Tuesday, 2 March 2010

On Spatial Detournement

Since the 1950s, guerrilla sign ontologists, situationists and psychogeographers have delighted in using the power of the map to decode the urban landscape. They have explored Manchester using a map of Milan , wandered Newcastle guided by a map of the Berlin U-Bahn, and explored Hackney with a map of the moon. This re-use of maps may at first sight seem to be a simple economy measure, but these were in fact experiments aimed at creating spatial détournements, subverting the commodified image of the city. By the intentional misreading of city space, the city would “be experienced not as a thing at all, but as possibilities”. Our ritual walks are in contrast to the concept of the dérive meaning an aimless walk that follows the whim of the moment, sometimes translated as a drift.

French philosopher Guy Debord used the dérive idea to encourage readers to revisit the way they looked at urban spaces. Rather than being prisoners to their daily routines, living in a complex city but treading the same path every day, he urged people to follow their emotions and to look at urban situations in a radical new way. The notion was that most of our cities are so thoroughly unpleasant because they were designed in a way that either ignored their emotional impact on people, or indeed tried to control people through their very design. The basic premise of the dérive is for people to explore their environment without preconceptions, to understand their location, and therefore their existence. The flaw in Debord’s notion is that town and rural planners now use very sophisticated methods of emotional route-manipulation to move consumers through a series of consumables. The radical way to counter this manufactured routing is not to rely on emotion to guide us, but instead to devise more precise and radical methods of rambling. A better way to explore space is instead to adapt another of Debord’s concepts, that of the détournement, where an artist reuses elements of existing media to create a new work with a different meaning, often one opposed to the original. Détournement is similar to satirical parody, but often employs more direct reuse or mimicry of the original works rather than constructing a new work, which merely alludes strongly to the original. Another technique we suggest is to adapt the cut-up or fold-in technique to design walking routes. William Burroughs and Brion Gysin applied this to printed media and audio recordings in an effort to decode the material’s implicit content, hypothesising that such a technique could be used to discover the true meaning of a given text. Burroughs also suggested cut-ups may be effective as a form of divination saying, “When you cut into the present the future leaks out”. Burroughs also further developed the fold-in technique as a method for altering reality. Burroughs’ explanation was that everything that could be recorded could be edited. Later the CrimethInc Ex-Workers Collective developed behavioural cut-ups as a method of changing one’s life by performing activities which are created by cutting up two socially acceptable, routine behaviours and recombining them to form an new more amusing activity. The intention is that you perform a series of cut-ups for a long period until it becomes second nature and your behaviour is altered significantly. Détournements, fold-ins and cut-ups may all be contrasted with recuperation, in which originally subversive works and ideas are themselves appropriated by mainstream media.

In spatial détournement, a rambler reuses elements of a known territory to explore a new psychic space with a different meaning, often one beyond the boundaries of the “original”. In this case maps of outer space are folded into maps of terrestrial space. So our ritual walks are spatial détournements based on precise plans to overturn external temporal/spatial manipulation of our rambling. We have created our own walking system instead of being enslaved by another man’s. We do not advise others to follow these routes, but instead to create their own pathways of exploration. Looking at the patterns drawn on a landscape allows us to analyse their origins in the communication between human and animal life, technology and landscape. A detailed study gives us insight into how we remember our travels. Using GPS, a follow-up analysis of a created map provides a different perspective on how the Bodmin Moor Zodiac was organised. By looking at various data from above, below and within, moving through both time and space, we are able to make additional observations, analysis and conclusions regarding our rambles that might not be possible from ground level.

From the book Bodmin Moor Zodiac by Nigel Ayers

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