Socially engaged artistic practices rely on the use of one’s senses. In particular, they rely on a keen observation of one’s surroundings and listening to the world around us. After briefly introducing the history of psychogeography, and the strategy of the dérive, this video discusses the importance of fieldwork and observation as preliminary exercises in engaging communities, collecting narratives and the documentation of social realities. It ends by suggesting a playful dérive in your hometown.
Walking is an integral component of psychogeography and highlights links between socially engaged artistic practice and lived experience. This ‘free’ exploration of urban spaces also encourages a strong element of play and self-determined research goals. As we walk through streets or open spaces, our senses and bodies re-interpret built environments and help to produce new insights into these places and the people who inhabit and pass through them. While this bodily experience of physical and human environments is self-initiated, it is also constrained by various existing structures, like traffic, building sites, and so on. Experiments inspired by psychogeography can therefore stir up strong personal emotions about particular sites and simultaneously lead to a deeper understanding of shared meanings related to social spaces or cultural and infrastructural constraints pertaining to these places. Walking can become a form of artistic research, leading to creative results like photographs, drawings, digital outputs influenced by GPS systems, sound installations, and so on. The use of new media can be particularly effective in providing appropriate tools to discover aspects about mobility, power relations and others that we were not previously familiar with.
You can see a concrete example of walking as an art form here – https://www.kristinaborg.com/nimxumixja2019
This project, entitled Nimxu Mixja (Let’s take a walk), was created by creative practitioners Kristina Borg, Raffaella Zammit and the Gabriel Caruana Foundation in collaboration with primary level students in Malta.
1.1 Psychogeography and mapping places
1.2 The importance of fieldwork in participatory projects
1.3 The relevance of narratives in socially engaged projects
1.4 The documentation of different social realities
This task encourages you to use your senses to understand a social environment. Draw a closed shape which has 8-12 sides. This can be an irregular polygon, or you can also use some curved lines. Pick one of the shape’s corners as your ‘point of departure’. Use this shape as a kind of itinerary or ‘map’ in an urban environment of your choice, starting from your ‘point of departure’ and then moving in clockwise direction along a path dictated by your drawn shape. It’s likely that you will not be able to follow this shape very precisely so amend your journey according to the terrain. Take photos, make drawings or maps, take notes. Which buildings or spaces are most visible? What kinds of sounds are most audible? Do you notice any particular smells? How do other pedestrians engage with the streets you pass through?
Different neighbourhoods in a town or city tend to transmit a different sense of status, well-being, or different emotions. Ask someone else to do the above task in the same itinerary and compare your observations about the place’s relationship with power, status, and so on.
Reflect about some behaviour or aspect (e.g. garbage discarded irresponsibly; damaged pavements) you might have observed during the task. Do people generally accept this behaviour or aspect without questioning it? Why? What needs to be done to unlearn it?
Debord, G. (2014). The Society of the Spectacle. Trans. K. Knabb. Bureau of Public Secrets.https://files.libcom.org/files/The%20Society%20of%20the%20Spectacle%20Annotated%20Edition.pdf
Figure 1. Raphael Vella (manipulated)
Figure 2: Google map
Figure 3: old map of Paris (in public domain – https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=391437&picture=paris-map-vintage-city-plan)
Figure 4: Manipulated image in public domain
Figure 5. Raphael Vella
Figure 6. – Manipulated image, Raphael Vella
Figure 7: Image in public domain – https://pixabay.com/photos/woman-art-creative-relaxation-girl-1283009/.
EVALUATION | Multiple choice
Now that you have watched the MOOC and reflected on its content, try to answer the multiple choice questions based on Engaging with Urban Spaces.