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“Mongkok might be one of the world’s most crowded places, but sometimes all you need to do to escape is to make a right turn down a quiet alleyway. That’s what I discovered when I was walking from home to the Flower Market the other day. Instead of taking the usual route along Sai Yee Street, I ducked into the laneway that runs behind it and discovered a kind of parallel university of greenery, graffiti and informal living space.

(…) Halfway down the alley is a Chinese altar, some cupboards and a rack of clothes. I’m guessing it’s used by the street sweepers who work around here. Inside the altar are cards representing the various Chinese gods; several lottery tickets are taped to the side. Ash from spent joss sticks covers the altar floor”.

“Psychogeography: a beginner’s guide. Unfold a street map of London, place a glass, rim down, anywhere on the map, and draw round its edge. Pick up the map, go out into the city, and walk the circle, keeping as close as you can to the curve. Record the experience as you go, in whatever medium you favour: film, photograph, manuscript, tape. Catch the textual run-off of the streets: the graffiti, the branded litter, the snatches of conversation. Cut for sign. Log the data-stream. Be alert to the happenstance of metaphors, watch for visual rhymes, coincidences, analogies, family resemblances, the changing moods of the street. Complete the circle, and the record ends. Walking makes for content; footage for footage”.

Just what is psychogeography, in a nutshell? “Break it down into its two parts,” she says. “It’s the psychological and the geographical. It’s about how we’re affected by being in certain places — architecture, weather, who you’re with — it’s just a general sense of excitement about a place.”

“When you remake your environment, or find wonderful things in it,” he says, “it breaks you out of the machine” Dave Mandl

The word psychogeography was coined in the late 1950s by the letterists and the situationists — French artists and social theorists who adopted the playful-serious agenda of the dadaists and surrealists in an effort to break through the crust of postwar conformity. But modern psychogeographers are equally influenced by earlier strains of urban adventure, including the 19th-century concept of the flaneur, the idle man-about-town who observed and commented on the urban scene. The most flaneur-like style of psychogeography, of course, is algorithmic walking — that “first right, second left” approach.

Our consciousness of what was important and unimportant, beautiful and dull, in a small town had been completely altered. Our psyches had a new relationship with geography.

by Joseph Hart

July / August 2004

“Psychogeography is a practice that rediscovers the physical city through the moods and atmospheres that act upon the individual.

Perhaps the most prominent characteristic of psychogeography is the activity of walking. The act of walking is an urban affair, and in cities that are increasingly hostile to pedestrians, walking tends to become a subversive act.

The psychogeographer is a “non-scientific researcher” who encounters the urban landscape through aimless drifting, experiencing the effects of geographical settings ignored by city maps, and often documenting these processes using film, photography, script writing, or tape. In this way, the wanderer becomes alert to the metaphors, visual rhymes, coincidences, analogies, and changing moods of the street”.

Sherif El-Azma