Sunday, 19 April 2015

Psychogeographer in Residence at Willow’s Birthday Walk


As a blogger and psychogeographer, on Sunday I was invited to document Willow’s birthday walk (4 years old) in Hawksworth Woods, Horsforth. This was Willow’s inaugural walk in the newly appointed academic position of Horsforth’s Psychogeography Dog Fellow 2015, so I think it’s best if she tells her own story:

A number of humans arrived at the house at around 2.00 (including that weird walking women from 2 doors down who kissed me the other day and then got swollen lips, LOL!). Because of all the visitors in my gaff I got really excited and ran around a lot, practically knocking people over with my tail - I knew we were off out somewhere. Humans take so bloomin’ long to get ready and set out, however after allowing them to talk nonsense for five minutes, we were off!


I managed to calm down by the time we had to cross the road and behaved very well on the walk over to the woods. Here is me standing at the curb like my Dad told me to. I was rather troubled by the rules that I usually follow as, now that I am an official psychogeographer, I thought that this meant that I could, basically, do what I wanted. When my fellowship was announced, I was told that psychogeographers had historically been of a rebellious nature, so when I had to still wear my collar and continue to follow instructions I was somewhat bemused. Anyway, the minute I was off the lead I thought: I’ll show you who is in charge, it’s my party and I’ll be naughty if I want to!


I overheard the walking woman talking to my Mum about how hard it was to photograph me as I wouldn’t keep still for a minute – I mean it’s my birthday, right, and the wood smells so good and they’ve taken my lead off. So she had to drag me back from time to time for, what they called, a ‘photo op’. Here I am posing when Mum told me to pause for a moment so a photo could be taken of 'my best side'.


I found my current favourite stick in exactly the same place I left it (no other dog had stolen it – phew). And I spent the whole walk doing what retrievers do – fetching sticks that had been thrown for me by humans. I mean what could be better: imposing my will on the humans by carrying the stick up to them, dropping it, looking cute, and then making them throw it again – ROTFL! It was absolutely worth wearing myself out just for the sheer joy of getting them to throw the stick over and over again. That psychogeography woman told me that the philosopher Montaigne said something like “Do I play with my cat or does my cat play with me?”. Well, suckers, don’t be in any doubt. Here I am getting the young humans to throw the stick – get them trained early, I say ; )


I appreciate that I’m still finding my feet (get it) as a psychogeographer, but that walking woman kept giving me really confusing and contradictory advice. She said that the walk should be playful and based on chance encounters (a ‘dérive’ she called it – a pretentious French term, I called it), and that there should be no privileged hierarchy in the group, but then the humans kept giving me, and the smaller humans, instructions. So I decided that we should get together and lead the group, so here is me with a small human at the front in what you might call our ‘avant garde’ position ; )


At the end of the walk, which I do every day and had already done earlier today – not that I am complaining I love being outside, running free, sniffing free – I always get to play in the river. I can’t tell you how marvelous it is to do two of my favourite things at the same time. The weird walking woman said that retrieving sticks and splashing in the river would be the equivalent for her of drinking wine and playing with her gerbil. While you may think this is a euphemism, I happen to know that she has a gerbil – my furry cousin who lives two doors down – so I know that she really understands that picking up sticks in the woods and jumping around in the water is a fab thing to be doing on one’s birthday. So thank you all my human friends, large and small, and that mad psychogeography woman (who always eats all our cheese when she comes round), for giving me a lovely birthday walk. And thank you to the University of Leeds for endowing me with the new fellowship. I promise to be the best psychogeography dog you have ever had, if not the first!


Related (animal-psychogeography) links:
Walking with a Gerbil: Pas Le Grand Départ Dérive

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Walking Inside Out – Conclusion Extract 1

Resurgence and the Virtual


Our desire to not only explore the social history of a particular space, but also to express it in a personal and affective way that responds to the aesthetics of that place, is one that comes about through description via our imagination. It is an individual expression which is different for everyone, in other words a psychogeographically articulated response. Alastair Bonnett says a “much broader group of people are now interested and involved in psychogeography, many of whom have no interest in the Situationists. It may be argued that this is a form of depolitization or that psychogeography has outgrown the limited and exclusionary world of the revolutionary avant-garde” (2013 Oxford Bibliographies Online: Geography). If this is the case, then the sharing of psychogeographical accounts from whatever perspective (activist or otherwise) have been enabled through contemporary technology, with websites, blogs, social networking and aided by new ‘geo apps’.

The digital and satellite way of creating maps enables a synthesis with the older peripatetic method of simply talking and writing about walks. It allows the psychogeographer to include more tools for tracking their walks, presenting their information and making it available for others to access. These maps and forms of data collection show the infinite possibility of cartographies and ways for walkers to present personal and qualitative information. They offer a large degree of control of the mapping process to the user/cartographer. The open source software that is often used for these types of collaborations to a large extent disengages the data from capitalist production and, hence, provides more freedom of expression, production and distribution. This enables their use in explorations of space, creating mapping-oriented art for pleasure or for a variety of community-based projects.

The current resurgence in walking has coincided with a renewed interest in cartography encouraged by the availability of digital tools. While these tools are often used by non-specialist users in community and arts-based projects, the contemporary psychogeographer is at once embracing and critical of the new technology, preferring to use it as one tool amongst many for creating, recording and producing output from the dérive.

Related Links:
Walking Inside Out – Available for Pre-order
Axis of Exploration and Failure - Animated Map

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Monday, 6 April 2015

Stepz: A Psychogeography and Urban Aesthetics Zine

The Launch of a New Urban Walking Magazine


Stepz is a new hard copy (and digital) zine which has been set up by the contemporary psychogeographer, Tina Richardson. In the process of completing her edited volume, Walking Inside Out (due out July 2015), Richardson felt that there were voices within the field of psychogeography and urban aesthetics that she was unable to represent due to the limits of space. She set up Stepz as a way of expressing these voices. The summer edition, which will be out in June 2015, is a pilot edition and if it proves successful will continue. This is what Richardson says about the zine:
Lately I’ve been thinking about the future heritage of psychogeography. This issue came up when I was writing the conclusion for the new book, which is on what I’ve termed ‘The New Psychogeography’. As part of the conclusion to the book I looked at the previous resurgence in psychogeography – that of the 1990s and the London Psychogeographic Association (LPA). This led me to look at their material and, hence, I started thinking about the more ‘grass roots’ products of psychogeography (like Tom Vague’s zines and the Trangressions journal of the LPA). This material is more creative than a formally published book. I also wanted something that was going to eventually become part of psychogeography’s legacy, in say 20 years. I’ve added ‘urban aesthetics’ to the subtitle of the zine in order to open it up a bit and appeal to a slightly wider audience who might not necessarily know what psychogeography is.
Please note, until there is a dedicated website for Stepz, all information and the first edition will be announced on this blog.

Friday, 3 April 2015

The Rites of Passing in Mourning and Memorial

Kitsch Memorials at Lawnswood Cemetery


Lawnswood Cemetery is just off the Ring Road in North Leeds, north of Headingley and quite near the old Halls of Residence that used to belong to the University of Leeds, Bodington Hall. It has a really interesting topography which is worth checking out on Google earth. It is a well-kept cemetery with intricate pathways that enable you to weave your way around the complex terrain and even has a map at the entrance:


Lawnswood Cemetery has its own architecture manifesting in cloisters, archways and alcoves with memorials everywhere even these tiny kerb-level ones…


…however what I’d like to discuss are the, what I have termed, kitsch memorials, since these are the ones that often cause controversy in graveyards as depicted in the British media.


While there are strict rules at Lawnswood Cemetery about what you can and cannot place at your gravestone/memorial I include a couple that I describe as kitsch. In an article about this on the BBC website sociologist Professor Deborah Steinberg says:
People need to make loss concrete. They need to evoke the person they are missing. There are lots of different gestures that do that for people. I've been to lots of graveyards where I've seen tons of memorabilia, plastic windmills and so on. The disapproval of it has a history about decorum and appropriate behaviour and the aesthetics of mourning. (‘Should Graveyard Wind Chimes and Plastic Displays be Banned?’ BBC 2011).

Placed under the rubric of ‘taste wars’ people are polarised about these self-created memorials, with those who are in support of them offended by the terms used (such as ‘tacky’). Professor Tony Walter says: "There is no right or wrong in all this. But it means that cemetery and churchyard management requires great sensitivity and tact, trying to achieve in death a tolerance of others' tastes and a class harmony that we fail to achieve in life." (ibid.).

Related links:
Friends of Lawnswood Cemetery
St Michael’s Church Graveyard (Headingley)
St Chad’s Church Graveyard (Far Headingley)
St George’s Field Cemetery, University of Leeds
Kitsch and the Danger of Guilty Pleasures

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Walking Inside Out – Introduction Extract 3

Where to Now, Psychogeography!


Please click here for part 1 and part 2

In 2002 Iain Sinclair said of psychogeography that "the next step is to bury it completely! Let it go and let it re-emerge. I think it needs 15 years to gain some new energy, as I think this energy is rapidly running out" (cited in Pilkington and Baker 2002, ‘City Brain’, Fortean Times). Since we are now fast-approaching the end of Sinclair's 15 year embargo, perhaps this is a salient moment to begin to discuss psychogeography again in a critical way, and take a serious look at the work being carried out in the field. I hope this text contributes to this discussion. Sinclair further comments on this problem when discussing the work Stewart Home did with the London Psychogeographical Association (LPA): “Stewart Home says that the LPA deliberately mystified and irrationalised their psychogeographical ideas in order to prevent them from being academicised in the future. But they inevitably will be because Stewart himself is a sort of rogue academic, so it's self-contradictory in some ways. By doing it, it becomes part of this machinery in talks and interviews” (ibid.).

Nevertheless, Sinclair is in praise of walking despite his concerns with the term psychogeography. One thing that many walkers are preoccupied with, from activists to The Ramblers, is not just the marginalisation of our public spaces, but the marginalisation of the very act of walking itself. As Sinclair says in an interview in the Ramblers own publication: "We're at the bottom of the food chain and the day will come when we'll have the equivalent of bike lanes: a narrow suicide strip chucked in among the traffic. We'll have to have ghost walkers, like the white ghost bikes you see to commemorate dead cyclists" (2012, ‘My Perfect Day’, Walk). So, it seems, psychogeographers perhaps do have more in common than can be expressed in their differences.

Related Links:
Walking Inside OutAvailable for Pre-order

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Walking Inside Out – Introduction Extract 2

What Doth a Psychogeographer Make?


To provide an aphorism of what psychogeographers do and why they walk assumes they are a generic group, which is not the case. It is as difficult as trying to provide a pithy sentence to describe what a writer or artist does and why they do it. Nevertheless, there are some universal qualities that are representative of many psychogeographers and that may help explain their intention. For instance, they attempt to connect with the terrain in a way that is other to that of a casual stroll, bringing a focus to the walk that takes it beyond both a ‘Sunday walk’ in the country (where the landscape almost appears to be placed their in order to be admired) and that of the Saturday shopping expedition in the local high street. It is neither of these. Nor is it about getting from A to B - it is absolutely about the process itself, however clichéd that may sound. The walker connects with the terrain in a way that sets her/himself up as a critic of the space under observation, but at the same time they unite with it through the sensorial acknowledgement of its omnipresence. The space becomes momentarily transformed through this relationship. The psychogeographer recognises that they are part of this process and it is their presence that enables this recognition to occur.

The form and purpose behind the critique of the topology/topography will be very dependent on the individual walker. It might involve making mental connections with the space through a song or piece of literature or it may involve a philosophical/theoretical analysis of particular objects under scrutiny. It could also be an overtly political process which applies an assessment of the power structures in play in a given situation or even a physical act of challenging those very structures directly in the moment. This could be thought of as a kind of traversing, whereby the walker sees this as a negotiation of the space which questions established routes and draws attention to the possibility of approaching the territory in a different way.

Please click here for other extracts: Introduction 1

Related Links:
Walking Inside Out – Available for Pre-order