Sunday, 28 December 2014

WAR UNIVERSE


The above image War Universe #1 was produced after reading Peter William Slater's excellent essay 'This is a War Universe': Mappa Bellum or Mapping the War Universe, which can be read at playgrounds in prison via this link. The image is a composite of an earlier drawing, Interior of Museum for Atrocity Exhibition, and a US battle map of Hue from the Vietnam/American War.

I've recently returned to Saigon, started a new (temporary) job and am living out of a suitcase so haven't had a great deal of free time to be as productive as I would like. Please accept this picture as my Yuletide gift to Psychocartography's followers.

Monday, 15 December 2014

AN OUT-OF-PRACTITIONER

“The important thing is to continue production, creation [thus] preventing stagnation. The most dangerous delusion of all being that this has to mean something…”



Whilst it is tempting say that I hate eating my own words, the truth is I’m so accustomed to it I find it almost palatable. Hindsight renders the outcome of the most minor of personal goals crushingly inevitable, to the extent that I have on occasion developed an irrational aversion to ever recording any kind of plan. It’s a sort of inverted magical thinking, whereby the magical act of spelling out a desire absolutely ensures that it will not happen. I doubt Noel Edmonds and I would get on very well, though that would likely be true even if our respective perceptions of causality were not diametrically opposed.

In my [pseudo-]academic work this attitude has helped me to embrace the philosophy of process over goal, though in truth the seeds of this shift were sown by my interest in psychogeography. The derive can occur on the page as well as the street, in a free-flowing concatenation of words or an apparently meaningless arrangement of pencil marks. It doesn’t have to mean anything, per se, though it does have to be done. And the ‘doing’ part presents a significant challenge.

At present I teach English as a foreign language to Vietnamese students in Huế. It is a challenging and rewarding occupation, but one that has gradually absorbed my time to the extent that I pretty much eat, sleep, plan lessons and teach. There are moments of respite, but these are characterised by a stupefied exhaustion, usually witnessing me staring blankly at a movie in the local coffee shop, or clumsily hitting balls around a wonky pool table with an equally wonky stick.

If all this sounds familiar, it may well be because I wrote about this back in October. Oh well. I’ve also written that repetition is a form of change, perhaps as an insurance measure (that being the case it would show some of that foresight I’ve previously described as uncharacteristic).

As of Friday further investigation into Huế’s “psychogeographic currents” will be postponed for a fortnight at least: I will be in Saigon, teaching at a new language school. This promises to be a rewarding period for the work alone, but also presents another chance to explore Vietnam’s largest city, as well as the chance to buy some quality English language literature.

Until then, I will tentatively present the ultimate goal of this literary and pedestrian (in every sense, perhaps) meandering as this: metamorphosis. Not a destination, but a state of being, something like that which Deleuze& Guattari describe in Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus:

“…a free man, irresponsible, solitary, and joyous, finally able to say and do something simple in his own name, without asking permission; a desire lacking nothing, a flux that overcomes barriers and codes, a name that no longer designates any ego whatever. He has simply ceased being afraid of becoming mad. He experiences and lives himself as the sublime sickness that will no longer affect him.”


But yeah, process not goal, unless the goal is the process...

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

THE MAP AND THE TERRITORY (AGAIN)

The geography of Huế, in common with many cities, is strongly connected to the river that runs through it. The Perfume River, Sông Hương is therefore an excellent starting point for future explorations of the psychogeographic currents that flow through the urban environment. Here follows a preliminary study using photography, montage, drawing and mapping. Derive and detournement are employed in the creation of the series of psychocarts published below.


The strong geometry of the city's ancient citadel, represented in this US ordnance map over-emphasise the dominance of the Forbidden City upon its outlying territories. Whilst it is over forty years-old (pre Tet offensive) and thus represents a city somewhat different than the one experienced today, the impression that the cartographer's hand was drawn to the citadel's regularity when it drafted the above plan is nonetheless hard to shake. By night a far more noticeable presence along the banks of the river are the monuments to Vietnam's contemporary rulers: namely Mammon, whose neon altars infuse the sky with magenta, violet and electric blue. 



Drifting along the river, long exposures grant an impressionistic take on the unsettling ambience. Electric light, by turns romantic and horrifying, burns itself onto the retina. The boat rocks steadily, trailbacks tracing the journey like a seismograph. 


Several exposures, overlaid atop one another, brought out a hitherto unseen iridescence, reflecting the lipid substances floating on the water's surface.



Crudely rendered in watercolour, the cones of light stretch across the river from bank to bank, interspersed with imaginary possibility fields, pencil lines tracing currents and torrents, the resultant image- a spectral grid- was ripe for superimposition,



Crudely, the image below represents one interpretative snapshot of Huế, 2014, on top of another western interpretation, circa 1968. Seemingly random spectral cones, erupting from each bank, are intersected by two orthogonal grids: the first is Cartesian, providing grid references for ordnance drops and troop movements... the other is extruded from the Forbidden City's own geometry and extends into the immediate suburban street layout. It dates from the late 18th Century but is indebted to an older cosmological system.



In an effort to uncover the design logic behind the Forbidden City's orientation I needed to look no further than a panel in the citadel's exhibition centre. As a UNESCO world heritage site, the Forbidden City provides  an abundance of historical information, particularly concerning its structure and layout. Thus far I have not bothered to decipher the precise meaning of the site's geomancy, though this presents one interesting avenue of research, a sign post for another tangential derive. Suffice it to say, it is informed by Chinese feng shui and is particularly concerned with the citadel's relationship to the Perfume River, as the intriguing site plan indicates below:


The final step in this crude mashing of psychocarts was to overlay the geomantic plan onto the previous psychocart using Photoshop. A little bit of artistic layer blending was employed to get the required mix of clarity and obfuscation:



Thus we witness the birth of the strategic map, the psychocarte, for further psychogeographic investigation. Below is a sequential frieze showing the interplay of the four grids:

L-R: cartesian ordnance grid plus orthogonal site architecture; overlaid w. spectral grid; geomantic plan; final psychocart
Next steps are tricky considering the cost of site access, though continued ranging of the perimeter (whilst considering the supplantation of imperial untouchability with tourist exclusivity) should prove productive. The human element is integral, and the simplest narrative thread goes something like this: byzantine court rites, colonisation, civil war, post war austerity (and decay) followed by economic and tourist development. Of course, seeing as it is fun to celebrate my international derive with clichéd gap-year re-evaluations of occidental cosmologies I should start thinking that time is a bit more like a spiral or something... hence final image... 



Tuesday, 25 November 2014

DELIRIUM

Interior Hue College of Education
People dream of the tropics. After some time here, sickness has granted a thick edge to my dreaming. Like a blunt knife it's torn through the veil, crudely, and brought a fresh madness to my wakeful hours. 

...map/diagram/landscape
sketch: arch over dross-channel
So instead of lesson planning or thinking about my future I'm doodling inanely, convincing myself that a new landscape aesthetic might also successfully synthesise Marx and Adam Smith, thus ending one of the feuds (one! one of feuds! hehehehe!) currently preventing us (us!) from achieving (achieving!) utopia (-).

....ultimately it boils down to land-value tax...

Landscape in a sketchbook panel
It's a relief, in a way, to experience wild delusions again. Always the finer part of psychosis. Caught in the usual neurotic fuzz I have been inert, fretting, afraid to commit. The dashboard of this Blogger account is littered with drafts (like corpses in charnel houses...)


...something about groundlines


writing about rhizomes induces a desire to draw complete graphs

The important thing is to continue production, creation preventing stagnation. The most dangerous delusion of all being that this has to mean something, that what is produced has to withstand some kind of academic or aesthetic critique... from where is that likely to arrive? Whose criticism is capable of causing me any injury?

on the left, heteronymous heresy; the right, nonsense



Cybernetic humans are not the next step in human evolution, they are the first step in cyborg evolution, we are their parasites, not the other way round.
And so, with renewed vigour, into the abyss I descend. 

Again.

30 second exposure in shadow of citadel wall, long enough for me to get in the photograph twice.






Sunday, 19 October 2014

SPARREK

The latest update for Adobe Photoshop provided, for a change, a genuine surprise. It wasn't a new tool or feature or tweak to the layout, but instead the choice of ident for the splash screen. Literally three seconds of googling later and a raft of content was displayed promoting the work of the image's creator, Kylli Sparre- or Sparrek.


Sparrek specialises in highly stylised, manipulated photographs with heavy overtones of fantasy. What proved seductive, had less to do with the surrealist manipulation of the photograph and more to do with the central performances of each framed view. Sparrek's background in dance and choreography suggests an interesting jumping off point for the creation of performative space... for me, anyway.







Sunday, 12 October 2014

A WHIP FOR HUẾ


Riding a bicycle around a foreign city presents many challenges. The language of road-use differs from place to place: the toot of a horn, the flashing of lights, the nuance of a suggested manoeuvre... these are not universal, they are idiosyncratic... or to stretch the linguistic metaphor, they are idiomatic. I am a foreigner trying to fit in: my tongue is tied, my accent is dreadful and when I say the wrong thing I can be crushed beneath the wheels of a Bia Huế truck.

The roads I negotiate (usually) with the single-speed beast above. It's a different animal to what I'm accustomed- it has no cross bar, has heavy mudguards and is completed by an only very slightly useful basket on the front.Some time has passed since last I rode free-wheel and I'm rediscovering its charms: the peripheral (though perpetual) threat of death on the road is tempered by the joy of coasting through traffic or accelerating around a bend on a slight incline. Sun setting over the Perfume River in rush hour, wind in my hair... I revel in clichés as a pig in shit.

video


Yet the emphasis on steady flow as opposed to stop and start coupled with the anarchistic approach to traffic management (rules are there to be obeyed... if it suits you to obey the rules) somehow makes Huế seems like the ideal place for fixed gear cycling. I miss my bike. I wrote a short piece about my 'discovery' of fixed gear cycling a few years back (curiously, it concludes with a similarly clichéd take on the experience of cycling over a bridge) and still believe that riding fixed is an excellent method of topographical investigation. The yellow velo died a death, I'm afraid (my collar bone was fractured in the incident) but was replaced by a bomb-proof trick/track hybrid that I have abandoned in Babylon.

My failure to investigate Huế's geography in a meaningful way is in part a consequence of my adoption of the bicycle as primary means of getting from a-b. Getting from a-b... there's the problem, right? With fixed ideas of where I begin and end, the space and time in between become nothing more than a series of minor obstacles. Fleeting moments of sublimation (cruising over the Perfume River, wind in my beard) are just that- ephemeral, transitory... passing. They occur when the traffic opens up, the roads widen, the sky opens and the threat of imminent annihilation seems to pass- or at least seems irrelevant.

Whilst cycling, the experience of the city is nested within the experience of the ride. Conversely, walking nests the experience of the walk inside the experience of the city. Previously I had considered these differing experiences in purely spatial-temporal terms: the volume of space traversed increases at the expense of the time needed to appreciate it, thus the city becomes a backdrop to the experience. Having eschewed pedestrian transport  since arriving in Huế an awareness of the social aspect of the derive has grown, one I had not really considered before. A walk through a city that lives and breathes possesses a soundtrack comprised of human voices as well as the voices of the machines they manipulate. Half-heard eavesdropped conversations and the sing-song chants of pedlars are augmented by direct exchanges between the walker and the others... polite exchanges, the kissing of teeth... sometimes even genuine conversations. I have been remound of the interactive element to psychogeography. It is an active, not a passive pursuit. That said, it's worth noting that conversation is not precluded by the mode of transport one chooses to use: often am I accosted by interested locals as I pedal to work, riding their scooters beside mine and asking a series of questions about what I'm doing and where I'm going.

When you're the stranger who's come to town, it's impossible to be A Man in the Crowd. Ultimately, I'm a tourist... and I will forever be marked out as such by my height and complexion. My pursuit of efficiency on the road, racing from job-to-job, has all been part of a semi-conscious desire to blend in to get on with things. This is not how a city is appreciated or investigated. Perhaps we all need to start behaving more like tourists.

I'm going for a walk,  

Friday, 10 October 2014

COMING SOON... CHAINROCK: USERS' GUIDE


...an alluvial island in the Thames Estuary, recently.
Never go back, they say. They say a lot of things, however, and it's best to lead by example. It's best not to lead at all in fact. Going back is not necessarily negative, it depends what way we're facing. Going forwards, looking backwards.. or the reverse... this is dangerous.

We cannot go back. We can revisit, but it's different. It's not the same. So when I revisited Canvey Island for my final project at Greenwich, I found myself redoing the project in its entirety. Predictably, I made many of the same mistakes in execution as I had the first time around. The process was no less rewarding. Repetition is, after all, a form of change. In Leonard Cohen's novella Beautiful Losers the mantra is "I change, I stay the same... I change, I stay the same..." a Leonard koan?

A ship at rest, at last, on the muddy banks of the Thames Estuary.
 Setting process aside and looking at product, two Canvey projects left me with a bundle of loose ends and untethered threads. There is a certain mindset that obtains enormous pleasure from untangling knots. It is not a mindset that I possess: I lack the patience and am insufficiently conscientious. However, I'm proud of some of what was produced and would like to share it with others. There are enough ingredients to put together an interesting meal. But this is not fine dining, and instead of neatly contrived courses it is more likely to resemble a one-pot stew, possibly with some bread to soak up the juice.

As a quick recap, the (second) project was concerned with the reclamation of Canvey Island's Occidental Jetty ("Chainrock") by a group of convicts in order to create a self-sufficient self-governing penal colony. The armature performed the role of conduit, connecting land and sea, and as vector for the landscape processes responding to the prisoners' hierarchy of need (water-shelter-heat-food etc.)
Shipbreaking: not the redemptive power of forced labour, but a necessary subsistence strategy in a new colony.

The concept of the "users' guide" was initially explored as a framing device for the detailing of the project: since the project did not lay out an immutable final design (the site would be continually undone and remade by its users), the "detailing" would consist of helpful suggestions for the site's occupants (i.e. biotopic filtration beds, reclaimed furniture templates, improvised fixings etcetera). Chainrock:  Users' Guide was thus intended to faithfully recreate a document that might exist in the fictional universe of the project.



Time constraints meant this ambition was not realised and ...Users' Guide joins the other confused Canvey concatenations. Of all the unfinished projects it may have the strongest individual case for completion, but in a plebiscite it would win a plurality, not a working majority... I cannot ignore the needs of the other parties and their constituencies, and instead we must enter some kind of coalition.

Hence the one-pot meal approach. By first of all accepting that whilst the initial concept of ...Users' Guide may well have been realised in one version of the Chainrock universe, it exists as a partially finished project in this universe. Likewise, the project exists in multiple forms, in this and other universes. A new realisation of ...Users' Guide might thus serve as a portal into these parallel worlds and also as a psychocartograph of the creative processes that led to the various realisations of the Canvey Project.

In conclusion, the text Chainrock: Users'Guide is currently under production. It may/may not be available online and/or offline any time soon.

Monday, 29 September 2014

VOYNICH CONSEQUENCES I

Take 8 texts and 8 people.
Each person selects five lines and copies them out.
Re-distribute the copied lines amongst the contributors.
Attempt to construct a narrative by each person placing a line in turn.
Illustrate the story.

(this may take some time)



I have, however, a hundred objections to make. Uncle Jerry had a smell too. His looks repel him; their brown backs and their dusty tops seem to jeer at his loneliness. Hear him, with voice thick and husky, a cracked laugh, talking rubbish and ribaldry, and in the midst of balderdash gleaming now and then a gorgeous sentence that drivels away again into a cadence almost idiotic. In this manner hours passed by without further interruption. 

"Upon them were found the letters from Hannibal to Philip..."

Then, for the first time, Hawkeye was seen to stir: how could anyone compel her to submit to someone who had so insulted her? Two powerful warriors cast themselves on Heyward, while another was occupied with securing the less than active singing-meister.  Upon them were found the letters from Hannibal to Philip, and a copy of the treaty.


"Our feelings ought to be respected!"


The Senate, after making such an answer as pleased all the ambassadors, ordered M. Valerius Levinis, the proprietor, to advance towards Macedonia with a fleet, in order to examine matters nearer at hand, and be in a condition to give immediate aid to the allies.  


"Well, you wouldn't credit how ladylike she looks. Were you fond of Venetia? You could scarcely bear to see her walking. "



"Yes, and it's over now."

"The interested eyes of the lieutenant sort her frequently..." 

The interested eyes of the lieutenant sought her frequently, and he felt a secret pleasure at the thought that probably he would be allowed to enjoy her society for a whole week, maybe two, for the marching orders ran "until further orders".  A gentle murmour expressed the sentiments of all that were present. Daddy was getting angry. 


"I know they would, I heard two religious ladies talking about me."

"The Welsh?"

"I hope your beast won't bear malice, Tom, for this would be an awkward place for him to try his capers. To say that is only [****] is on many accounts a thing to be deeply deplored."

"If I may venture upon a suggestion," said old Mrs Von Bock blandly, "it would be to fetch them both at the same time with the carriage."


"Then Miss Eden raised her to her heart and told her her sweet secret."
Then Miss Eden raised her to her heart, and told her her sweet secret. Venetia was astounded and hurt.

"Noa," said her father, "what does she want wi' readin' an' larnin'? It ought not so to be!"


"Who will say to the wife of Merawgwa that her fishes have his scalp, and that his nation have not taken revenge! The Lord has done great things for us these last hundred years. If any man thinks that our cause is in no great danger, I can only marvel at his blindness. One thing is very clear, and that division is a great cause of our weakness."


"Venetia, but fore her shadowy legs, was a plump child."
Venetia, but for her shadowy legs, was a plump child. She was a hedonist, but she was intelligent enough to be sceptical of pleasure. She did not seem to guess the vicar was there...

"Anciently, my tributaries!"

""Bringing before his mind's eye the symbol of his faith..."
Bringing before his mind's eye the symbol of his faith, he strove, by contemplation of the sublime love and pain, to melt his heart into tenderness for the suffering wretch he was going to see, and to bring more vividly before him his terrible condition.

By this time Duncan was thoroughly awake, and he immediately lifted the shawl from the sleeping females. Didn't I tell you he was going off his head, and that I wanted to know what is best to do for him? Romans. Romans to bring over other kings to their fide by the attractive charms of advantage.

You were all horribly afraid, I know, at the beginning, that it was going to be a love-story; and one is really so tired of them. Venetia's childhood is not that interesting.


Wednesday, 10 September 2014

EPHEMEROPOLIS [CITY OF IMPERMANENCE]


You teased her about her accent, strange RP-Cumbrian hybrid, she admitted she was posh. It was a dance, of course: contrived and spontaneous, utterly affected yet entirely uninhibited. So you allowed yourself a smirk, pleased at producing something passably insightful at this late hour, in these unfamiliar arms, beneath an alien sky.

The details of the dance are never the same but the theme is constant. As in the city, you were empowered by your own insignificance. You felt small and unimportant and it made you feel sublime. A pixel in the bigger picture. Lurking, always, was the terror- part of you clung to itself. Part of you was unwilling to be swallowed by the glorious whole. This quiet yet persistent voice was the ghost of you, trapped in meat and bones, trying to find itself. It searched for its own reflection in the eyes of others, and in reaching to embrace its own echo, became entangled in flesh. Only then did it realise its purpose. Only then was it truly you and you truly yourself... or some idea of yourself with which you were comfortable.

You could tell she liked horses, it went with the accent. You had a piece prepared, something about a song and something being lost in translation... about the primitive instinct of all children to cover their cavern walls with animals. It wasn't necessary, you'd both got what you wanted. Maybe you wanted something more. Maybe you were asking too much.

You were asking too much. Distantly, a plaintiff cry of "Terrible presence! Eat me or perish!"

Her arms were wrapped around your neck, you stared up at a canopy of man-made fibres. Suddenly everything became very real: outside, dawn broken, no stars but one shining down on the city of mud and ketamine. You didn't want to leave, did you? You wanted to remain entwined within her, long and lithe, a heaven of flesh and black curls, but the world was seeping in, slow and insidious, mud and ketamine. Then the alarm, something out of sync. Though it wasn't meant to be so the exchange of numbers felt cursory, and with disappointment you entered the new world.

Stretching into an improbable infinity an ocean of poorly erected tents buckled and writhed beneath hammer-and-nails rain. Man-made fibres in gaudy colours, flapping in the south westerly, monuments to haste, their crooked poles creaking, filling the silence of muddied youth face-planted in the sodden ground. One foot falls in front of the other, clumsily edging around the quagmire, a dance too, of sorts.

Men in luminous jackets guide the way. Don't climb on trees. Don't enter where it says exit. The Lord of Misrule ordains that the misfits now set the boundaries. Toothless meth grin and a walkie-talkie. The marginalised becoming the respected; the respected the marginalised. Inversion, carnivalesque. Bakhtin.

Bakhtin? Bullshit.

Just one of several visions of the same thing, invisible city inside every city, endlessly repeated kaleidoscope li[v]es... you are lonely. You think predetermined, pre-packaged thoughts. You are xerox, simulacra, you are nothing.

You are nothing without someone else.

I followed your breadcrumbs into the woods.

"We're in the woods?"

"You dropped these."

"Where have we just been?"

"Where are we now?"

"That won't be important until later."

When everything became realistic again, you called her number. It was not recognised, predictably. 

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

20 000 VIEWS

In celebration of reaching 20,000 views, I think it's only fitting to post a video of some water getting sucked down an unseen hole.


video

Sunday, 27 April 2014

VOGUE COMES TO CANVEY


In November 2013 UK vogue decided to use Canvey Island as the location for a fashion shoot. The spread was titled Somewhere Girl- Be Carried Away by the Tides of the Season and featured a solitary model expertly shot in a variety of implausible locales around Canvey’s sea front.

The choice of location was perhaps not especially remarkable. The juxtaposition of the glamorous world of fashion against the mundanity of a fairly typical British seaside resort in fairly typical British decline serves the art director’s goal of emphasising the aspirational aspect of buying and wearing expensive clothing. It could be seen as yet another example of the fetishisation of entropy, with its antecedents in the ready-made-ruins of the picturesque garden through to the hyper documentation of central Detroit’s decline via Bernard Tschumi’s 1970s Advertisements for Architecture (“the most architectural thing about this building is the state of decay in which it is [sic]”)...though were that the intention the occidental jetty may have been a better choice of shooting location.



However, what this vapid and ephemeral fashion shoot emphasises is the way in which landscape is defined by activity. A thorough survey, a psychogeographic exploration of the temporal and historical currents running thorough the site, even GIS- do these data gathering exercises do anything other than build upon existing preconceptions in the designer’s mind? Preconceptions that can be swept away by the actions of an individual or group with their own agenda.

A landscape can be a habitat or a golf course or a playground... It can also be the location for a fashion shoot, a crime scene or a battlefield... or all of these things.  What defines space is what happens there, or in the words of Albert Camus: “Sense of space is not something that you feel, it’s something that you do.”
A landscape architect will design space with some concept of programme, perhaps defined by the brief and augmented by their own imagination. But once it is constructed, design intent is revealed to be illusory: on top of the layers imported from AutoCAD and Photoshop the user superimposes their own ideas of how the designed space is to be occupied and experienced.


So too in this post: the landscape architect’s notebook, full of oblique narrative and esoteric references, is laid bare... Only to be trampled on by someone else’s vision of what this island means.


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