the future, we hope to build on the exercise thinking about Spaces and Landmarks in the Notting Barns area, thinking about how they might be used more “irrationally” or otherwise departing from their intended use.

Chris is involved with the University for Strategic Optimism, a group organising around free and open education, a return of politics to the public and the politicisation of space. Their blog can be viewed here: http://universityforstrategicoptimism.wordpress.com/.

Chris has also been involved with an activist group working against gentrification in Elephant and Castle. You can read about their activities and research and here: http://southwarknotes.wordpress.com/

The group meets regularly at 56A Infoshop: http://www.56a.org.uk/

We also planned ahead for the next session, in which we will be using a situationist sensibility to direct where our walk around the area, asking people we meet questions to determine our course!

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