Monday, May 23, 2011

Transnational Spaces

I have been exploring everyday urban spaces, particularly thoses of Paris and Limerick and how they have become so familar to me through presence, participation and interaction. Using psychogeographic elements, look at  these transnational spaces.

Map Paris 1860


Some background history..

Paris is the capital of France, located on the River Seine, in the north of the country. Paris has  a population of 9.93 million.
Paris is no more than 2,000 years old. Gauls of the Parisii tribe settled there between 250 and 200 BC and founded a fishing village on an island in the river that is the present-day Ile de la Cité -- the center around which Paris developed. Paris was known as Lutetia (Lutece) in ancient times, The city  was conquered by Julius Caesar in 52 BC, and existed as a regional center under the Romans and in the early Middle Ages. In 987, Hugh Capet, Count of Paris, became king of France, and under his successors, the CAPETIANS, the city's position as the nation's capital became established. Often characterized as spirited and rebellious, the people of Paris first declared themselves an independent commune under the leadership of Etienne Marcel in 1355-58. The storming of the Bastille in 1789 was the first of a series of key actions by the Parisian people during the French Revolution. Paris also played a major role in the revolutions of 1830 and 1848. In 1871, during the Franco-Prussian War , the city was besieged for four months until France surrendered. After German troops withdrew, French radicals briefly established the Commune of Paris. During World War I the Germans were prevented from reaching Paris, but they occupied the city during World War II from 1940 to 1944.

Nowadays over 30 million foreign tourists visit Paris every year. The city has lots of interesting places to visit, such as Notre Dame cathedral, the Louvre museum and lots of nice outdoor cafés where you can soak up the Parisian way of life.

Map Limerick 1820

Limerick city is the fifth largest city in Ireland. It was founded by the Vikings in the early 9th century.When the Anglo-Normans finally captured Limerick in 1195,their first task was to fortify it. King John's castle was completed around 1200 and work began on enclosing the city with a wall. Itw as well protected by having two gates of Thommond Bridge and Baals Bridge. By the end of the fourteenth century Limerick city became known as Englishtown. 

When the Normans first arrived in Limerick many of the original natives moved across the Abbey river to an area called Irishtown. This became an important enclave and it was also walled. The work was slow and went on through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The Citadel complex was completed, towards the end of the 1590's the main features of which are thankfully still preserved. The gate house and inner gate can be seen in the grounds of St. John's hospital.
When taking the extra-municipal suburbs into account, Limerick is the third largest conurbation in the Republic of Ireland, with an urban population of 90,757.  Limerick is the second-largest city in the province of Munster, an area which constitutes the midwest and southwest of Ireland. The city is situated on several curves and islands of the River Shannon, which spreads into an estuary shortly after Limerick.

                                                                  Both cities today

Today both cities are rich and vibrant.


Thursday, May 19, 2011


The production of psychogeographic maps, or even the introduction of alterations such as more or less arbitrarily transposing maps of two different regions, can contribute to clarifying certain wanderings that express not subordination to randomness but complete insubordination to habitual influences (influences generally categorized as tourism that popular drug as repugnant as sports or buying on credit). A friend recently told me that he had just wandered through the Harz region of Germany while blindly following the directions of a map of London. This sort of game is obviously only a mediocre beginning in comparison to the complete construction of architecture and urbanism that will someday be within the power of everyone- Guy Debord.
          Guy Debord, Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, 1955 

Situationist International 

Describing the techniques and practices of psychogeography requires going back in time to the post second world war years. It was described at Guy Debord, writer and philosopher and prominent member of Situationist movement in 1955 as  'The study of precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals'.

The Naked City- Guy Debord

Debord's famous psychogeographical map, The Naked City (1957), was composed of certain areas of a popular street map of Paris. He cut the map to individualize these areas and  registered these areas using arrows.  Debord was a  latter day radical modernist (drawing heavily on Dada and Surrealism) in the post-war era. He had the aim to restore a kind of genius loci to the late capitalist environment. 

The Situationists tried to restore an aesthetic of festivity, play, intrigues, subversions, and games to counter the numbing effects of the "spectacle." In his inspired postmodern manifesto The Society of the Spectacle (1967), Debord laments "everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation." The city has lost its identity along with the subject, and subjective reality – especially aesthetic sensitivity – is worn down to a faded copy of authentic experience. The "spectacle" is "a social relation between people that is mediated by images." Postmodern space must be "cut-up" to yield its buried presence, as it has been consumed entirely by consumerist space: "The spectator does not feel at home anywhere, because the spectacle is everywhere." The derive undermines the spectacle's regime, which is essentially optical. The drift technique shifts perceptual emphasis from the optical to the proprioceptive (body consciousness, the sense of one's physical presence). The spectacle, which has become "the focal point of all vision and all consciousness," is an optical regime that separates the subject's consciousness with his or her body: the spectacle is "the culmination of separation," and the "official language of universal separation" that is "the domain of delusion and false consciousness." Reality itself has become a spectacle, another commodity. 

Society of  a Spectacle- Guy Debord

Situationism was a radical leftist response to the perceived end of modernist (or "high") art and culture. When the spectacle takes hold, all material space yields to commercial space: it loses its "soul" or constitutive absence, no atmosphere. Tourism reduces the city to a carnival entertainment, a pre-packaged product to be consumed. It's not that psychogeographical space has disappeared, but rather it has been buried under layer upon layer of the "expressive surfaces" of commercial space (advertisements, prescribed entertainments: any rigid organization of space and communal participation). Psychogeography is the study of the traces, vectors, and affects projected in cultural space. If the spectacle renders social reality to absolute transparency, as Jean Baudrillard claimed in Simulations, then this transparency, or obviousness, or objectivity, is the essential illusion that holds the postmodern in a state of permanent historical suspension. The function of the Situationist drift is to explore the other side of the spectacle, the unmediated (and traumatic) real veiled by the spectacle's absolute objectivity, or mimetic resemblance to the real.

In his recent novel  Spook Country (2007), William Gibson draws on the contemporary psychogeographic practice of locative art to comment on the postmodern, global commercial space where psychogeographical space, or the unified ambiences studied by the Situationists, has been lost. Spook Country tells the story of a cadre of spies, artists, and losers who collide in the roiling turmoil of twenty-first century, destabilized geopolitics. In the novel, a freelance journalist named Hollis Henry is hired by a technology magazine to investigate the use of locative media in contemporary art. Henry encounters a several locative artists who create three-dimensional sculptures in an augmented reality that can only be seen with special VR goggles. These artists represent Gibson's vision of the 21st Century psychogeographer. It is no accident that Gibson's favorite author is allegedly Iain Sinclair, a writer and researcher based in London who has written several books about his psychogeographic excavations of the London underground. For Gibson, to reinvest the postmodern spectacle with its lost presence, or gestaltic identity, is to create a spectacle on top of the spectacle: to externalize the mysterious, unattainable real that inheres in psychogeographic ambiences.

Gibson's use of description reminds us that the entire space of the postmodern subject's reality  is in a sense a controlled surround – a kind of prison cell –that permanently envelops the body, like an aura. It is precisely what cannot be mapped yet it is under structural control.
The Situationists practiced psychogeography in part because it is an artistic practice that anyone can learn and master. It is the only artistic practice (besides Brechtian theatre) that combines aesthetic practices with the potential for real proletariat revolt. 

For Debord, the purpose of psychogeography, and of postmodern revolt in general, is to disrobe capitalist culture, which negates aesthetic sensitivity, censors art and poetry, and discourages intelligence and analysis. To break free from the norm of society.

As Debord said in "Theory of the Derive:" "The exploration of a fixed spatial field entails establishing bases and calculating directions of penetration. It is here that the study of maps comes in — ordinary ones as well as ecological and psychogeographical ones — along with their correction and improvement." 


John Briscella's projects communicate new spacial concepts for cities by introducing simple ideas into everyday life and surroundings. From the smallest iterations, to large-scale urban compositions, the works respond to experiencing environments in their contextual relationship to the observer(s).

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Cruise

Tim "Speed" Levitch, a tour guide for Manhattan's Gray Line double-decker buses. He talks fast, is in love with the city, and dispenses historical facts, architectural analysis, and philosophical musings in equal measures. He's reflective and funny about cruising: he loves it, got in it to meet women, and he'd quit work if he could. His personal life is disclosed in small doses: he takes home $200 a week for 20 hours work, home is his suitcase and wherever he can flop, he's been arrested for going out on the roof tops of skyscrapers to see his city; he stands between the towers of the World Trade Center, spins until he's dizzy, then looks up.  American artist Bennett Miller created Timothy Levitch aka Speed- The Cruise. This documentary shares an experience a day in the life of New York city tour guide Speed. The film can be described as entertaining, educational on occasions overseen reality.

I am here to welcome you to  – my name is Speed Levitch.  I’m a tour guide and a playwright, and so, my martial art  — reading into the subtext of reality with a dramatalurgical eye — intermixes with my vocation, which is promoting vacation and vacation-consciousness to people attempting to be on vacation, people who are commonly known as tourists. And, every tour I give begins with the assumption that we are all tourists, as we are all temporarily visiting the planet.  However, I don’t mean tourists,  the kind who come to a place to take away from that place’s identity and beauty, no, I’m talking about tourists, pilgrims, flaneurs…the kind of tourist who comes to a place to contribute to that place’s identity and beauty. This is addressed to that type of tourist who visits a significant landmark and, therefore, makes that significant landmark more significant. This goes out to the vivacious abrupt, the earthbound-astronauts, to the fanatics of curiousity. It is to the savorers, that this blog is dedicated!

Timothy "Speed" Levitch in a scene from The Cruise
                                         Speed Levitch: The Cruise

Speed Levitch: The Anti-Cruise

Speed Levitch: The New York City Grid Plan

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Christine Hill

Christine Hill is an artist, musician and certified NYC tour guide .


Volksboutique began in the early 90's in New York. Hills store was open underground and welcomed the public with a cup of tea, a selection of cheap/thrifty  clothes to browse through while engaging in a creative dialogue on various topics about society, culture and anything the heart desired.

Volksboutique projects kept on evolving, surprising and questioning the audience and the art world. Hill franchised the Volksboutique for Documenta X in Kassel in 1997, then abandoned her role as a salesgirl and mutated into a late-night talk show host, a tour guide, a masseuse, a handbags and retro-looking stamp kits designer, etc. Turning everyday life into an artistic activity that could either be presented inside galleries or activated as a regular everyday practice.


Throughout the summer of 1999, a shop front was the centre of operations in New York city. Christine Hill's  and her Tourguide? participants provided an entertaining and humorous alternative to the common and regular commercial tours of New York City. 

They engaged in dialogues, acting as catalysts for new experiences in the city, aiming at creating an experiences that would could not achieve from a guidebook or the regular tour guides made available.