Category Archives: Art History Focus

Modelab, Ghost Walker (2014-15)

“Like photography negatives, urban design comprises information on what is not visible and only can be inferred by its contours. In this manner, urban geography becomes a catalogue of defeats and absences that can be interpreted from what once existed.

Based on Mexico City maps from 1867 and 1892, superposed on a 2014 Google map of the Juarez and Cuauhtémoc neighbourhoods, this project seeks to create an appropriation of histories through an artistic and scholar exploration of a specific street that ceased to exist more than a century ago.

Following the techniques of the Situationist’s dérive and Andrei Monastyrsky’s work with the Collective Actions Group, Ghost Walker: An Impossible Walk Through Mexico City’s History is a longitudinal study of a specific urban space, witness of a myriad of processes and modifications throughout 150 years

Ghost Walker (2014-15) has been presented at Muca Roma in Mexico City (2016), and as part of the group exhibition “Walk With Us” at the Rochester Arts Center (2022).

Participants: Sandra Calvo, Ramiro Chaves, Erick Meyenberg, Raul Ortega Ayala, Sergio Miranda Pacheco, Manuel Rocha Iturbide, Modelab.


Modelab is an artistic initiative aiming to promote interdisciplinary projects at the intersection of public space, history, and cartography.

Formed in 2014 by Claudia Arozqueta and Rodrigo Azaola, Modelab projects have taken place in streets, parks, billboards, beaches, museums, vacant retail stores, and other spaces in Australia, New Zealand, France, Mexico, Taiwan, and the Philippines.” (credit)

Walter De Maria, Las Vegas Piece (1969)

Walter De Maria (1935-2013)

“A large, simple etching on the earth, made with four shallow cuts from the six foot blade of bulldozer, two one mile long, two a half mile long, forming a square with half mile lines extending from it. Made in 1969 by the artist Walter de Maria, in a remote location north of Las Vegas, the piece was not maintained, and is only faintly visible today, to some.” [credit]

“The question is not whether you can visit Walter De Maria’s Leaving Las Vegas; the question is, does it still exist?
Already in 1972 when discussing the land art project with Paul Cummings, Walter de Maria seemed to emphasize the difficulty of actually experiencing Las Vegas Piece as part of the actual experience of Las Vegas Piece. He’d graded a mile-long square onto a barren desert valley north of the city, and you’d have little chance of even finding it, much less seeing it, much less seeing it all:

it takes you about 2 or 3 hours to drive out to the valley and there is nothing in this valley except a cattle corral somewhere in the back of the valley. Then it takes you 20 minutes to walk off the road to get to the sculpture, so some people have missed it, have lost it. Then, when you hit this sculpture which is a mile long line cut with a bulldozer, at that point you have a choice of walking either east or west. If you walk east you hit a dead end; if you walk west you hit another road, at another point, you hit another line and you actually have a choice.

And on and on for several hours, until your choices and backtracking end in some combination of experiencing the entire sculpture on the ground; declaring victory or defeat partway through; and dying of exposure in the desert because you can’t find your car.” [credit]

Tim Brennan, iAmbic Pedometer: Ur Manoeuvre (2013)

“‘iAmbic Pedometer : Ur Manoeuvre’ [runs over 1.5 hours and] revolves around the report of Wordsworth’s mode of composition in which he would walk and utter aloud for hours on end. The work is an iPhone video of a walk made by the artist from his former home in Sunderland. Moving through inner city, suburban and open spaces, Brennan’s mumblings emerge from the sound of the traffic, shifting between semi-cogent announcement to that of the concrete poem. They collide Kurt Schwitters’ ‘ur poetry’ (another Cumbrian resident) with that of the pentameter (we hear snatches of ‘a. b. b. b. a’ – the rhyme scheme of iambic form). The artist sees this fusion as proposing Wordsworth’s early writing mode as bearing a relation to that of the Shaman, who, once induced into a separate reality may then speak in a variety of tongues to provide insight.” [credit]

“Tim Brennan’s performance-led practice has been based around walking for over two decades. He has created over forty major works, which have ranged from a re-walking of the Jarrow March entitled, ‘Crusade’ to what might be described as guided tours concerning subjects and locations, from all of the angels on display in the British Museum (‘Museum of Angels’) to St Mark’s Square in Venice (‘Vedute’). Brennan has created such cultural counter-histories for both elevated and unexpected situations by inhabiting received stories as well as forging wholly new ones.

More recently, he has examined the idea of Northumbria as a distinct cultural region, walking through and photographing the territories defined by that ancient term. This broadened into an investigation of ‘the idea of North’, as colleague Peter Davidson has described it. In 2012, Brennan created a digital guided tour for the Durham Miners Gala, to be followed from one’s phone or mobile device.

In ‘Walk On’, Brennan presents several works including his longest completed walking work, ‘Vedute Manoeuvre’, and ‘iAmbic Pedometer’, a durational iPhone video that records his walking through Sunderland with semi-coherent mumblings that refer to both Wordsworth’s compositional strategy and to the sonic poetry of Kurt Schwitters.

Brennan’s current project – one might almost call it a campaign – entitled ‘Roman Runner’ involves the artist envisaging running the entire circumference of the Roman Empire. To date, he has traversed Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall as ultra-marathon manoeuvres. He also presents a compendium of his publications and guide books. Publishing, in tandem with walking, have been critical components of Brennan’s practice throughout his career. The two are inextricably bound together in his oeuvre.” [credit]

Trisha Brown, Man Walking Down the Side of a Building (1970)

man walking down the side of a building

“The work saw a solitary dancer, secured by harnesses, around the hips and waist, attached to a single cable, walk down the side of the building at a ninety degree angle to the wall. Compelled by gravity, but restrained by the harnesses, hoists and straps used to secure him, the performer exerted considerable effort as he performed the normally mundane task of walking. … Man Walking Down the Side of a Building was one of Brown’s series of ‘Equipment Pieces’, which had initially used mountaineering equipment to construct hoists, pulleys and restraints to enable movement in unusual spaces, or in ways, which put the performers’ bodies at odds with gravity. In keeping with the relative simplicity of the equipment used, Brown also had the performer of this piece wear casual clothing and to perform to the ambient sounds surrounding the building.”

“Her intention was not to create a sense of theatricality but to draw attention to the simple and natural act of walking through a situation in an unnatural scenario. A key element of the work was its instructional nature; while all choreography is arguably instructional at one level, the simplicity of Brown’s instructions – to walk down the side of a building – placed the emphasis on the act of movement, rather than on its motivation or any kind of narrative. No particular instructions were given for how the performer should move, leaving them open to focus entirely on their own physical reaction to the duress of walking in this unusual position. This was characteristic of Brown’s work within the Judson Dance Theatre, which she helped form in the 1960s, and beyond, where she focused on everyday movements and their relation to dance through emphasis on individual gestures. Brown’s creation of choreography which focused on simple, singular movements also facilitated its capacity for re-enactment by making clear the integral elements of the work – a single performer walking down the exterior side of a building – but leaving enough fluidity for the transferal of those actions into different times and spaces.”

“By taking the universally recognisable act of walking and creating a scenario in which that act must be performed differently – in this case, at a ninety degree angle to the normal walking position – Brown remained focused not on the specificities of the space in which the performer acted but the precision of the actions which they undertook. Brown framed an everyday action as choreography and, in then re-contextualising it, drawing attention to the specificity of the movement under stress, she re-framed that action as performance, challenging the audience to consider the expansion of the site of dance into the world around them.”

Acatia Finbow, June 2016

Trisha Brown, Walking on the Wall (1971)

people walking sideways on a wall

Trisha Brown – Walking on the Wall 1971

Walking on the Wall (1971) premiered at the Whitney and was performed again in 2010 during the Off the Wall exhibition at the Whitney. Trisha Brown originally performed the indoor work herself with her troupe, involved mounted tracks, ropes, and harnesses.

two people walking sideways on a wall

Trisha Brown – Walking on the Wall 1971 – detail

Carey Young “Body Techniques (after A Line in Ireland, Richard Long, 1974)” 2007

woman walking on materials in the desert

Carey Young

Carey Young‘s series ‘Body Techniques‘ recreates several works from the canon of performance art from the late 1960s and early 1970s, including pieces by Richard Long, Bruce Nauman, Dennis Oppenheim, and Valie Export. Many of these earlier-generation artists undertook their projects by walking into a public space to create a kind of experiment (or, in Nauman’s case, conducting an experiment by walking around the space of his studio).

Long’s ‘Line in Ireland’ offers the viewer a point of entry into a quintessentially romantic wilderness, free of people. The art of the late 1960s often negated the idea of the art object as a luxury commodity by focusing on performance or the artist’s own body, on process rather than product, or on using natural or basic materials. Carey’s image inverts such binary terms, with some ironies.

Her work, like Long’s, shows a place that seems uninhabited. Yet Young’s work also inverts the attitudes associating walking with unfettered liberty, heroic (male) creativity and boundless natural landscapes. She suggests that such concepts are escapist fictions: her uniform of a business suit implies that the world we live in is one where art, money, and big business are more entangled than ever. Creativity and capital are unavoidably intertwined, rather than separable: we cannot ‘walk out’ of either. In her work, no space – conceptual or physical – escapes the process of commodification. ‘Body Techniques’ is accordingly set in Dubai: a place seemingly emblematic of twenty-first century capitalism where almost nobody travels by foot. The gargantuan tower blocks in the background, created with petro-dollars, ensure that walking, and the pleasures and chance encounters of perambulation, have been abolished.” [credit]

“Body Techniques (2007) is a series of eight photographs that considers the interrelationships between art and globalized commerce. The title of the series refers to a phrase originally coined by Marcel Mauss and developed by Pierre Bourdieu as habitus, which describes how an operational context or behavior can be affected by institutions or ideologies.

Set in the vast building sites of Dubai and Sharjah’s futuristic corporate landscape, we see Carey Young alone and dressed in a suit, her actions reworking some of the classic performance-based works associated with Conceptual art, including pieces by Richard Long, Bruce Nauman, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Dennis Oppenheim and Valie Export.  In thus recasting earlier works centered around the physicality of the body in time and space, it is ambiguous whether the artist is molding herself to the landscape or exploring ways of resisting it.

The locations for Young’s photographs are a series of empty, uninhabited ‘new build’ developments reminiscent of Las Vegas, rising from the desert’s tabula rasa aimed at bombastic luxury and spectacle and intended for thousands of incoming Western corporate executives. The architectural style is consummate ‘global village’ – a business theme park composed of swathes of multinational HQs and Italianate McVillas. These non-places could eventually compose an entire world-view: a hyperreal, corporate vision of utopia. Half-constructed backdrops are used as a ‘stage’ for the action, with the artist appearing as one tiny individual, overwhelmed, dislocated from, or even belittled by the corporate surroundings, while dressed up to play a role within it.” [credit]

Guy Debord, Drifting / Dérive (1958), Situationists

an abstract map with red arrows

Guy Debord, The Naked City

Guy Debord established the Situationist method of the dérive (drifting) as a playful technique for wandering through cities without the usual motives for movement (work or leisure activities), but instead the attractions of the terrain, with its “psycho-geographic” effects. (credit: Walk Ways catalog)

While similar to the flâneur, the dérive is influenced by urban studies (especially Henri Lefebvre). (credit: The Art of Walking: A Field Guide, 2012).

Read a more detailed account of the dérive from Debord’s “Theory of the Dérive,” first published in Internationale Situationniste #2 (Paris, December 1958): Debord-Theory_Of_The_Derive

Definition: Letting go of the usual reasons for walking – and being drawn by the affordances and attractions of the place.

The Drift or Dérive  is one of the basic situationist practices advocated by Guy Debord and others. It’s a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiences. Dérives involve playful-constructive behaviour and an awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll.

Merlin Coverley mentions psychogeography has these core elements: [credit]

  • the political aspect,
  • a philosophy of opposition to the status quo,
  • this idea of walking, of walking the city in particular,
  • the idea of an urban movement,
  • and the psychological component of how human behaviour is affected by place

Recently the idea of the drift has been extended in the practice of Mythogeography, where its characteristics are described thus:

    • Best with groups of between three and six.
    • There should be no destination, only a starting point and a time. A journey to change space, not march through it.
    • To drift something has to be at stake – status, certainty, identity, sleep.
    • In a drift, self must be in some kind of jeopardy.
    • There may need to be a catapult: starting at an unusual time of day, taking a taxi ride blindfold asking to be dropped off at a spot with no signage, leaping onto the first bus or tram you see.
    • There may be a theme: wormholes, micro-worlds, peripheral vision – whatever you want.
    • Be tourists in your own town.
    • Use the things around you as if they were dramatic texts, act them out.
    • “…on a ‘drift’ we found ourselves at a Moto Service Station on the edge of the city. In the restaurant they had a guarantee printed on little cards. They’d give you your money back if you weren’t “completely satisfied” with your meal. So we organised to meet there on our next drift with about 10 other people; we ate big breakfasts and asked for our money back, because, philosophically, a cooked breakfast could never ‘completely satisfy’ a socially and culturally healthy person, not ‘completely satisfy’ all their desires and passions, not a human being. We got the money, but more importantly numerous staff were commandeered to interview us and we turned a restaurant into a debate about desire and fulfilment.” 
    • The drift should be led by its periphery and guided by atmospheres not maps.
    • A static drift: stay still and let the world drift to you.
    • When you drift, use wrecked things you find to make new things (this is called détournement – using dead art and uncivil signs to create unfamiliar languages). Make situations: build miniature wooden villages, giant insects from branches, ritual doorways from burnt remnants, make a small model shed from the wood of a full-sized one and process it from shed to shed until you reach the sea. Construct things from what you find, enact imaginary searches, bogus investigations, gather testimonies for new religions. Just build!!! Leave stories, situations and constructions for any drifters that follow you, they’ll re-make them in their own ways.

Transcript of a Dérive

Credit to Jesse Bell, Notes on My Dunce Cap.

  1. Time/Place begun:
  2. Person/Persons a Party to the Initial Plan:
  3. Description of the Dérive’s Shape:
  4. Misunderstandings Created/ Discovered:
  5. Signed/Dated:
Occupy Oakland protesters (2011) Photo by Noah Berger, Oakland

Occupy Oakland protesters (2011) Photo by Noah Berger, Oakland

Connections to 21st Century

“In addition to inspiring artists, architects and urban planners, the Situationist International’s take-back of public space is credited as catalyzing the The Occupy movement.

“We are not just inspired by what happened in the Arab Spring recently, we are students of the Situationist movement…One of the key guys was Guy Debord, who wrote The Society of the Spectacle. The idea is that if you have a very powerful meme … and the moment is ripe, then that is enough to ignite a revolution. This is the background that we come out of.” – Kalle Lasn, editor and co-founder of Adbusters, the group and magazine credited for Occupy Wall Street’s initial concept and publicity.” (credit)


Credits and references:


Surrealism Connections

Definition of surrealism (credit): “A twentieth-century literary, philosophical and artistic movement that explored the workings of the mind, championing the irrational, the poetic and the revolutionary”

“As André Breton transferred his alliance [from Dada] to Surrealism, he continued hosting nocturnal strolls. In his 1937 novel with Jacqueline Lamba, “L’Amour Fou,” he evokes the clamour of workers as well as revellers as they linger in the area, along with vegetables and rubbish spilling on the pavements and a profusion of other sensory experiences…past other personal ‘hubs’ in Breton’s sense of the city’s geography.”” (credit; David Pinder, “Urban Encounters: derives from Surrealism”)

Blois to Romorantin

Blois to Romorantin

Walk from Blois to Romorantin

In May 1924 the three founders of surrealism [including André Breton] set off haphazardly on foot on a 10-day stroll from Blois, a town picked at random from a map, to Romorantin (28 miles). Largely they “resolutely followed their lack of itinerary”, composing automatic texts during rest stops, and explored the relationship between waking life and dream life. The trip was peppered with hostility, fatigue, and disorientation, so they cut the erratic journey short.

This and further déambulations, or hypnosis via walking with disorienting loss of control, practised on the outskirts of Paris, were found expression in three novels:

  • Louis Aragon’s Le Paysan de Paris (1926) – describes two places in Paris in great detail, providing a realistic backdrop for surrealist spectacles such as the transformation of a shop into a seascape
  • André Breton’s Nadja (1928) – “one of the iconic works of the French surrealist movement”
  • Philippe Soupault‘s Les Dernières Nuits de Paris (1928)
  • see also Readux’s A little guide to the 15th Arrondissement, “a playful piece of surrealist flâneurie and psychogeography” by Roger Caillois, translated by Ryan Ruby; see article

“For the surrealists walking was about chance encounters and irrational meetings, an inspiration for their experimental writing (source).”


Dada Connections

Tristan Tzara reads to the crowd at a “Dada excursion” at Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre church (1921) Paris

Tristan Tzara reads to the crowd at a “Dada excursion” at Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre church (1921) Paris

Shortly before the Dada group broke up, they advertised a series of excursions to “places that have no reason to exist.” (see poster below)  These were banal places; they didn’t count the picturesque, historical interest, or sentimental value.

These trips were a way of rejecting art’s assigned urban spaces. They saw these trips as anti-art or a negation; a type of urban readymade that values spaces, actions, and experiences over objects. The dadaists wanted the total secularization of art to achieve a union between art and life, and the sublime and the quotidian. They took flânerie and raised it to the level of an aesthetic operation.

“Only one such field trip came to pass on April 14. At 3 p.m., a gaggle of Dada devotees met in the nondescript churchyard of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre. André Breton read a manifesto and Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes parodied an official tour guide, reading arbitrary definitions from a dictionary as keys to monuments in the church yard. A scheduled auction of abstractions was cancelled due to rain, and a porcelain-repairer and peanut-seller orchestra never performed because they never showed up.”

The Dadaists understood the entertainment system of the tourism industry, which turns the city into a simulation of itself. They wanted to draw attention to this cultural void and celebrate banality or the absence of meaning.

“A month after the performance, André Breton wrote off the event’s failure, charging the audience’s expectations of and saturation in Dada antics with rendering them innocuous.” (credit; Claire Bishop, “Artificial Hells”, 66-70)

André Breton and Tristan Tzara, Excursions & Visites Dada / Premiere Visite (1921) Paris

André Breton and Tristan Tzara, Excursions & Visites Dada / Premiere Visite (1921) Paris

“It was not a success, and remained the sole example. However they had an influence on getting people to look and look again, to notice and how to notice what you notice, daring to leap into the abyss and explore things in a different way.” (credit)

A dada poster and description