Category Archives: Dérive

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.

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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)

Deriva Mussol, Night Walks (2013)

people walking at night

Deriva Mussol, Night Walks (2013)

“It was back in 2013, when ACVic, the local arts center of Vic, hos- ted the project Deriva Mussol (its literal translation would be “owl drift”), led by artists Jordi Lafon and Eva Marichalar with the collaboration of the Aula de Teatre (a theater group) of the University of Vic [Barcelona, Spain]. They wanted to collectively create a theatrical proposal that would take place in the streets of Vic. Besides this desire, the only thing they knew is that they wan- ted to open the process of creation to everyone, so that everyone who wanted could participate in it. In order to do so, they invited people to go deriving at night with them through the streets of Vic to wherever the walking would take them. Even though a feeling of awkwardness may awaken to some people when hearing or reading the word “derive” (I would not say it is a really “common” word), in fact, the instructions were so simple that they could be reduced to two key- words: night, walk. Nothing else. The invitation was communicated by ACVic. Everyone was invited. By doing this, they had set up a common ground for secret encounters to happen. At least once per week, different peoples, of different ages, coming from many backgrounds and with different interests walked together without any other expectation than simply this: walking together.

There was nothing that could go wrong. The possibility of doing something wrongly did not exist. Even the common civil laws and social rules of political correctness where almost forgotten thanks to the fact of walking by night guided by curiosity, spontaneity and a playful attitude. Streets were empty; no one was watching. They did 12 derives. Some people went just once and it was okay. Some people participated in all of them and it was also okay. In any case, as Marichalar wrote, a stable group of 10 people was progressively constituted (2013, p. 29). Each deriving session was complemented by another session, called “Parlem” (“let’s talk”) dedicated to talking about the experience.

people talking around a table

Deriva Mussol, Night Walks (2013)

All the members of the group met around a table and shared whatever they wanted to with the others; photos, videos, drawings, maps, thoughts,whatever. After the 12 sessions they had an idea for a theatrical proposal that took finally place and that was presented to the public as a street art performance. From my point of view, the fact that this performance was useful to communicate and share the project with more people is something secondary, if we compare it to the importance that it had for the group of walkers and talkers as a self-representation. In other words, it was a representation of, precisely, themselves as a group; a kind of family.” [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)

Exercises:

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).”

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Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin 1928

Walter Benjamin 1928

General info

“Walter Benjamin’s [1892-1940] importance as a philosopher and critical theorist can be gauged by the diversity of his intellectual influence and the continuing productivity of his thought. Primarily regarded as a literary critic and essayist, the philosophical basis of Benjamin’s writings is increasingly acknowledged. They were a decisive influence upon Theodor W. Adorno’s conception of philosophy’s actuality or adequacy to the present (Adorno 1931). In the 1930s, Benjamin’s efforts to develop a politically oriented, materialist aesthetic theory proved an important stimulus for both the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory and the Marxist poet and dramatist Bertolt Brecht.” (credit – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Flânerie-specific info

“In the twentieth-century Walter Benjamin returned to the concept of the flâneur in his seminal work, The Arcades Project.  This weighty, but uncompleted, study used Baudelaire’s flâneur as a starting point for an exploration of the impact of modern city life upon the human psyche.” …

“In The Arcades Project, Benjamin puts forward two complementary concepts to explain our human response to modern city life.  Erlebnis can be characterised as the shock-induced anaesthesia brought about by the overwhelming sensory bombardment of life in a modern city, somewhat akin to the alienated subjectivity experienced by a worker bound to his regime of labour.  Erfahrung is a more positive response and refers to the mobility, wandering or cruising of the flâneur; the unmediated experience of the wealth of sights, sounds and smells the city has to offer.  Benjamin was interested in the dialectic between these two concepts and cited Baudelaure’s poetry as a successful medium for turning erlebnis into erfahrung.  As Benjamin wrote in his section of Illuminations entitled On Some Motifs in Baudelaire:

The greater the share of the shock factor in particular impressions, the more constantly consciousness has to be alert as a screen against stimuli; the more efficiently it does so, the less do these impressions enter experience (Erfahrung), tending to remain in the sphere of a certain hour in one’s life (Erlebnis).

Walter Benjamin, ‘Illuminations’

For Benjamin, the environment of the city, in particular the arcades of Paris, provided the means to provoke lost memories of times past:

it is the material culture of the city, rather than the psyche, that provides the shared collective spaces where consciousness and the unconscious, past and present, meet.

Susan Buck-Morss, ‘The Flâneur, the Sandwichman and the Whore: The Politics of Loitering’


“What we can be clear about is that Benjamin does not just write about the flâneur but, in The Arcades Project, he writes as a flâneur.  As noted earlier, he metaphorises his textual practice into ragpicking, unearthing ‘the rags, the refuse’ from his extensive reading, his cutting and pasting from all manner of sources, into the text of this, his best known work.  The origins of The Arcades Project are in the textual detritus of Benjamin’s research; a method that echoes Baudelaire’s ragpicker and which he refers to when he writes that:

poets find the refuse of society on their street and derive their heroic subject from this very refuse. This means that a common type is, as it were, superimposed upon their illustrious type. … Ragpicker or poet — the refuse concerns both.

Walter Benjamin, ‘Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism’

The ragpicker is recurring motif in Benjamin’s writing and offers a useful metaphor for his textual methodology.  Benjamin focuses on the margins of the modern city, scavenging amongst the texts and oral histories that have been omitted or neglected. Literary ragpicking resurrects discarded texts, forming them into new texts.  Benjamin was interested not just in what is, but in what was and what might be.  He is looking for where the imagined city meets the material one.”

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Janine Antoni, “Touch” (2002)

[credit]

a woman walking on a tight rope aligned with the horizon

Janine Antoni, Touch

“The idea of Touch derives from Moor (2001), a work in which the artist created a rope out of her and her friends’ belongings; the artist has said that while she intends to walk it, she also questions the impulse. Touch depicts a literal balancing act in order to suggest the state of perfection that many people strive for, including herself. Antoni has said, “Touch is about that moment or that desire to walk on the horizon,” a location that represents hope and the future. She explained that she wants to walk in “this impossible place, a place that cannot be pinpointed … on the line of my vision, or along the edge of my imagination.” Since the viewer’s involvement is a crucial element in her work, Antoni asks us to imagine ourselves in her situation and contemplate the meaning of the horizon when she is absent from the scene. As the artist teeters but never falls, she accepts and almost embraces a state of imbalance.”

Conor McGarrigle, “WalkSpace: Beirut-Venice” (2012)

[credit]

As part of THESTATEOFMIND for the Lebanese Pavilion at the Venice Biennale of Art 2011. WalkSpace: Beirut-Venice invites the participant on a drift through Venice guided from Beirut and in Beirut guided from Venice.

The work involves two simultaneous dérives (drifts) through the historic cities of Beirut and Venice, connected in real time to each other and to the world. Two interconnected groups of participants will walk in each city, each receiving instruction and guidance from the other as they wander, get lost and explore the psychogeographical ambience of the city.

The progress of each group will be broadcast as a live video stream via Bambuser, tracked in realtime on a map with Google latitude and tweeted with followers having the option of giving instructions via twitter.

The object is not to create a finite discrete work but to create a peripatetic relational space which can evolve and respond to the situation, the desires of its participants and serendipity, with the work being created through the actions of its participants. The space is furthermore overlaid with a hybrid, networked space connecting both cities and augmenting each space with the absent presence of the other.

Working from a changing set of basic instructions such as ‘describe what you see’, ‘follow that person’, ‘take the next left and then the first right’ or the more loaded ‘take me to the heart of the city’ the two groups will walk in tandem each guiding the other, walking in Beirut as if in Venice and Venice as if in Beirut.

The project draws on early dérives carried out by the Situationists in Amsterdam and Strasbourg which connected groups in different parts of the cities with walkie talkies and Ralph Rumney’s 1957 Psychogeographical Map of Venice.

Participate

We invite the audience to follow us in real time using Bambuser for video, Google latitude for locations and with geotagged tweets. We invited those not in Venice or Beirut to follow us virtually with the following services.

Latitude: We will be broadcasting out location in real time during the event using Google Latitude. To track the event first sign up for Latitude and send a request to share location to allegora.venice[AT]gmail.com, or alternatively email allegora.venice[AT]gmail.com and we will share our location with you. You do not need to share your location to follow us.

Bambuser: To view our live video feed simply visit bambuser.com/channel/stateofmind

Flânerie (To be a Flâneur/Flâneuse)

Paul Gavarni, Le Flâneur, 1842

Paul Gavarni, Le Flâneur, 1842

The ‘Flâneur’/‘Flâneuse’ (‘roamer’ or ‘wanderer’) is a person who strolls the city in order to experience it, as a detached, gently cynical observer. (credit) There is an idleness attached to flânerie. The flâneur is a passive figure, they observe the dynamics of the city from a disengaged point of view. While the idea originated with Charles Baudelaire, it was Walter Benjamin who popularized it and connected it to the idea of escaping capitalist control. Benjamin helped define the flâneur as an observant solitary man perusing the city of Paris. Sometimes also referred to as a “dandy.” According to Merlin Coverley, the flâneur “is more playful for a start, it is also purely aesthetic, there is nothing revolutionary in its design, it doesn’t take itself too seriously in the sense of a political agenda.” [credit]

The Surrealist version of the flâneur was to devise experiments involving randomness and chance in order to experience the city without being blinded by mundanity. (credit) For example, follow interesting strangers across the city, or visit a city while guiding oneself using the map of another city, or draw a circle on a map and try to walk as accurately as possible along the circumference.

Similar in some ways to Guy Debord’s dérive later on, both flânerie and the dérive describe a figure seeking new experience and insight by defying the commercial logic of the modern city. (credit: The Art of Walking: A Field Guide, 2012). However the flâneur privileges the street over the studio, and treats walking as an aid to achieving the avant-garde dream of merging art and everyday life. (credit: The Art of Walking: A Field Guide, 2012) Debord explicitly takes position against letting chance take a too important role in a dérive, because ‘the action of chance is naturally conservative and in a new setting tends to reduce everything to habit or to an alternation between a limited number of variants. Progress means breaking through fields where chance holds sway by creating new conditions more favourable to our purposes.’ (credit)

Exercises:

Flaneur exercise

Resources:

Blog post comparing flânerie to dérive