Psychogeography

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I’m studying a course with the Open College of the Arts called, ‘Investigating Place with Psychogeography’. Attempting to explain what psychogeography actually means will make this post far too long, and essentially how you define it seems to depend on who you are and what you want to get out of it. Psychogeography started out as wandering or drifting through an urban environment; a dérive, where you find new ways to navigate the city and in doing so open yourself up to the unexpected and unknown parts of it.

You might do this by just moving from one interesting thing to the next, by using a map of a totally different city to navigate – so perhaps a map of Berlin to navigate through London, or you might walk for a minute then turn left then walk for a few minutes and turn right etc until you find yourself hopelessly lost. Getting a glass and using it to draw a circle on a map and walking that circle as closely as you can is also a popular idea. It is anything to get you lost or drifting through an urban environment.

Now I think psychogeography may have moved to a way to think about a journey you’re making on foot, even if that journey is planned. Perhaps it’s more about what you’re bringing to the walk, how you’re engaging with it and what you’re taking from it. I don’t think planned or unplanned routes have anything to do with it now, especially when you see journeys like Will Self walking from London to New York (obviously with a plane involved). That’s not a dérive, it is a planned journey.

My walking (and driving and cycling) will take place in the countryside rather than the city, and it will be from a female perspective rather than the seemingly more traditional male one. Of course, we never really know if this is actually a male dominated activity or if women have been doing psychogeography for just as long but are being ignored by the art and publishing worlds. So far, all but one of the practitioners I have come across, and all of the information I have been presented with, has been by white, mainly middle class, males. I am hoping this will change, but as I listened to a Radio 3 Sunday Feature, ‘Walking with Attitude’ that is part of the material for week 1 and didn’t hear a single female voice, I found my heart sinking a bit and found I wasn’t holding out much hope that other groups will be well represented amongst practitioners. I want to say it’s strange because the female seems to be more representative in the student body, certainly in my cohort. But unfortunately it’s not strange at all and is actually tediously, boringly typical. Certainly Will Self in his book Psychogeography, claims psychogeography as a male domain very early on. But it’s week 1, so let’s give it a chance and see where it goes; I will be happy to be proved wrong.

Anyway, to cheerier ideas. This course lasts about 8-10 weeks, and I think it’s brevity will be helpful for me at the moment. Having a creative push is good, and I want to be constrained in that for a little while. For the past year I’ve been producing work without any external constraint. Although it sounds lovely it can lead to quite a scattered approach with a lot of projects nearly but not quite finished. With absolutely no feedback from peers, which is essential for any type of art, it is hard to know if you are saying what you think you are saying or to pick up themes that others are noticing in your work and you are not. My hope is that beginning and finishing this course will help me to finish other things I’ve been working on and that getting and giving feedback will be helpful.

So, here are some images from my some of my first wanderings and my jump off has been the barbed images that I have been producing for some time.

Because I haven’t studied for a while I had started thinking about work I’d like to produce before I’d even registered on the course, just to check I would have something to say when it came to it, some reasonable ideas to experiment with. I’ll probably add some of those initial thoughts and images to this site as I go along to explore how my ideas are developing. The course allows a broad approach, and although it seems to be more about photography there is scope to approach the subject in any medium. I suspect my main output will be writing and photography, but I will produce other visual work as a kind of side hustle if time allows.

6 thoughts on “Psychogeography

  1. I’m interested to see how this course goes for you, I had the chance to study this for free before it launched but unfortunately the timing didn’t work and I had to decline. Now I’ll be able to see what I’ve missed 🙂

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    1. I’m finding it a bit haphazard if I’m honest. A lot of the presentation for the studies other people have done is on Padlet and I personally don’t find it an easy way to understand information. The timings on the course and when you sign up are different – so I thought it would be 12 weeks and it turns out it’s essentially 8! Plus I don’t like the VLE as I prefer printed course materials; that might be my age though! But the work itself could be interesting – I think it’ll be what I make of it as it’s very open ended. I’ll personally count it successful if I can produce work for it that is coherent and can help me connect with where I am here in North Dorset.

      It’s a shame the timing didn’t work for you; do you think you’d consider doing it later?

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      1. I don’t think I will return to it, I’ve started the Creative Writing degree so I doubt I’ll ever have the time! I know what you mean about the VLE and printed materials, I print all mine out since I don’t absorb information in the same way on screen. Plus I like to scribble notes.
        I think having your own personal definition of success is a great idea! Good luck 😃

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  2. Hello, I’m going to start the OCA course ‘Investigating Place with Psychogeography’ in October and I would love to know what you thought of the course, just in general terms. Was there more female input as you progressed, in terms of reference material? You might be interested to learn of the activities of the Walking Artists Network: http://www.walkingartistsnetwork.org

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  3. Hi Spokespoet, I did write a follow up post at the end of the course which I think was titled psychogeography 2 so if you check the blog you’ll find it, but overall I didn’t get out of it what I thought I would. I’m not blaming the course or the uni for that, it’s just that the course description didn’t match up with the course so I found it a bit disappointing really. There was very little tutor contact and my particular group was not very active. There was a lack of diversity of voices presented, and most of the encouragement to look at other perspectives came from other students rather than the course materials. I wouldn’t put anyone else off doing it though, I think overall it was personally worthwhile for me as I did think a lot about new ways to explore place and that was useful. However, I think a lot of that came from my own preparation for the course, not from the course itself. I found it a bit chaotic in terms of presentation and didn’t really understand what was expected of me as a student. There’s a virtual learning environment (VLE) which takes you through week at a time and gives you exercises to do, but the tutor was encouraging use of a Padlet he’d created instead. I found the Padlet structure hard to navigate so stuck with the VLE, but they sometimes gave conflicting requirements and that wasn’t helpful. Then I spent ages on exercises I really didn’t find inspiring and didn’t want to do, and once I’d wasted all that time was informed that I didn’t need to do them. That was a bit frustrating. I think if you’ve already got a project in mind and you want feedback from peers and to discuss it, it could be useful. But if you’re expecting a lot of tutor input I don’t think you’ll get it. I hope that helps, I’d love to hear how you get on!

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  4. Hi Sarah, first of all a very big thank you for coming back with such a detailed reply. I very much appreciate it. I have now read your second blog posting relating to your experience of the course. Hmm, I understand your frustration and am sorry there were two conflicting directions to follow, going on sort of simultaneously. I’ve been involved with aspects of psychogeography for some years and when I saw this course I thought it might challenge me to go in new directions, which I hope it will! Yes, I’ve read the three books you mention and more besides, and I do have a possible project framework in mind for research and creative practice ready for this course. But, I am glad to hear that there have been positive aspects for you in allowing for new directions and research discoveries. All is not lost! I get the message that it’s all about self-starting and progressing, combined with peer dialogue, which in itself is good. I have a background in photography and poetry, so ideally I want to tap into both disciplines as part of my creative process. Yes, I will certainly let you know how I get on and thank you again for your time and comprehensive reply. If you are on Facebook, there is a Psychogeography group which I’m a member of and on which I’ll also be putting my comments about the course. Thank you! Julius Smit

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