Michelle also said something in our meeting on Thursday that made me think. How do I see this work entering the community itself? What do I see as the site-specific application of my abstractions, symbols and drawings? I just discovered a Brooklyn artist who places tape in geometric (mostly cubes and rectangles) shapes in the street environment. This is the description from the Art in Odd Places festival in 2008: “In a city made up of rectangular buildings, windows, and blocks the artist plays with a shape that is symbolic of New York City. In the attempt to draw attention to forgotten dimensions and overlooked layers, he creates reminders and portals with cubes that allow pedestrians to see the lines they are surrounded by in a new light.”
Image from Art in Odd Places.
Aakash Nihalani currently has his first solo show at the Bose Pacia gallery and I’m actually so happy for him it’s as if I knew him as a friend. I feel such a kinship and understanding of the work he’s doing in the street environment, and he also has beautiful abstract paintings.
I’m putting together a presentation for Seminar class that started out trying to define psychogeography and it’s really interesting to track the trajectory of my research. I started with psychogeography on Wikipedia. Apparently the term was coined by a man named Ivan Chtcheglov in the 1953 essay “Formulary for a New Urbanism”. He was then banned from Situationist International (SI) and was eventually committed to a mental institution where he went through shock therapy and eventually died in 1998. It’s horrible how fickle the SI and Lettrist movements were and there was constant turnover in the membership of both movements. Guy Debord seems to be the only constant name throughout, and also the only member with a full theoretical work, Society of the Spectacle. I read this book over the summer after finishing Naomi Klein’s No Logo and was inspired by the lofty language and theory of the former while learning about case studies through the more practical language of the latter. Both books are essentially about the “spectacle” of contemporary society, and not having to accept the way it is just because that’s how it is.
You can see the similarity in beliefs from the biography of Guy Debord on the European Graduate School site: “At the beginning of the SI movement their goal was to transgress the boundary separating art and culture from the everyday and make them part of common life. They theorized that Capitalism has the effect of diverting and stifling creativity, dividing the social body into producers and consumers, or actors and spectators. The SI saw art and poetry as a production by all people, that this was a way to make art the dominant power rather than having power rest in a small group of designated men. They argued for complete divertissement, and were against work. By 1962 they were applying their critique to all aspects of capitalist society, and no longer limiting it to arts and culture.”
It also turns out that Debord was quite the heavy drinker and the SI movement did most of their theorizing in bars around Paris. Not the upscale bars that philosophers like Camus frequented, but smaller, seedier places. Debord tragically committed suicide in France in 1994, at which time the French press memorialized him after never acknowledging or recognizing any of his work before.
Psychogeography began in this way as a critique of urban geography. In the late 50’s and 60’s the French intellectuals and artists that made up SI were contemporaries to the Beat generation in the US. They rejected the traditional experience of the street, which they considered part of the spectacle itself with expressionless, cold modern glass towers. Le Corbusier was their nemesis because of his insistence on homogenous architectural structures and spaces that left little adventure in their chance and exploration. They proposed a more organic and spontaneous encounter with the city landscape. Debord describes the theory of the derive: “In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. Chance is a less important factor in this activity than one might think: from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones”
Chance. That was the theme of the latest Art in Odd Places festival in New York City. It’s surprising that this event (or series of events) is so related to the theory of Dada and Situationist movements but they make not one mention of it on their site. In the opening sentence of the curatorial statement they mention the word spectacle, which is an obvious nod to the work of Debord without literally saying it. As the statement goes on, they suggest that chance gives us the opportunity to move past our cultural conditioning to see the world in a new way. They aim to reveal undetected aspects of the city through performance and sound-based work.
Coming soon: a critique on this event series and also the Conflux festival.