Dériving An Imaginary City: Virtual Psychogeographies

Thursday, 01 December 2011


Dériving An Imaginary City: Virtual Psychogeographies

Curated by Andrew Venell

Branching out from Guy Debord's definition of "psychogeography" as "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment...on the emotions and behavior of individuals," this exhibition looks at the use of digital tools in mapping the interplay between psychological states and urban environments. The participating artists are all using sophisticated technologies, from biofeedback to GPS, as a way to augment the experience of their surroundings, to record or map their passage through both physical and mental spaces.

Les Liens Invisibles
Julian Konczak
Eduardo Cachucho (Live Artist Talk December 2nd 10:00am PST)
Sarah Shamash (Live Artist Talk December 12th 11:30am PST)
Noriyuki Fujimura (Live Artist Talk December 3rd 4:00pm PST)
Mariola Gajewska
Christian Marc Schmidt & Liangjie Xia

Essay by Andrew Venell

In his Theory of the Dérive, the French theorist Guy Debord defines that action as "a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll." The dérive (literally "drift") is an unplanned journey in which the agent allows the subliminal forces of architecture and geography, the particular aesthetic fingerprint of a location, to guide his motion. As one of the tools of psychogeography ("the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment...on the emotions and behavior of individuals") the dérive is meant to be a radical rejection of cartographical exploration, with its implied objectivity, its slavish adherence to a cartesian understanding of space. It is also adamantly physical, dependent on the shifting relationship between a body and the space around it.

The artists in this exhibition are all exploring techniques related to psychogeography, but in ways that are not so adamantly physical. Instead these artists, conscious of the increasing presence of the virtual within the real, use a variety of digital tools for mapping or representing the experience of a place, many in ways that would no doubt horrify Debord.

Les Liens Invisibles use the ubiquitous format of Google Maps against itself, leading the viewer on a non-linear journey through a cyberspace composed of maps that have no real referent, a sort of "map for map's sake." In "Cracked Cities," Julian Konczak takes the viewer on a kind of curated dérive in which photographs of unidentifiable urban spaces are paired with a disembodied and clinical voiceover analysis, betraying the assumptions and subjective judgments we make as we wander. Eduardo Cachucho's Dérive App aims to turn modern urbanism into a Situationist-inspired game, presenting the user with a series of psychogeographic challenges that add drama and risk to everyday experience. Sarah Shamash's Witness That Place serves as a spatial documentary, an abstract representation of downtown Toronto that aims to locate the hidden residue of trauma on urban environments. Noriyuki Fujimura's Footprint Mapping hypothesizes the dérive-as-data, a method for creating abstract representations of a body's movement through the city, desire paths visible only to the GPS-enabled webcam. Mariola Gajewska creates A Sonic Map of Battersea Park, uniting the subjective, interior space that sound creates with an interface reminiscent of early video games or the abstracted control systems of modern warfare. And with Imaginary Cities Christian Marc Schmidt and Liangjie Xia attempt a psychogeographic audit of a new kind of city: the social network--in this case the activity of individuals communicating via Twitter and Flickr.