(Merlin Coverley – Psychogeography)
As research for my photographic practice I am continually thinking about how others have adopted different approaches to walking. Previously I have mentioned Baudelaire and his highly influential notion of the Flaneur. The Situationists have also made an important contribution to the theoretical development of walking with Psychogeography.
The situationists were a group of avant-garde artists that came together in 1957, led by the Marxist Guy Debord. They desired a life free from the conditioning of the capitalist system, which they used as inspiration for their political and artistic undertakings.
Guy Debord wrote the situationists’ most influential manifesto of ideas under the title Society of the Spectacle (1967). The main concept behind the manifesto is that mass media and advertising create an artificial reality in which true everyday existence is hidden behind. This artificial reality Debord called the Spectacle. As a way of reacting to this dominance over society by the media, the situationists developed methods for everyday experimentation, the most notable being psychogeography. Guy Debord defined the term Psychogeography as “the study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.”
It was an inventive method for exploring cities, aimed at helping pedestrians to sway from their predictable trajectory. The ideal outcome was that pedestrians would become more aware of their overlooked urban surroundings and would begin to see new possibilities of experiencing everyday life in the city. Perhaps Debord’s most remarkable concept within psychogeography was his notion of the dérive (the drift). The dérive was an unplanned walk through the urban landscape, which was navigated by the individual’s emotional reaction to the surrounding cityscape. It was a method of wandering, in which the subjects trajectory was determined by the city’s psychogeographical mapping.
The situationists also used maps, making alterations to them in order to help instigate unpredictable trajectories. Debord himself produced a map in 1957 under the title The Naked City. The plan of Paris is cut up and divided into 19 sections that are randomly placed back together. The users of the map choose their own route through the city by using a series of arrows that link parts of the city together. Other experiments with maps existed including one undertaken by a friend of Debord who wandered through a region of Germany whilst following directions from a map of London. The situationists encompassed other intellectual devices into their walks for example, when they were manoeuvring within the landscape they would try to be aware of how their surroundings could be used to draw them toward the past. Cities were seen as historical landscapes, whose structure and appearances were shaped by temporal events that were buried but never completely erased. The situationists’ notion of psychogeography managed to draw attention to the importance of maintaining a link with the cities’ historical past and enticed many to explore the city with a new perspective.