Excerpt from Guy Debord's 'Detournement'
I’ve just finished reading ‘Psychogeography’ by Merlin Coverley, which is a short book that offers an explanation and definition of this widely used term, and an analysis of the key figures and their work. Generally regarded as a literary tradition, whose origins here are traced back to the visionary writing of William Blake and Thomas de Quincey in London to the rise of the flaneur on the streets of nineteenth century Paris to the avant-garde practices of the Surrealists and the post-war Situationist movement as headed by Guy Debord. Today the term and ideas associated with it seems more popular than ever with the work of writers and filmmakers such as Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair, Stewart Home and Patrick Keiller.
Still from Patrick Keiller's 'London', 1994
From activities such as urban wandering to the armchair traveller, from the derive to detournement, psychogeography aims to provide us with new ways of apprehending our environment and surroundings, and transform the familiar streets into something new and unexpected (yes, most of these words are lifted from the book jacket: I’m just trying to introduce it with some sort of comprehension!).
Guy Debord (left) and The Situationists
I thought I would enjoy exploring these ideas more than I actually did in the end, thinking it may offer me some frames of reference for my ‘edgelands’ work around the landscape. Plenty of the ideas discussed in the book are indeed latent in my work, and I feel my current motorway work has a more psychological edge, but on reading this book I realize it doesn’t come from being motivated in seeking these things out, more from the process of making things and letting things step out of the shadows to reveal themselves. My first motivation for making things still lies with an interest in the surface appearance and problems of depiction. These things are mysterious enough, and seem to get even more so when one spends a long time painting or drawing them.
JG Ballard 'The Seer of Shepperton'
Still, there were more explicit parallels to be found with my interests that I did find in writers such as JG Ballard, who in the 1970’s in controversial and experimental books such as ‘The Atrocity Exhibition’, ‘Crash’,‘High Rise’, and ‘The Concrete Island’ explored the pleasures and nightmares to be found in the hinterlands outside of the city of Debord et al in the motorways and retail parks of our urban landscape. These are the edgelands that interest me so I’m certainly going to try and read these. Psychgeography today also seems to be alert to the increasing banalisation of our urban environment which is something I’m very interested in, and I think my current still lives are a slightly fumbled response to this now that I’ve decided to ‘own’ these pieces more firmly.
I’m also keen now to try and seek out the films of Patrick Keiller. ‘London’ and ‘Robinson In Space’ are apparently an exploration of the wastelands created in UK by the Thatcherite policies of the eighties, which leads me back to those retail parks and the post-industrial Midlands landscape I feel buried inside.
Jock McFadyen, 'Arch', oil on canvas
Although, pyschogeography is recognized primarily as a literary tradition, I think there are certainly many connections with it to be found in the visual arts, such as in the work of Jock MacFadyen (above), an artist I particularly admire and have often posted on the blog. I’ll try and post some more examples as they come to mind….