Category Archives: Tourism

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:


Roberley Bell, Still Visible After Gezi (2015)


“In 2010, I began photographing the “Istanbul” trees on my daily meanderings through the city streets. These trees were not iconic symbols of the beauty of nature, but rather trees that had negotiated a precarious position within the urban landscape. I returned in 2105, after the Gezi demonstrations to check up on and again photograph my “Istanbul” trees. I returned to try to find the trees, they had become important to me and I knew seeking them out would reveal something –I just wasn’t sure what that would become. I wanted to go back and see, if working from memory, I could relocate these trees. What emerged was a story, theirs and mine, as I moved through the city retracing my footsteps from memory. For me, the trees of Istanbul are a powerful metaphor and stoic symbol of survival speaking to the humanity of the ever-expanding city. The installation Still Visible After Gezi expresses that set of experiences.

For the installation, I conceived each tree as its own story, creating a turquoise frame. Within the frame the tree as I originally photographed it in 2010, smaller images of landmarks that guided me back to the tree in 2015 then finally an image of the tree as I found it five years later or a void. The empty space representing that the tree was no longer there or perhaps I had remembered the location wrong. Still Visible After Gezi includes 16 tree stories.”

Link to Bell’s Site

Luis Fernando Peláez, “Plaza de Cisneros” (2002-2005)


light poles in a plaza at night

Plaza de Cisneros

“In an effort to rejuvenate this area to make it more attractive and more inviting to tourists, this plaza was renovated in 2005 to include the forest of 300 light poles, which are constructed with concrete and metal. And at night, the poles are impressively illuminated with several reflectors in each pole.

History of Plaza Cisneros

Following the death of Cuban engineer Francisco Javier Cisneros in New York on July 7, 1898, the city of Medellín, Colombia determined that the square in front of the Estación Medellín del Ferrocarril de Antioquia (Medellín’s railroad station) would be named Plaza de Cisneros or Plaza Cisneros. Cisneros headed up construction of the Antioquia railroad.

Events at Plaza Cisneros

There are sometimes events held at this plaza. For example, on September 16, 2018, there was the large Maratón Medellín. This Medellín marathon included distances of 42 km, 21 km, 10 km and 5 km. And all these marathons started at Plaza Cisneros.”

Maya Lin, “Vietnam Veterans Memorial” (1982)


Vietnam memorial ariel shot

Maya Lin, Vietnam Memorial

“Lin’s design called for the names of nearly 58,000 American servicemen, listed in chronological order of their loss, to be etched in a V-shaped wall of polished black granite sunken into the ground. … When Lin first visited the proposed location for the memorial, she wrote, “I imagined taking a knife and cutting into the earth, opening it up, an initial violence and pain that in time would heal.” Her memorial proved to be a pilgrimage site for those who served in the war and those who had loved ones who fought in Vietnam. It became a sacred place of healing and reverence as she intended.”

Robert Smithson, “Spiral Jetty” (1970)


spiral rock pile

Robert Smithson’s earthwork Spiral Jetty (1970) is located at Rozel Point peninsula on the northeastern shore of Great Salt Lake. Using over six thousand tons of black basalt rocks and earth from the site, Smithson formed a coil 1,500 feet long and 15 feet wide that winds counterclockwise off the shore into the water.

“Robert Smithson’s earthwork Spiral Jetty (1970) is located at Rozel Point peninsula on the northeastern shore of Great Salt Lake. Using over six thousand tons of black basalt rocks and earth from the site, Smithson formed a coil 1,500 feet long and 15 feet wide that winds counterclockwise off the shore into the water.”

Bruce Nauman, “Untitled” (1998-1999)


Bruce Nauman Oliver Ranch Steps

Bruce Nauman Oliver Ranch Steps

“Nauman’s staircase sculpture at Oliver Ranch is a response to the physical contours of the land it crosses. Though all the treads are exactly the same size, 30 inches square, every riser is different and measures the land’s changing contours every 30 inches for the length of the staircase, almost a 1/4 of a mile. The smallest step is 3/8 of an inch; the largest step is 17 inches. In classic Nauman fashion, about the time you want to look at the view, you need to focus on your feet or you may fall because of the changes in step height.”

Andrea Fraser, “Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk” (1989)

Woman speaking next to water fountain

(credit) Andrea Fraser, Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk, 1989, video still, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA, USA.


Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk 1989 is a single channel colour video in which the American artist Andrea Fraser leads a tour of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the guise of a fictional docent named Jane Castleton. Dressed in a smart grey suit, Castleton, who introduces herself as a ‘guest’, ‘a volunteer’ and ‘an artist’, speaks directly to the camera as she walks around the museum. Alongside conventional elements of a gallery tour – such as the history of the institution and its collection – Castleton offers her thoughts on the building’s toilets, cloakroom and shop. She also pronounces, in strange digressions and with great passion, on broader political and social ideas. The language Fraser employs in her performance appears to be a parody of the descriptions commonly provided by docents, with Castleton applying extensive and exaggerated praise to the items she encounters. There is often an odd disjuncture between the docent’s words and the objects she is describing, such as when she points to an exit sign and claims, ‘this picture is a brilliant example of a brilliant school’. Throughout the tour Castleton repeatedly returns to questions of personal taste, and the notions of grace, dignity and order that she feels artworks, museums and gallery visitors should embody.

Museum Highlights originated as part of a lecture series organised by the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, with Fraser delivering five performances as Jane Castleton to visitors of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in February 1989. This filmed version of the tour, which does not feature a live audience, was shot and edited later in 1989. A script of Fraser’s performance was subsequently published with stage directions and footnotes in a German translation in 1990 (in the journal Durch) and in English in 1991 (in the journal October; see Fraser 1991, pp.104–22). The text incorporates multiple sources, listed in the credit sequence at the end of the film although mostly unacknowledged by Castleton during the tour, including historical documents relating to the establishment of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, biographical information about the museum’s donors, and quotations from philosophers, sociologists and political theorists.

Fraser created the persona of Jane Castleton after the American artist Allan McCollum suggested that she explore the role of the museum docent. Her first gallery tour, Damaged Goods Gallery Talk Starts Here 1986, involved a series of performances as Castleton, which were not filmed, at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. For Fraser, ‘Jane Castleton is neither a character nor an individual. She is an object, a site determined by a function. As a docent, she is the museum’s representative, and her function is, quite simply, to tell visitors what the museum wants – that is, to tell them what they can give to satisfy the museum’ (Fraser 2007, p.242).

In satirical fashion Castleton’s speeches in Museum Highlights draw particular attention to the assumptions that have historically been placed on the value of art, especially in relation to notions of class. For example, the docent claims during the tour, ‘The public, who buy clothes and table china and inexpensive jewelry, must be forced to raise their standards of taste by seeing the masterpieces of other civilizations and other centuries’. As art historian Alexander Alberro explains, ‘Fraser does not critique just the institution of the museum; by extension, she also analyzes the type of viewer the museum produces and the process of identification that artists embody’ (Alexander Alberro, ‘Introduction: Mimicry, Excess, Critique’, in Fraser 2007, p.xxvii).

Although Fraser abandoned the persona of Castleton after completing Museum Highlights, she continued her interest in the role of the docent in Welcome to the Wadsworth 1991, a live performance and subsequent video work involving a tour of the exterior of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Connecticut during which the institution’s relationship to the surrounding area is discussed. In her video Little Frank and His Carp 2001 (Tate T12324), Fraser performed as a visitor rather than a docent, walking around the atrium of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao listening to the institution’s official audio guide and enacting a series of increasingly sexual gestures in response to descriptions of the building’s architecture.

Fraser’s interest in exploring the purpose of art institutions, the official policies and unspoken assumptions that support their work, and the different roles played by individuals within the art world, have seen her work closely associated with the idea of institutional critique. This mode of practice, exemplified by the work of artists such as Hans Haacke and Michael Asher, emerged in the 1960s to examine the structures and ideologies underpinning museums and galleries.

Further reading
Andrea Fraser, ‘Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk’, October, vol.57, Summer 1991, pp.104–22.
Yilmaz Dziewior (ed.), Andrea Fraser: Works 1984–2003, exhibition catalogue, Kunstverein in Hamburg, Hamburg 2003, pp.114–15, 244–53.
Andrea Fraser, Museum Highlights: The Writings of Andrea Fraser, Cambridge, Massachusetts 2007, pp.95–114.

Richard Martin
July 2014

Ingrid Pollard “Wordsworth Heritage” (1992)

photographs of Black people in the landscape

Ingrid Pollard [credit]


This photographic work was originally presented as a billboard image on 25 urban sites around  the UK. The image takes the form of a mass produced tourist postcard. It shows the profile of William Wordsworth, 19th century English Poet Laureate. Wordsworth and his poetry are icons closely linked with the ‘Lake District’. A group of contemporary Black walkers transform the  ‘Romantic’ landscape and ideas of History and Heritage.

From Ingrid Pollard (2004) in The Art of Walking: A Field Guide:

“Going to the Lake District over the years, collecting postcards, deliberately searching out England’s timeworn countryside ‘the way it’s always been,’ searching the postcard-stand for the card that shows a sunny upland scene with a black person standing, looking over the hills. Never finding it. I fantisise about encountering that image amongst the England of craggy rocks, rushing streams and lowly sheep. Simple stories, simple connections.”

People standing in front of Billboard

Billboard, Kings Cross London. Dr Julian Agyeman & Ingrid Pollard

Richard Wentworth “To Walk” (2001)

photos of a printed brochure

Richard Wentworth

Wentworth works with photography as an archive for walking.

For this piece he published a number of his walking photos to a broadsheet/folded-poster, “To Walk,” for the English towns of Charleston, Ramsgate, and Rochester to encourage the public to take a fresh look at their urban and rural landscapes.

(credit: Walk Ways catalog)