Proposal Presentation – 19/10/11


click here or the image

 for prezi presentation – inc references, artist images, theories and potential project output


Psychogeography: a beginner’s guide.

 ‘Unfold a street map, 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 format you favour: film, photograph,

manuscript, tape. Catch the textual run-off of the streets; the graffiti, the

branded litter, the snatches of conversation. 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 the content; footage for footage.’

 Robert MacFarlane -A Road of One’s Own 2005


The Society of the Spectacle.

‘collapse of reality into streams of images, products and activities sanctioned by business and bureaucracy’.

 Simon Sadler – The Situationist City – 1999


VCO 402  – 001 Proposal – essay

Cross-disciplinary investigations into

‘The Society of the Spectacle’ & ‘Psychogeography’.

Although the two terms above, authored by the French theorist, writer and filmmaker, Guy Debord and the ‘Situationists’ [and subsequently theorised by countless sociologists, philosophers and critics of literature, visual communication and art] defy absolute definition, this investigation has identified key devices used in the interrogation of the themes which will hopefully summarise the concepts explored in ‘The Society of the Spectacle’ [first published in 1967 in France] and his theory of ‘Psychogeography’, along with this investigation’s creative deployment of them.

The Society of the spectacle principally concerns itself with the ‘collapse of reality into streams of images, products and activities sanctioned by business and bureaucracy’ (Sadler, The Situationist City – 1999). Debord claimed that the ‘spectacular’ qualities of capitalism’s relentless manipulation of mass media, advertising, consumerism and the presentation of social and political messages only served to offer pseudo choices and a hierarchically selective representation of reality.  This served to disguise how capitalism was degrading the quality of human life, the quest for organic and creative experiences, and resulted in limiting meaningful social/political involvement. This exploitation of the ‘passive’ society is still clearly demonstrated in representations of celebrity, news, commodities and political debate today.

Psychogeography is defined as ‘the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals’ (Debord, Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography – 1955). It advocates experiencing urban landscapes on a more cerebral and subconscious level, revealing locations, environments and situations that may have been previously unknown or at least lay psychologically unexplored. By disregarding the manipulation of municipal signage, conventional navigation, inherent urban flow and the spectacular’s ‘guidance’, we are encouraged to witness and comment on not only the physical findings but also the transcendent, ‘spiritual’ effects of these discovered surroundings.

The devices identified as useful in the examination of these specific aspects of modernity are Détournement, the Dérive, the Flâneur, the Genius Loci, the Constructing of Situations and Unitary Urbanism.

Détournement can be described as “turning expressions of the capitalist system against itself” (Dery, New Culture Jamming – 2010). A ‘post-modernism’ of sorts, it promotes the misappropriation of the Spectacle’s own propaganda to comment back on its capitalist manipulation and degradation of human existence. An important constituent of détournement is the ‘intertextuality’ of the images détourned. The audience must be familiar with the elements used and misused for it to become contradictory or ironic, and therefore allow it to reflect or project a new message that is understood and contemplated.

The Dérive, the Flâneur, the Genius Loci and the Constructing of Situations can be discussed collectively within Psychogeography. The Dérive, simply meaning to ‘drift’, is the technique used to experience new situations in our urban landscapes; the navigation governed by emotion, desire or chance. Consequently by becoming psychologically ‘absorbed’ into the urban ebb and flow; you are a Flâneur of sorts.  These ‘Dérives’ and the perception enabled by being a Flâneur, would in-turn reveal opportunities to experience not only the ‘Genius Loci’ of an environment; the ‘spirit of the place’, which would often be in opposition to the conventional, accepted use or emotion of the location, but also allow for the ‘construction of situations’.

This term is, not surprisingly, the principal manifesto message for the ‘Situationist International’ [SI] movement of the 1950s – 60s. The SI encouraged experiencing life in opposition to the enforced leisure and commodity choices in the ‘public’ spaces and environments imposed on the masses by the capitalist order. This incorporated central messages from both the Society of the Spectacle and Psychogeography and would, in theory, facilitate both independent and communal control over all facets of life by the ‘construction of situations’; creating circumstances that allowed for the playful, creative and unmonitored fulfillment of these experiences. Typically like many of the Situationist’s theories, the practicality of constructing these ‘situations’ proved almost impossible. However rare but tangible outputs were the visualisations of environments that would encourage such ‘construction of situations’, such as Constant Nieuwenhuys’ New Babylon designed in 1971 [see appendix 2]. This desire for ‘Unitary Urbanism’ would hopefully support the denunciation of Euclidean, functional architecture and public space design, and the perceived manner in which ‘art’ is disconnected from its surroundings, creators and patrons.

These devices and themes offer multiple vehicles for exploration and production of artwork. Although the proposed overarching ambition of this investigation is produce a book and companion DVD [see appendix 1] that explores through imagery, film, sound and discourse, the implications of these theories, the immediate output will centre on selected areas.

As the principal interest in this topic was the potential artwork possible through the process of the Dérive and its exposure to the Genius Loci of discovered environments, locations and, for the purpose of this investigation, the people who may live, work and play in them, it is this area, along with the some use of détournement and its resulting comment on the effects of the spectacle, that will influence this initial collection.

The visualisations of these Dérives and any ‘Spectacular’ elements found within will enable the artwork [film, photography and graphics] to comment and play with what we expect to see and understand. The artwork will invoke and produce new meanings and realities, challenging perceptions and established visual readings of the environments or the spectacular imagery observed.

The work will explore urban spaces, some forgotten or unused, some inhabited and active, examining and redefining its history, current customs, memories and narrative. This work will also deal with how mediated imagery and the contemporary ‘spectacle’ effects our urban environments, psyche and expectations.

As a precursor to the potential book project, these initial works will be presented as selected chapters from this book and its companion DVD. The method in which the book is viewed, read and interlinked to the multimedia content, along with the page composition and typography will equally reflect the Spectacle and Psychogeographical content.

Although no explicit reference to these two themes is made, many contemporary artists have touched upon the concepts. In particular Tal Rosner’s urban film work, Dan Mountford and Hugo Delevante’s abstract, psychosomatic portraits, Nikolas Schiller’s geospatial satellite imagery, ‘LANscapes’ deconstructed urban forms and the many urban explorers and the street artists [see appendix 2].

Applying the devices and theories identified above to today’s modern cultural field of reference, this investigation hopes to not only add to the works listed above, but also advance the practice of artwork specifically aligned to exploring The Spectacle and Psychogeography.


Debord, G. (1955). Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography. Les Lèvres Nues #6. Paris: Translated by Ken Knabb.
Dery, M. (2010). New Introduction and revisited edition of Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing, and Sniping in the Empire of the Signs. USA: Pamphlet #25 in the Open Magazine Pamphlet Series.
Sadler, S. (1982). The Situationist City. Massachusetts: MIT Press


Coverley, Merlin. Psychogeography, Somerset: Pocket Essentials, 2010
Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle, London: Rebel Press, 1992
Rancière, Jacques. The Emancipated Spectator, US: Verso, 2009
Sadler, Simon. The Situationist City, Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1982

~ by mrtbrown on October 17, 2011.

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