Tuesday, 3 January 2017

A NEW YEAR'S DAY DRIFT

After a prolonged absence, I encourage myself to engage in some urban walking, with some automated assistance.

DRIFT- available from I-Store now!
Prior to the chiming of the bells, the banging of gongs and the curious absence of a fireworks display (the government of HCMC are apparently using the money saved to assist flood victims), I had already resolved to engage more vigorously in psychogeographical practice in 2017, and to grant some additional motivation, I thought I would download some psychogeographic apps. Sadly, I have had no joy with one of those (Derive- though I can get it to play some colliery brass band music), but DRIFT (already mentioned in my post concerning Minh Khai) was a little more successful.

The premise is simple: to encourage urban wandering by providing the user with a sequence of ten commands, each involving wandering in a particular direction for a specified number of blocks, or until some other criterion is  met, culminating with the user recording an image using the camera app on the phone. The images are then uploaded to the app's site (though I have so far been unable to locate this site), as well as being stored on the user's phone. The ten steps are saved as an individual "Drift", and the user is able to then initiate another drift, containing a completely new set of commands.

For the first time in many years I was joined on my drift by a companion, who for the reasons which may or may not be connected to some shocking revelations concerning Ho Chi Minh has opted to remain anonymous.

The app is available for I-OS and Android, and you can find out a little more about the ethos behind the product at the site of Broken City Labs.

STEP I:

Walk north for a block and try to find something out of the ordinary given the economic spatial cues of the area and document it.


From our starting point, it was impossible to travel north, and by meeting this stumbling block we encountered one of the glaring issues with the app. By relying on the cardinal points to navigate, the app restricts the available options. A relative system might have a greater flexibility, and hence variation.

Instead, we negotiated our way around until were able to follow a Phạm Ngọc Thạch northwards. This is Saigon's most architecturally refined district, and thus the giant plastic flowers struck us as somewhat out of the ordianry, althought they were decorations in preparation for the upcoming Lunar New Year.

STEP II:

Walk east until you find a trace of history and take a picture of it.



Our earliest opportunity to travel east presented itself at Nguyen Thi Minh Khai, and the story of what we found there is recounted at this post.

STEP III:

Walk north and look for a faucet or tap on the exterior of a building and take a close-up picture of it.





STEP IV:

Find the nearest reflection to you and take a picture of it.





STEP V:

Walk north until you see an unmarked path and take a picture of wherever it leads.



STEP VI:

Walk north until you find something wonderful and take a picture of it.



Perhaps this does not strike you as particularly wonderful, but this was a beautiful street.

STEP VII:

Walk south for a couple of blocks and empty your pockets on the nearest surface and take a picture of everything spread out on that surface.


                      

This step puzzled me at first, but I quite liked it for two reasons. Firstly, it encourages examination of the immediate surface. Secondly, it turns the walker into a performer. The action is not rational and, sonsequently, draws attention from other street users. It's a nice moment of inversion, with the observer (briefly) becoming the observed.

Note: due some uncharacteristically windy conditions I was reluctant to spread the content of my pockets all over the pavement... and yes, that is a cotton bud.

STEP X:

Walk south for one block, look for an example of an appeal and take a picture of it.


Yes, we did skip a step- or re-arrange the sequence of steps. You may have noted that heading northward would have meant tediously re-tracing our steps, and would not really be in the spirit of gettting lost, which is at the heart of "DRIFT".

Instead, we decided to jump to step ten and trace the remaining steps in reverse order. After walking south for one block, this sign was the closest thing we could find to an appeal. It is a recruitment notice for security staff.

STEP IX:

Walk in the same direction of the shadows you can see for two blocks and then take a picture of the nearest outdoor light source.


STEP VIII:

Walk north until you can find an example of a game and take a picture of it.


A note: play equipment, amusement park rides, jigsaw puzzles, any distraction at all are all described as "games" in the Vietnamese language. To my companion, this piece of playground equipment in the grounds of an exclusive primary school exemplified the concept of "game" absolutely. I was at first disinclined to agree: whilst it was easy to imagine the games that could be played upon it, it was bereft of human children making full use of the facility. In that state it was no more a "game" than any other piece of obscure sculpture or street furniture.

I thought about the distinction for a moment, of how in most cultures it is not acceptable for children to climb over public artwork (unless, of course, that was the artists' inital intent). Probably more to do with litigation than propriety, I would imagine. Unlike a public sculpture, this bit of play equipment was designed exclusively for children to clamber over, investigate and explore. It was therefore  a game wating to be played.


Having completed ten steps, no prize was awarded, though my companion compared the Drift to a game, albeit one with an invisible reward system. Homo ludens adrift in Saigon, investigating and exploring, and occasionally clambering over obstacles.

Drift  was a good way back into praxis, and an interesting introduction to psychogeography for my companion. Indeed, the simple format (and arbitrary instruction) makes it quite suitable for use in pairs or groups, as an introdution to the derive. It is a pity, however, that there is no online collection of the drifts of others, or at least not one that I have been able to locate. I have emailed the game's developer(s), and will post their response as soon as it is received.

In the meantime, if you wish to download the app it is available on  iOS only. If you have used this software previously, it would be wonderful if you could provide a link to a description of your own experiences in the comments section, because that's what we're supposed to do nowadays.

You can also find slightly different edits of the images at  this instagram hashtag (#driftPCHCMC1)








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