Saturday, 26 July 2014

How We Used To Live – A Psychogeography of Your London

I rarely come out of a film feeling uplifted, or think this is my best film of [insert year]. Some of my years don’t even have my-best-film-ofs attached to them, as the films I saw were all so unmemorable. However my favourite film of 2014 is How We Used to Live (2013), written by Paul Kelly and Travis Elborough. I saw it this week at the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds.

I’ve never been a fan of Ian MacShane, but he was the narrator and his voice was marvellous. There was a spooky resemblance to John Hurt’s narration on the Art of Noise’s The Seduction of Claude Debussey (“imagine me saying the following”). The timbre of their voices is so similar. Interestingly, the music was not dissimilar to the Art of Noise, as St Etienne provided the soundtrack.

I should image that anyone who can remember the 60s, or who knows London from maybe at least the 80s, would find this film extremely nostalgic. From fashion, to music, to social history, we are taken through the decades from the late 50s. But this is not a stuffy overly sentimental historic trip. It is also amusing and includes strange little moments, like a young woman in a green dress being grabbed off the street and put into the back of a car. What happened to her? We don’t know. But the film is more because of these quirky moments.

The film uses British Film Institute archive footage and the film format reflects this history – no widescreen format for the postwar Brit. Also, the aesthetics of the titles, etc, is in keeping with the period:
“Whenever you go down the road, you travel not in three dimensions, but in four. The fourth dimension is the past.”
You can read a Channel 4 review here: Can You Spot the London You Know?

Related links:
For my favourite film of 2013: The Great Walk - A Film, a Mystery, a Cult. . .
Film overviews: Le Pont Du Nord and Urbanized

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Pas le Grand Départ Dérive (part 2)

The Pleasure of the Gerbil

This is the second part of the account of my not-the-grand-départ dérive (click here for part 1). These blogs have been written in the style of Patrick Keiller’s ‘Robinson’ films, but the protagonist is Sister Moonshine and the Robinson character myself. The blogs also use the theory of the semiologist Roland Barthes from his book Mythologies.

We crossed the Ring Road and headed for New Road Side, where the psychogeographer assured me there would be more bikeage. We spotted a cyclist on the Ring Road, although he wasn’t wearing yellow and appeared to be going in the wrong direction.

As we got to Horsforth’s other High Street, the psychogeographer approached the pet shop and, hoping it would be open in order to buy chewing paraphernalia for myself because “Chewing seems to be your raison d’etre”, she tried the door. It was shut. We both looked down the length of New Road Side. Not a yellow T-shirt, Union flag or handle-bar in sight.

She couldn’t hide her disappointment, having hoped to put up more posters of myself making, what she thought were, amusing comments in speech bubbles. I asked her what Barthes would say about the High Street. She said that despite him not being considered a psychogeographer, she could see much in his texts that referred to urban space and had just submitted a paper to a conference dedicated to Roland Barthes on this very subject.

As the psychogeographer drank a take-away coffee from one of those High Street coffee chains she criticises so much, I spotted these yellow markings on the road and asked if the council had painted them to match the yellow T-shirts. She spluttered an incoherent reply. Then I spotted this sign!

I hoped it wouldn’t start her off again, following the earlier response to the same sign we had seen nearer home. But she seemed happy to be able to reach the board this time and forgot her rant about how capital seemed to have an arrangement whereby it could bring all creative production within its sphere and successfully commodify it.

In the absence of any more signs of the Grand Départ, she started to photograph random objects, so I decided to distract her with further questions about Barthes: “What does Roly say about the aesthetics of place?” I said. She replied “In ‘From Work to Text’ he provides a beautiful example of someone walking in a dry valley and how all the available sensations – sounds, images, smells – make a plurality of meaning available to the stroller that are multi textual, displaying the heterogeneity of space that is very personal, taking into account the individual as much as it does the environment itself”. I asked her if this was anything like the assault course she makes on her bed for me. She gazed down the dual-carriageway and said in a considered way “We are all psychogeographers…”.

We set off for home past The Ringway public house and saw that it was now closed. I asked if this might also be connected to the decline of the grand narratives of Lyotard’s she had mentioned earlier. She said it quite possibly was, but rather more to do with cheap supermarket lager and how it was sold as a ‘loss leader’. I realised I had accidentally got her onto her favourite subject again – capitalism – and felt we had come full circle, not only on our walk, but also in our discussion.

The psychogeographer then began paraphrasing some guy called Lefebvre who, she said, had been a Situationist at one time. I managed to catch: “the space of capitalism is hegemonic and depends on consensus more than any space before it ever has”. I didn’t really understand this in relation to alcohol, thinking it was a bit of a leap, but I couldn’t face listening to a long explanation if I asked for clarification. Also, I was really looking forward to getting home, taking off my psychogeographer mantle, and just chillaxing in my coconut shell…

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Pas le Grand Départ Dérive (part 1)

Gerbil Lucida

I hadn’t had a proper conversation with the psychogeographer for a while because, as she said, “I have been deeply mired in the academic machinations of my viva”. But yesterday we discussed the pros and cons of the Grand Départ in Yorkshire. She apparently had reservations, the same as those she’d had over the London Olympics when she wrote ‘The Perturbed Psychogeographer: Contemplating Olympic Space, the Shard and Architectural Phalluses in General’. I asked her to summarise, for a laygerbil, what these reservations were. She explained she was torn between the community aspect it would hopefully encourage and the neoliberal co-opting of it by capital.

I suggested that we seek out, in our local area, contributions and acknowledgements to community spirit as it related to the Grand Départ and also look for signs of capital appropriation in Horsforth at the same time. She thought a semiology of the signs would be useful and advised we take a Barthesian view of the locale, entitling our blog by appropriating Roland Barthes' book titles.

We set off up Broadgate Lane where the only sign of the Grand Départ was the use of a yellow T-shirt on a letting agent’s sign, but the psychogeographer couldn’t reach it in order to put up her poster, so we moved on while she mumbled something about the preposterous connection between cycling livery and house rentals. By the time we had almost hit Town Street, 15 minutes into our walk, I suggested that maybe the Grand Départ had departed or perhaps had never even arrived in the first place. Then we saw out first piece of bikeage. This cycle was attached to the railings outside the Retirement Home:

In the High Street itself the best contribution was at the community café, where there were two decorated bikes.

In response to my witty remark about wanting ketchup with my Grand Départ, the psychogeographer collected her posters and blue tack and marched off down the road in search of more signs. I shouted after her “There appears to be some prejudice directed at gerbils here! Why are all the T-shirts only made for cats?”. When I caught up with her I asked: “In what cultural epoch can you situate this breakdown of community and why?”. She replied that in poststructural theory a French guy called Lyotard wrote The Postmodern Condition where he discusses the decline of grand narratives, which she believed was part of the glue that held people together, rightly or wrongly. I looked up postmodernism on my phone. A book called Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism appeared by someone called Jameson. I then understood her interest in postmodernism.

It wasn’t until we were getting towards the other end of the High Street that more signs appeared. In the toy shop window there were lots of mini yellow T-shirts, but apparently still none small enough for a gerbil. I asked the psychogeographer why she liked Barthes. She said that despite the fact that capitalism mobilises individuals through dominant signs, via anti-production and even through their very consciousness, she liked the way Barthes enabled meaning to be plural. She then started rambling about his Mythologies, quoting vast paragraphs. I managed to jot down: “But there always remains, around the final meaning, a halo of virtualities where other possible meanings are floating: the meaning can almost always be interpreted.”

The florists opposite had made an effort, but we had pretty much reached the end of the High Street by then. I asked the psychogeographer if we should go home and she suggested heading for Horsforth’s other High Street, across the Ring Road. So off we set, past the cycle shop, Holyspokes, and towards New Road Side as she continued to lecture me on the tensions between what she said were molar power structures and local, personal, rhizomatic molecular networks…

Please click here for part 2 of this Keilleresque blog: The Pleasure of the Gerbil

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Vernacular Mapping

Joe Gerlach’s article on vernacular mapping, ‘Lines, Contours and Legends: Coordinates for Vernacular Mapping’, looks at micropolitical actions in relation to cartography. He states: “Vernacular mapping inheres in the material co-production of cartographies by humans and non-humans alike whereby the underlying ethos remains intensely political, but in a tenor distinct from the representational politics allied traditionally to maps” (2013: 2). He summarises it as “the co-production of knowledges, materials and spaces” (2013: 10). Offering vernacular mapping as a model that integrates other mapping practices such as counter maps and indigenous mapping practices, Gerlach sees them as assemblages of enunciation and valid expressions of affective responses to space (2013: 11-13).

The assemblages of community that can be formed out of joined-up lines of flight, enable a cartography to appear that can become vernacular in its response: “these cartographic lines perform. Likewise, in their unfolding effects and affects, lines are performative” (Gerlach 2013: 5). The lines of flight are performative inasmuch as they are both transversal – taking untraditional routes – and execute actions. The schizocartography reflected in the map above highlights what Gerlach would describe as “cartographic articulations” and it is this that makes it performative (2013: 13). The map represents the culmination of a number of dérives carried out on the University of Leeds campus during the summer of 2009 which were carried out in conjunction with members from Leeds Psychogeography Group. Cartographic articulations operate against the grain, counter to the well-trodden urban path, while at the same time recognising the dominant structure for what it is, what it does and what it represents.

Please click here for an online article on Vernacular Mapping on Campus

Gerlach, Joe. ‘Lines, Contours and Legends: Coordinates for Vernacular Mapping’, Progress in Human Geography, July (2013), 1-18.