Wednesday, 26 November 2014


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... 

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