From stones to GPS: Critical reflections on aesthetic walking and the need to draw a line | BILL PSARRAS

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From stones to GPS: Critical reflections on aesthetic walking and the need to draw a line

Bill Psarras

 

Interartive e-Journal (ISSN 2013-679X)

Editors: Ziogas, Y., Sylaiou, S. and Mendolicchio, H.B.
Special Issue: ‘Walking Art / Walking Aesthetics’ #100 (December 2018)

 

  • Paper Submitted: 22 May 2018
  • Paper Accepted: 8 September 2018
  • Paper Published: 10 December 2018

 

Introduction

The current research essay forms a critical reflection on walking praxis and its aesthetic implications; bringing together artistic, performative, philosophical and technological threads. In this short textual account, thinking resembles walking; revealing emerging rhythmicities and I hope new vistas; shaped by a continuous oscillation between my art practice and theoretical reflection. In other words, it is what has been suggested as a reflection in-action and a reflection on-action [1]. Keeping the contemporary in my argument, the huge cultural significance of flaneur, psychogeography and related spatial practices has to be acknowledged. While walking always transgresses fields, disciplines and thinking, it is also known that throughout the last two centuries a significant array of intellectual voices considered walking as cultural and aesthetic act; a methodological apparatus with impact on arts, humanities, social sciences and science [2] [3i].

Walking can be described as a universal act with open meanings; it has potential. To describe walking is to become open to a color pallet. In particular, walking constitutes the paint brush whereas various color hues represent the multiple characters of it. Walking as a metaphorical brush can bring together many aspects; often mixing qualities based on the intention of the walker; producing a richness of situations upon the canvas of experience. Walking is physical, biological, sensory, emotional, poetic, political, symbolic, metaphorical, social, cultural, inventive, spiritual, erotic, playful, purposive, performative, embodied or even transgressive. Every adjective opens up a new perspective, ascribes an intention, reveals a potential, indicates an action; offers more vistas for the walker with imaginative, kinesthetic and artistic implications. Therefore, walking does not only have potential but it is also the potential itself. In the very action of walking – the present moment – every step entails the potential future, it forms an implanted seed to create a patina of experience. I have explored elsewhere how walking can be an ambulant trialectic made of actual, metaphorical and sensory threads [4i] but it is also tempting to think of Janet Cardiff’s metaphor on the essence of movement as a dialogue between two legs (past and future).

Reflections on line and walking

The intention to walk creates a series of situations; an unrolling of rhythmic experience which resembles a music partiture: moments of different intensities, rhythms and pauses. To walk is to produce a line of experience; an assemblage of gathered interactions between self and the world. While walking we connect past, present and future. At this point, my intention is to draw connections between walking and line. It is thus important to think of Paul Klee and his insights on movement and line. In his published notebooks The Thinking Eye, he suggests in terms of movement three types of line: active, middle and passive. While the active line initiates its movement from a point by taking a line for a walk for the sake of it – the middle line begins as a point forming a line but as it progresses it ‘ends by looking like a plane’. Finally, the passive line constitutes one that creates a ‘planar element’ [5]. For Klee, walking has been a condition of change, a primordial movement [6i]. Therefore, a line seems to have a character, a gestural behavior upon canvas regulated by hand; in the same way walking changes facets, intentions and rhythms while practiced into site. While the expression of a point creates a of experience; the expression of walking enacts a ‘spatial acting out of place’ [7]. It produces experience; turning wide space into experienced place. I could also argue that the need to ascribe character to line as active, middle and passive, resembles what has been also suggested for walking. Indeed, ambulatory action is made of steps, yet the intention differs, resulting to purposive (i.e. an everyday action from point A to B), discursive (i.e. wandering with no specific destination as in the case of flaneur) and aesthetic conceptualizations of walking (i.e. conceptual-performative actions as psychogeography) [8]. On such correlations between walking and line – let us think of the gestural performance of Jason Pollock; widely known as Action Painting. Among others, Pollock set the foundations for the convergence between painting and performance as for him the canvas formed a space of potential – not a space of a picture – but a terrain of experience; an event [9] – a psychogeographical situation as Situationists suggested several years later in the context of the city. Examples are numerous, yet due to text limitations and before passing to the next section we may need to think of painting and performance as two intersecting fields as many of visual artists; originally trained as painters; moved forward to more performative methods and materials; often from studio to urban/rural locations. The need often remained the same with further poetic, political, spiritual and emotional implications – they took the line out for a performative walk; either in physical or virtual space [10].

Contemporary turns: Performing, extending, mapping the line

I have already made the metaphorical correlation between artist walking body and paintbrush. A subject and an object ready to be animated by intention either in place or upon canvas. The beginnings of performance art – during 1960’s – remind us what Kristine Stiles has described as an amplification of the process over product and a shift from the representational object to various presentational modes of action [11]. Since 1960’s, it is actually of great interest how a series of walking art practices sought to map their ambulatory experience through the elements of line and trace. Although someone encounters a variety of theorizations across historical periods – from Baudelairian and Benjaminian distant/aesthetic flaneur to Dada excursions, Surrealists deambulation, Situationists psychogeography, Fluxus happenings or wider Conceptual performative works, it is without doubt that all have contributed to what Hamish Fulton termed ‘walking as art’ [12] in the late 1960’s (along with Richard Long). This made one more milestone at the chronology of aesthetic and performative spatial practices, which reverberated until the end of the 20th century through more hybrid and mediated walking-oriented practices; what I have termed elsewhere as ‘hybrid flaneur/flaneuse’ [13].

The need to draw a line

Maintaining the need to draw a line, allow me to consider several indicative examples across the decades. The work of Richard Long A Line Made By Walking (1967) forms one of his best-known early performative pieces when the artist walked back and forth out in a field grass which was full of daisies. His action through time flattened the grassy surface by shaping a line. The ephemeral sculpted line was photographed; acting as a documentation of his spatiotemporal intervention within place. Long’s line on the terrain was indeed a radical blending of sculpture (line) and walking (action) – a reminder of walking as a form between art and architecture [3ii]. In the wider context of his work, Richard Long considers walking as a tool for drawing while drawing lines made of stones and branches, while for Hamish Fulton it becomes an instrument of perception when he walks into remote areas for long periods of time documenting his experience as wall texts and often lines [3iii].


Richard Long – A Line Made By Walking (1967) – Copyright to the artist ©

Francis Alÿs – Paradox of Praxis I (1997) – Copyright to the artist ©

Francis Alÿs – The Green Line (2004) – Copyright to the artist ©

The element of line reverberated across practices and decades, yet the medium differed. In particular, in later performances of Francis Alÿs the element of line accompanied by steps is also apparent. While in his famous walk The Green Line (2004) he traverses the boundaries of Israel and Palestine having a green color can dripping a colored line across streets – in his work Paradox of Praxis I (1997) he pushed for hours a big block of ice through the streets of Mexico City until it completely melted; leaving a temporal ice trace on the streets. In his performance Fairy Tales (1995) the artist walked by wearing a blue sweater which was gradually unraveling; leaving trail of thread into site and without doubt resembling the Ariadne myth. Bringing Klee’s insight, in the case of Alÿs; he becomes the active point which enacts a story, mapping it literally in real-time. The element of line for Alÿs is a tool for thought, a poetic and political statement. It forms the simplest form offer himself as an absurd spectacle into the urban. At this point before passing to other technologically-oriented practices, I will also mention one of my earlier walking performances in London entitled Walking Portraits: Performing Asphalts (2012), where I walked for five days in five tube stations/areas; following repeatedly encountered lines (either by fissures or imposed/designed ones). While my body action was documented by audiovisual and GPS means; the work explored the ways body can simultaneously follow and draw lines [4ii].

Bill Psarras – Walking Portraits: Performing Asphalts (2012) – Copyright to the artist ©

Jeremy Wood – Meridians (2005) – Copyright to the artist ©

Jeremy Wood – My Ghost (2009) – Copyright to the artist ©

In the beginning of 21st century, geographical data, mobile media and spatial turn (stemming from earlier decades) gave rise to technologies of the location – namely ‘locative media’ [see also] – with a significant impact to contemporary spatial practices and site specific arts. From the in-situ action of Long in the grass, now the need to draw a line has been technologically extended through GPS device and custom software for later visualizations. The metaphor of walking-painting and walker-paintbrush is apparent once more. The first artist ever thought of GPS as a device with great aesthetic potential was Jeremy Wood. In his maps and GPS-documented walks and flights, he brings together the performative, the aesthetic and the technological as in his works Meridians (2005), My Ghost (2009) among numerous others. Wood uses his body as a drawing tool – resembling Richard Long – while his works are not making strong political or poetic statements. Wood walks shapes and lines in order to draw the invisible in the physical space while rendering it visible to the virtual space. Such drawing upon the earth has been described as figurative, expressive and performative by pioneers of locative media arts [14]. The GPS technology turns locative media artists bodies into creative brushes whereas the city becomes a territory of creativity. In such geo-centered performances the experienced line goes into augmentation in the virtual space of Google Earth or any other visualization software; thus the need to draw a line has gone hybrid; oscillating between physical and virtual space. There are numerous examples in locative arts but I will stay within the figurative, expressive qualities of such actions – one more case can be found in the work of Teri Rueb, The Choreograph of Everyday Movement (2001) when the artist enacts a performative participatory walk into the city by tracking in real-time their traces as a kind of developing abstract lines. This is common in one more work entitled Running Stitch (2006) by Jen Southern and Jen Hamilton where the artists provide GPS-mobile devices to the participants tracking their movements in the city while projecting them into the gallery. The projection of the developing digital line takes place upon a canvas where literal weaving of threads will take place after that; producing tapestries of experience.

Conclusions

What has been shown in the last section is that the documentation and embodied technologies have shifted from a material to a virtual level, yet walking still forms the core of the experience, what I could describe as a matrix of becoming. Such diverse artistic considerations of walking show us what I could describe as an emerging walking with (objects) and into (sites); which have integrated objects, technologies and other mobile media as performative companions, cognitive/semiotic signifiers and sensory prosthetics; revealing geopoetic conceptualizations of place, body, text and creative technology (what has been also described as GeoHumanities [15]). Second, what also underlines the significance of the element of line is its interconnection with the walking itself. As in the title of this essay, the cultural richness of walking and the need to draw a line seems not only a will for communication but also a need to make graspable and perceivable what Ingold calls ‘the meshwork’ of lives, processes, experiences and emotions.

Lines are open-ended, and it is this open-endedness – of lives, relationships, histories and processes of thought – that I wanted to celebrate”, he states [6ii].

 

 


(*) CITATION:

Psarras, B. (2018). ‘From Stones to GPS: Critical reflections on aesthetic walking and the need to draw a line’ In Ziogas, Y., Sylaiou, S. and Mendolicchio, H.B. (eds.) ‘Walking Art / Walking Aesthetics’ Special Issue, InterArtive e-journal, ISSN 2013-679X, pp. 1-6

(*) IMPORTANT NOTE: 

The current paper is part of the postdoctoral research conducted by the author at the Department of Audio & Visual Arts, Ionian University (InArts Lab), funded by IKY State Foundation Scholarship (Greece). [More information: https://inarts.eu/en/lab/staff/psarras/

Author’s Bio

Bill Psarras (1985, Dr.) is an artist and writer; currently working as post-doctoral researcher (IKY State Scholarships Foundation) at the Department of Audio and Visual Arts, Ionian University, where he is also an adjunct lecturer (2016-today). He holds a Ph.D in Arts & Technology from Goldsmiths University of London (AHRC Scholarship), an MA in Digital Arts (UAL) and a BA in Audiovisual Arts (Ionian University). His artworks include site-related walking performances, installations, video art, poetry and music composition; exploring the (geo)poetics and politics of the urban experience; focusing on autoethnographic considerations of place, body and emotion. They have been exhibited in various international festivals and group exhibitions in Europe and US. His interdisciplinary research has been published across journals (LEA, Technoetic Arts, IJART) and conferences (ISEA) on the intersections of art and urban/cultural studies. He is the author of Tundra (Pigi Publications, 2017); a poetry book which explores the metamodern intersections of art, geography and city.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

[1] Donald Schon, The Reflective Practitioner, (London: Ashgate Publishing, 1983).
[2] Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking (New York: Penguin Books, 2001).
[3] Francesco Careri, Walkscapes: Walking as an Aesthetic Practice, (Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 2002). [i] 68-118, [ii] 148-149, [iii] 155
[4] Bill Psarras, Emotive Terrains: Exploring the emotional geographies of city through walking as art, senses and embodied technologies (London: Ph.D thesis ©, Goldsmiths University of London, 2015), [i] 153-155, [ii] 125-137
[5] Paul Klee, Notebooks Vol. I: The Thinking Eye, Jurg Spiller (ed.), Ralph Manheim (trans.), (London: Lund Humphries, 1961), 103-112.
[6] Tim Ingold, Lines: A Brief History (New York: Routledge, 2007), [i] 72-73, [ii] 169-170
[7] Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California, 1984), 97.
[8] Filipa Matos Wunderlich, ‘Walking and Rhythmicity: Sensing urban space’, Journal of Urban Design, 13 (1) (2008), 133-138.
[9] Harold Rosenberg, The American Action Painters: The Tradition of the New, (London: Thames and Hudson, 1962), 25.
[10] I have also made similar reflections during 2014 as part of my doctoral thesis and practice at Goldsmiths University of London, which can be found either on Ph.D Appendix or in my post-Ph.D blog entitled “Hybrid Flaneur” (www.hybridflaneur.wordpress.com)
[11] Kristine Stiles, ‘Introduction to Performance Art’, in Kristine Stiles and Peter Howard Selz (eds.), Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art,(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 679.
[12] Cynthia Morrison-Bell, Walk On: 40 Years of Art Walking: From Richard Long to Janet Cardiff, (Sunderland: Art Editions North, 2013), 1-3.
[13] Bill Psarras, ‘Walking the senses, curating the ears: Towards a hybrid flaneur/flaneuse as “orchestrator”’ Leonardo Electronic Almanac, Vol. 23 [tba], 2018, The MIT Press.
[14] Drew Hemment, ‘Locative Arts’ LEONARDO, 39 (4) (2006), 348-355
[15] Michael Dear, Jim Ketchum, Sarah Luria and Douglas Richardson (eds.), GeoHumanities: Art, history, text at the edge of place, (London: Routledge, 2011).

 

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On a Glocal City

Text: Bill Psarras © 2015

When we speak of the glocal character of something or someone, we refer on both the local and global qualities of it. It is an interesting portmanteau that probably academic Joshua Meyrowitz (among others) brought it in the academic discourse, when he begun to use such a concept in his talks (mid-1980’s) one of which was published later as ‘The Changing Global Landscape’ (1991) (see also Meyrowitz, 2005) . Throughout 20th century, it is the wave of history, the evolution of things and cultures that has gone from the local and the place-bounded to the global and the virtual. However, our everyday life is deeply interwoven with local and global threads; experienced in every possible sense, in various ways that we do not even notice it.

To echo Meyrowitz (2005), our experience of the city is local. Someone walks, senses through his/her body in a way that becomes a social agent that affects and is affected by a network of things. This emerging interaction with humans and non-humans inserts the walker into fused situations and ambiances, something that results into a whole spectrum of emotions for us. In other words, the walker is always a place-bounded figure, or maybe not? The globalized and urbanized shift on everyday life in the city has brought a huge wave of communication systems, technologies (embodied or not) – briefly described as everywhere-media. This has made apparent a shift with cultural, political, economic and even sensorial implications. City is not what we knew once upon a time, our physical experience is local but our perception has been extended in various parts of the globe at the same time (see also the 20th century huge impact of M. McLuhan’s on media extensions | McLuhan, 1964).

To describe glocality is to ‘be inside and outside at the same time‘ (Meyrowitz, 2005). We act in local ways but also influenced by global qualities. These global qualities refer to any television, internet or other communication system that surround and influence us via endless flows of visual information. Thus, even if we think that interactions happen into the everyday city and its physical space, they are also occur and being shaped in larger frameworks of online experience. The citizen in London, Athens, New York, Singapore, Sydney, Rio or Tokyo walks and in different physical settings but all have more things in common though such global interconnections. To alter Lefebvre’s (1991) social production of space, they all also contribute in a wider global production of space.

Arriving in what I could term “the glocal city” of the 21st century, the co-existence of both local and global aspects is encountered. The place-bounded character cannot be taken for granted, yet it is an acknowledgement of the oscillating character of a fused local and global, which makes apparent emerging glocalities. Maybe the way glocal comes into discussion renders it a third platform to release any tension between local/global dipole.

Bibliography

  • Lefebvre, H. (1991). The Production of Space, trans. Nicholson-Smith, D. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Meyrowitz, J. (2005). The rise of glocality: New senses of place and identity in the global village. In Nyiri, K. (ed.) A sense of place: The global and the local in mobile communication, Vienna: Passagen Verlag, pp. 21-31.
  • McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw-Hill.
The Glocal Image Breeder [Artist:  Jer Thorp, 2008]

The Glocal Image Breeder [Artist: Jer Thorp, 2008]

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Urban metaphysics: Flaneur and genius loci

Text: Bill Psarras © 2015

Reflections on Genius Loci (Sense of Place)

There are many times that we feel or perceive a place and its atmospheric qualities as distinctive – something that has referred as the genius loci of each place. Genius loci forms a term from Latin genius (guarding spirit) and loci (of place, of location) – meaning the guardian spirit of place. Spirit of place can be described as a time-based phenomenon, an almost geological stratification, the patina and the imprint of time – an assemblage of the environment (urban, physical or both) through time that reveals its distinctive atmospheres and qualities. But indeed, it is a cloud of specific perceptions that becomes activated through our embodied experience of it (i.e. walking through, observing, sensing). Therefore, while talking about the spirit of place (the sense of place), the notion of its character becomes clearer – a result of the interweaving qualities that have been created by human and non-human parameters always activated via our sensations. It is not coincidence that the synonym of genius loci is the sense of place – in other words that which is perceived through our senses and reveals a strange beauty; a feeling; an ambiance. What I described earlier for the genius loci as a stratificated time-based patina of atmospheres and qualities has been also suggested by others. Walter (1988) argues that the sense of place – the genius loci – can be described ‘holistically through senses, memory, intellect and imagination‘  (in Jiven & Larkham, 2003: 69), something that also draws connections to Yi-Fu Tuan’s perspective of place as an embodied result of feelings, imagination and experiences of those who live within it (also Tuan, 1977). In the same vein, the phenomenologist architect Norberg-Schulz (1980), who had widely been linked with the concept of genius loci, described it as the interweaved result of physical and symbolic aspects of place: the merging of earth’s topology, cosmological conditions (light, sky) and the existential threads of cultural landscape.

Flaneur: Oscillating between the priest and the genius loci 

Considering the poetic description of genius loci as the guardian spirit of a particular place, we may think of flaneur as a potential spirit in the formation of urban places. It is tempting to be reminded of what Walter Benjamin suggested for the ‘flaneur as the priest of genius loci’ (Benjamin, 1929 [1999: 264]). Reflecting on this, flaneur can be seen not only as the priest of the atmosphere of place but a significant aspect of this atmosphere itself. While flaneur walks both physically and intellectually, the place – the streets – become embodied sensory avenues orchestrated with memory and imagination by him. Flaneur seems to be the genius loci himself as he celebrates place and its details to such an extend that he is the place – he becomes the street and the asphalt – he contains the very core of moment in the midst of the urban winds. He is the ambulant guardian spirit of place through a constant dialogue between senses, memory and intellectualism. He is an oscillating passer-by figure that weaves spaces, feelings, memories and imaginations together across cities and different eras – oscillating between a guarding of the authentic with modern enthusiasm and an acknowledging of the placeless with post-modern irony. The challenge for flaneur seems to be the seek of a genius loci within the post-capitalism branding of senses, memories and feelings. The intellectual liturgy takes place with the act of walking – that is the action of celebration – the action that seeks to ‘place senses and sense places‘ (Feld, 1996, in Edensor, 2000).

Intellectual electricities: Lighting up the genius loci

The absolution, the heaven, is just up the road and the constellations awaiting for electrification. They wait for the flaneur – this intellectual electricity that runs within us – the cities – for two centuries now.

Genius Loci (Cambridge, 2011) - Bill Psarras ©

Genius Loci (Cambridge, 2011) – Bill Psarras ©

Bibliography

  • Benjamin, W. (1929) [1999]. The Return of the Flaneur. In Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings 1927-1930. Harvard University Press, pp. 262-268.
  • Norberg-Schulz, C. (1980). Genius Loci: Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture. New York: Rizzoli.
  • Edensor, T. (2000). Moving through the city. In Bell, D. and Haddour, A. (eds.) City Visions, Harlow: Pearsons Education Limited, pp. 121-140.
  • Tuan, Y.F. (1977). Space and Place. London: Edward Arnold.
  • Jiven, G. & Larkham, P. (2003). ‘Sense of Place, Authenticity and Character: A Commentary’ Journal of Urban Design 8(1) pp. 67-81.
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Initial reflections on a ‘Metamodern’ Flaneur

Text: Bill Psarras © 2015

Tendencies: The Modern and the Postmodern

Across cities, architecture, philosophy, arts, literature, politics, culture and economics; their approach has been part of wider theoretical frameworks – tendencies – what it is known as modernism and postmodernism. Modernism (19th-20th century) has been concerned with Reason, Science and the objective knowledge – the one universal truth – and in this way the Self is existent, coherent and independent of socio-cultural factors. On the other hand, Postmodernism was a reaction to Modernism and it aimed to challenge modernist views. For Postmodernism, Reason and Science are ideological – constructed by man. The universal and true feeling is not apparent on Postmodernism, as every truth exists within cultures. For Postmodernism, there is ‘no eternal truths, no universal human experience, no universal human rights, overriding narrative of human progress‘ (Faigley, 1992: 8). The postmodern way of thinking has been characterized by deconstruction, irony, subjectivism and relativism as the Modern “one” and “true” is always under suspicious lenses.

Acknowledging the oscillating: Towards Metamodernism

During 2008-2009, two young cultural theorists from Netherlands; Dr. Timotheus Vermeulen and Dr. Robin van den Akker proposed the term ‘metamodernism’, of which an influential paper entitled ‘Notes on Metamodernism‘ (2009) was published in the Journal of Aesthetics and Culture. The discourse on what’s next or what follows the Postmodern has been endless at least the last 10-15 years. Yet, what is the reason for discussing Metamodernism?  Metamodernism is the concept of the early 21st century which refers to the post-Postmodern era.  The prefix ‘meta’ stands for metaxy (Greek: μεταξύ) to describe the oscillation of things. Therefore, as Vermeulen and Van den Akker note, ‘the metamodernism oscillates, swings back and forth, between the global and the local, between the concept and material, between postmodern irony and a renewed modern enthusiasm. It yearns for a truth – but – it knows it may never find, it strives for sincerity without lacking humour – it engages precisely by embracing doubt‘ (Discussing Metamodernism exhibition text, online, 2012). To understand perhaps metamodernism, one should think of it as a pendulum – it oscillates between romanticism, sincerity, irony, enthusiasm – it is not utopian although it finds itself into a yearning for possible utopias. Following some recent clarifications of Vermeulen and Van den Akker (June 2015), it is easy to describe metamodernism as a movement, a philosophy or an aesthetic framework, but according to them it is not. Metamodernism seems to be something else; a structure of feeling. Raymond Williams (1977) first used the term ‘structure of feeling‘ to describe the lived experience of a quality of time at a particular time and place – a common platform of perceptions and values produced by a particular generation (also Bourne Taylor, 1997: online).

Berndnaut Smilde - Nimbus II (2012) ©

Berndnaut Smilde – Nimbus II (2012) ©

The hybrid nature of 21st century flaneur: Towards a Metamodern Flaneur?

Metamodernism combines both modern and postmodern bringing them into a third platform of oscillation. I have analyzed in previous posts (see also here) that the potential flanerie in the 21st century globalized city has gone hybrid through a number of performative “turns”: the spatial, the sensorial, the socio-technological (also Psarras, 2015). This is apparent in the walking-based artworks and practices of Francis Alys, Simon Pope, Christina Kubisch, Gordan Savicic, Christian Nold, Janet Cardiff among others (see also Walking Artists Network). Such artists have brought together poetic, metaphorical, political, sensory and technological threads of walking in the city. They cannot be labeled as flaneurs and flaneuses based on what the early 20th century flaneur was but their practices and intentions have gone hybrid – revealing emerging hybridities.

If I can argue for a 21st century flaneur/flaneuse, the concept has shifted from the traditional alienated persona of Benjamin – it has shifted from a mere spatial consumption of the city. On the contrary, hybrid flaneur/flaneuse has gone through an oscillating poetic and practical “orchestration” of co-walkers, technologies, objects and places – rendering him/her the initiator of hybrid poetics. Hybrid flaneur/flaneuse has gone into an emerging sociality, not only walking into places but also with others, becoming an active ear and nose on foot – away from the visually-oriented consumption of the past. Drawing from the collective walks of Simon Pope, Francis Alys, Christina Kubisch and Christian Nold, the attentiveness on the social has made apparent a sensory attentiveness as well, what Myers (2010) calls a ‘sharing of viewpoints and earpoints‘. Hybrid flaneur has shown a spatial turn as well – a fruitful focus on the geographical features and qualities and their alteration through technological aspects of locative media (GPS) and experimental mapping as part of his/her poetics (see also Psarras, 2015).

Within the multiparametric environment of 21st century city, hybrid flaneur/flaneuse acknowledges the postmodern loss of public space, the sameness of things and the ironic image of the artist who goes walking in a city that has been overstimulated and under constraints and sterilities. Hybrid flaneur/flaneuse does not stay in the car but also not only walks into – he/she integrates the multiple surfaces of the city by walking and riding the tube – setting his foot not only on the asphalt but on the escalators and terminals. Hybrid flaneur/flaneuse seeks for a 21st century urban romanticism but not into his/her imagination. On the contrary there he/she inverts the irony and constraints of spaces as parts of his/her tactics. Hybrid flaneur does not seek for the romantic place-bounded belief into the globalized city – he knows won’t find it there. On the contrary, he/she sets his foot into the glocality (see also Meyrowitz, 2005) – acknowledging the 21st century city as a glocal fabric with new threads ready to be activated.

Hybrid flaneur/flaneuse oscillates between multiple platforms of sociality and solitude, sensory tactics and overstimulation, asphalt and immaterial layers, between his body and the technological extension of it. Hybrid flaneur/flaneuse shows a metamodern orchestrator who has changed all the previous metaphors into altered versions of “botanizing”, “weaving”, “tuning” and “orchestrating”. Hybrid flaneur/flaneuse is constantly oscillating between the romanticised view of early flaneur, the radical tactics and political implications of psychogeography and the performative/playful elements of Fluxus/Land Art eras. It is an oscillation augmented by technologies and socio-geographical sensitivities (also Psarras, 2015).

[reflections will be continued in next text]

Notes

I would like to thank Dr. Timotheus Vermeulen (University of Nijmegen, Netherlands, Director of the Centre for New Aesthetics) for our recent discussion

On a Hybrid Flaneur (Bill Psarras © 2015)

On a Hybrid Flaneur (Bill Psarras © 2015)

Bibliography

  • Bourne Taylor, J. (1997) ‘Structure of Feeling’ in Payne, M. (ed.) Dictionary of Cultural and Critical Theory, Blackwell Publishing – Blackwell Reference Online [link]
  • Faigley, L. (1992). Fragments of Rationality. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh.
  • Meyrowitz, J. (2005). The rise of glocality: New senses of place and identity in the global village. In Nyiri, K. (ed.) A sense of place: The global and the local in mobile communication, Vienna: Passagen Verlag, pp. 21-31.
  • Myers, M. (2010). ‘Walk with me, talk with me: The art of conversive wayfinding’ Visual Studies, 25(1), pp. 59-68.
  • Psarras, V. (2015). Emotive Terrains: Exploring the emotional geographies of city through walking as art, senses and embodied technologies. PhD Thesis, Goldsmiths University of London.
  • Turner, L. (2015). ‘Metamodernism: A Brief Introduction’, Notes on Metamodernism, 12 January [link]
  • Vermeulen, T. & Van den Akker, R. (2010). ‘Notes on Metamodernism’, Journal of Aesthetics and Culture, vol 2. [link]
  • Vermeulen, T. & Van den Akker, R. (2015). ‘Misunderstandings & Clarifications’ Notes on Metamodernism, 3 June [link]
  • Vermeulen, T. & Van den Akker, R. (2012). Discussing Metamodernism – Exhibition Press Release, Gallery Tanja Wagner, 17/3 – 21/4/2012 [link]
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On a philosophy of traffic lights

Text: Bill Psarras © 2015

Cities are being regulated by humans and non-humans, in ways able to facilitate various material and immaterial mobilities. One of such non-human regulators are the traffic lights which follow a global standard colour code: the green, the orange and the red. Traffic lights can be found at the intersections, crossroads and pavemenets – a mundane technical assemblage of our everyday lives. Yet, extending flanerie’s intellectual freedom into such things – what can traffic lights say to us?

Re-contextualizing the traffic lights

Traffic lights are comprised of a stable metallic body and three changing colours. They are static, fixed in the ground, observing abstract figures of the streets. They are part of the place. Simple light structures, yet there are three changing conditions in a loop of light, which continues showing itself not only in front of crowdy times and streets but also in the midst of an anonymous street in the middle of nowhere. Traffic lights are spatial signifiers of the transient both in literal and metaphorical way. The green shows the safety of things for the driver, a temporal light signal which re-brings the driver into the mobile condition. It shows the very first step into the potential – a synonym of re-entrance. The temporality of orange indicates an in-betweeness of movement – but it is a signal that asks for critical thinking. It is up to the driver’s decision to slow down, to think carefully of the next step. Then comes the red phase, a stopping signal that freezes the continuity of journey – a signal to think – a moment of re-calibration, of waiting.

Traffic light seems to hold a poetic – an almost spiritual – potential. If considering the journey and the street as an unfolding language through time – to echo Solnit (2001) – then the traffic light becomes a spatial semicolon of light. The unfolding condition of everyday life and the street is quite the same. Life and the street are not perfectly paved and articulated – they are full of contradictory moments of happiness, sadness, victories and failures. Within the buzz of everyday life, the challenges, the thoughts for the past, the present and the future – traffic lights are a moment of relief. During that minute (almost), such a waiting boring time becomes a phase for reflection, for re-consideration, for getting lost in thousand thoughts. It is a moment of re-enactment, traffic light invites us to think with it, to tag our thoughts in the change of its colours. It is strangely beautiful to observe all the drivers – stucked in traffic lights – as temporal thinkers and temporary enlivened arrows of potential. While music and the ambient noise of radio fill the air, others smile on their own, others silently cry and others just sit static – as they tune themselves in the staticness of the car, of the asphalt, of the whole scenery.

You will find traffic lights as unnoticed sculptures into the most crowdy streets of globalized cities. However, you will also find them as anonymous light corners in empty crossroads during a hot sunny noon or during a foggy evening. They are parts of both atmospheres and they contribute on the ambiance of each place. The multiple practical and poetic levels render them almost a part of a bigger installation artwork of which concept has been the everyday. Such inbetween feeling is born while watching the mixed media installation artwork Location I (1998) of Belgian artist Hans op de Beeck. It is an atmospheric crossroad of traffic lights – into a silence which is ready to shout loudly that something will happen. It is a celebration of what it means the concept of the moment to all of us – even unconsciously. It is such traffic light framework that gives them the potential to be poetic links for the intellectual mind – triggers of the unnoticed beauty – semicolons bounded to place but rites of passage for the next to happen. Traffic lights are the frozen incarnation of Hermes god – messengers and indicators of the transient.

Traffic Lights in Germanry - Wayne Pinkston ©

Traffic Lights in Germanry – Wayne Pinkston ©

Hans op de Beeck - Location I (1998) - mixed media 320 x 400 x 500 cm ©

Hans op de Beeck – Location I (1998) – mixed media 320 x 400 x 500 cm ©

Bibliography

  • Solnit, R. (2001). Wanderlust: A History of Walking. New York: Penguin Books.
  • Hans of de Beeck (1998). Location I, mixed media installation, 320 x 400 x 500 cm.
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The poetics of encounter: Humans, Minerals and Stars

Text: Bill Psarras © 2015

Magnifying the encounter for the hybrid flaneur: Collisions as sculptures  

We walk, we breathe – muscles become mobilized and a whole bio-activity takes place within us in real-time. Senses are activated; initiating a sensory melody with emotional implications, which is extended and is being shaped by everything. For the artist-flaneur not only for the 20th but also for the 21st century – what I call the hybrid flaneur/flaneuse, walking entails the element of encounter. The encounter in the city and its levels is poetic, political and metaphorically a geological process. I would like to bring into discussion the above image of a mineral – the fluorite – scientifically a mineral form of calcium fluoride which takes its name from the Latin ‘fluere’ – meaning ‘to flow’. Steps constitute the spatial and embodied medium that brings us into the encountering plateau. The sensory encounter is articulated between the walker and the streets, the humans – between enlivened and non-human elements. It is a whole world of visual stimuli, mixed temporal soundscapes, olfactory atmospheres and tactile encounters that changes and re-updates itself within milliseconds. If we imagine the process of encounter as a collision with various qualitative and quantitative parameters – in other words as a sculpture of interaction – then the produced reaction of the walker both intellectually and physically can be described as a temporal sculpture. In minerals like fluorite, the time scale goes back to almost 200 million years when hot water containing fluorine ‘was forced up from within the Earth‘. The encounter can be found when ‘the brine reached the calcium rich, limestone bedrock, fluorite crystals formed along the walls of fractures and voids in the rock‘ (Ilinois State Museum: online).

Borrowing from the filmic thinking, the encounter of the flaneur with the city in various levels can be frozen in time. It can be paused and reveal various poetics and affects; almost in a spiritual way as with the immersive video environments of Bill Viola. In his large scale video installation of multiple projections Five Angels for the Millennium (2001), a human figure enters in extreme slow motion in the water revealing an affective, aesthetic aspect of world’s unconscious – what Thrift (2004: 72) calls as ‘a mix of unnatural naturalism and magical realism‘. It is the magnification of that moment human figure approaches the surface of the water, showing a spatial, sensory and emotional space of encounter. It constitutes an action that will produce a re-action; a collision with strong implications of a constant inbetweeness. The encounter for the flaneur in the city resembles the formation of minerals millions of years ago – it resembles the approaching figure in Viola’s works and even the violent collision of stars out in the space. His/her walking style develops an intellectual, sensory and emotional friction with human and non-human elements within the urban landscape. Every moment – every single encounter with the next stimulus forms once again a metaphorical collision of stars, a formation of aesthetic minerals in the intellectual plateau of his/her exploration. Every time the walker/flaneur initiates a tactile friction with the asphalt, a whole new universe of potential encounters starts developing its aspects like branches in the becoming geography of everyday city (also Psarras, 2015). Learning from the formation of minerals, the intellectual geology becomes a filter for contemporary hybrid flaneur/flaneuse not only to observe distant formations but to go with others into fruitful collisions with the urban in order to give his/her sensory experience as significant element in the production of intellectual minerals. A collective urban mineralogy with not only poetic but also political implications.

Bibliography

  • Thrift, N. (2004). ‘Intensities of feeling: Towards a spatial politics of affect’ Geografiska Annaler, 86B(1), pp. 57–78.
  • Psarras, B. (2015) Emotive Terrains: Exploring the emotional geographies of city through walking as art, senses and embodied technologies, PhD Thesis, Goldsmiths University of London.
  • Ilinois State Museum – Gallery page – Fluorite formation (online)
Fluorite| Hardin Co., Illinois, USA © The Arkenstone [from Geologypage.com]

Fluorite| Hardin Co., Illinois, USA © The Arkenstone [from Geologypage.com]

Bill Viola - Five Angels for the Millennium: Ascending Angel ©

Bill Viola – Five Angels for the Millennium: Ascending Angel ©

Stars colliding in the milky way (Pic from internet ©)

Stars colliding in the milky way (Pic from internet ©)

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On Cities: We are Multiplicities

Text: Bill Psarras © 2015

Embryos under becoming

For a city it is not only the asphalt that makes it tangible. Similarly, in all of us it is not only the skin that renders us real. Both cities and humans are characterized by a multiple nature. We are dynamic constellations of flesh, emotions, thoughts, imagination, actions, sociality, stupidity and intellectualism. Yet, the constellation does not tell the truth – it does not exist without thought, intention and action. We are mobilized souls, creatures of interaction, wanderers and explorers always in search of the next step. It is such quality of this step that gives us the potential to transgress the thresholds of geographical, social and imaginative matrix. We are embryos in motion, based on a constant becoming. Likewise, cities are place-based embryos with architectural, social, technological, topographical, political and poetic potential.

The geography of human organs: Cities under flesh

Going deeper the city and the human body: the brain, the stomach, the pancreas, the liver, the heart, the genitalia, the muscles – all are little topographies of us defined by millions micro-mobilities and neuro-becomings. The Northern city – the brain – comes to define the core of our existence. Thousands of millions of neurons in complex, fragile and perfect formations define our understanding for ourselves and the world. Everything is there, which makes that city a crucial one, a powerful one – yet defined by every micro-city in the South, West and East of human body. Traversing the landscape, there is a city in the Central side of map: the heart. There someone encounters the very nexus of activity – a rhythmical city always in a mode of giving the tempo to our existence. Heart and Brain – The central/northern alliance which renders us available to exist. Lymph nodes, arteries and veins are cities always to serve transition. Everything finds itself in mobility there. Hypothetically, someone goes there with a destination somewhere else. It is not static but you go there to transfer, to be the messenger, a street of light data itself. While traversing the landscape almost in the central point of our maps, someone encounters two similar cities – almost mirror cities – the lungs. They are in constant connection with the outer – everything re-updates itself there with oxygen. Two cities always windy but (hopefully) with clear skies. As long you slow down, you can almost think that both of them protect the rhythmical city: the heart. They are there to almost define the map of ourselves. After them and a moving part of ‘earth’ (arms/hands), someone can possibly encounter the outside, the environment around us that presents itself like the sea – full of potential, risk, hope and desire. Going South, you encounter other smaller cities. Among them, the pancreas, the kidneys, the intestines, the stomach: extended cities of the South that digest or regulate our data – a landscape of slower rhythms but of big importance. Southern landscapes – the genitalia – invite fertility, desire and constitute a city of arousal, love and future. Taking an imaginative look through such landscapes, it seems that the sky is protected by a simple but perfect architecture. Sculptures that mysteriously reveal themselves in the sky: the bones – they are there to protect, to make the landscape stable. Taking a look from there someone sees two mirror mobile landscapes in the distant south. Two fleshy earths that extend themselves in the horizon in constant motion – the legs. Cities are generic formations of activity but to delve into them shows an experience of intense rhythms and exchanges. It shows (once more) the geological nature of the urban, which incorporates the material, the immaterial, the poetic and the mobilized.

We are multipli-cities

South is where we all are unconsciously attached, but North is a landscape to be explored.

Ed Fairburn - The Milky Way (© 2013)

Ed Fairburn – The Milky Way (© 2013)

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On Cities: We are Electricities

Text: Bill Psarras © 2015

Cities are made of humans, they surround us – yet they are within us – and in a way we are the city. Cities thus are a kind of knowledge to be obtained. They encapsulate our past halo of experience: errors, victories, uncertainties – yet they are an example of our future intention. Cities reflect our existence – they are animated examples of our minds and way of thinking. A city makes me stranger, anonymous however the next one makes me brighter and bold. Cities keep an account of our memories, yet this is not a list. It is presented in numerous entangled and poetic formations – brought to life through our sensory perception.

I grew up in a small town, yet my interest in cities and urban experience can be justified as a utopian need to touch the sublime of them. In other words, a need to see the city through holistic lenses – to bring the spiritual into the transient, the technological and the geographical. In smaller scale, going back to our places – our towns and streets – reveals an evolving experience made of many branches and layers. The focus on the intimate shows various topographic, geologic, cultural and everyday layers. Through such topographies, materialities and sensory layers we often understand that our people are almost interwoven in them. Memories come as a next layer to colorize such landscapes. Past versions of our lives have stayed there, under stones, near the sea, close to mountains, through paths and street corners. Walking through such micro-landscapes triggers unexpected playbacks of our memories – in a way as the surrounding place play itself in filmic and interactive ways.

A parallel city of memories comes to light while we traverse the intimacy of our real city. We are never strangers to this experience, yet we are moving terrains for unexpected shocks of happiness, neutrality and nostalgia to take place upon and within us. While accepting such metaphor for ourselves as animated terrains of experience, I do not refer to a passive terrain that memories meet. On the contrary, we are electricities, thousands of kilowatts under constant becoming. Walking or driving through such places, we are prepositions of potential; prepositions and links that history needs to have in order to become a massive entanglement of lives, materials, intentions, flows and emotions. We encounter cities – like our loved ones – that their material nature rise and gradually fall in decline. However, they are still there, they found the time to fool decline by passing in various ways into places, streets, paths, surfaces, materials, photographs and videos. They are not there to just tell/narrate the past experiences but – as Calvino (1974: 11) says – they contain it.

Space is freedom, but place is embodied experience, grounded to earth, articulated through repetition. And it is this repetitive action that brings us to familiar spatial and sensory motifs while re-entering in our city. The departure has always potential freedom and hope but also danger and sadness. We are micro-cities that leave a bigger geographical mother circle in search of experience. Yet, the experience of arriving in the city – of connecting our embodied cities to the familiar – reveals degrees of happiness, of achievement but also of neutrality. Cities around us are the instruments but we are chord-cities – we reverberate, we produce the melody – in a way each one of us constitute a range of melodies to be activated.

And yet it is this constant repetition of these verbal conjunctions. It is the yet or the however that makes cities and humans evolve – one more step to be taken.

Image: Robert Boesch/AP Images (©)

Image: Robert Boesch/AP Images (©)

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Metaphors for the flaneur: ‘Botanizing’

Text: Bill Psarras © 2015

Understanding metaphors

Metaphors have been used from an array of intellectual voices to describe the dynamic constellation of flaneur, city, walking and senses. Yet, before entering into such a constellation, I would like to describe what a metaphor really is. Metaphors are not just mere theoretical words. They describe practices and situations from everyday life, yet what is important is that they are actively derived from lived, embodied experience. Following Lakoff (1993: 203) and his analysis, metaphors are expressed through speech, however they are not located in language at all – but ‘in the ways we conceptualize one mental domain in terms of another‘. In their seminal book, Lakoff and Johnson (1980) categorize metaphors as (i) structural ones (something is structured in terms of another), (ii) orientational ones (related to spatiality: up-down, in-out, on-off e.t.c.) among others. Yet, our everyday metaphorical system is central to the understanding of poetic metaphor.

But let’s return to my constellation of interest. Victor Fournel (19th), a French journalist and writer described Baudelaire’s artist-flaneur as a “walking daguerrotype” – using a state of the art technology on the photographic process of the 19th century – introduced by L. Daguerre in 1839 – as a metaphor for flaneur. It was a quite successful metaphor as it still describes the identity and the positionality of flaneur in that type of city. In other words, someone who was observing on the move – ‘a roving soul in search of a body‘ (Baudelaire 1869, in Benjamin, 1973: 55). One more metaphor of great interest was Walter Benjamin’s description on the flaneur as a ‘botanologist of the asphalt‘  (1973) – a metaphor that I further altered and reflected during my PhD thesis by bringing it into the 21st century city context (see also Psarras, 2014). What is more, walking has been metaphorically described as a ‘cultural constellation‘ (Solnit, 2001) and a ‘spatial acting out of place‘ (de Certeau, 1984) among other numerous descriptions.

Brief reflections on the metaphor of ‘botanizing

What does it mean for the flaneur to be a botanologist of the asphalt? First, I will alter Benjamin’s metaphor by referring to it as “botanizing” – a metaphor that I will examine through contemporaneous lenses. Walking through and sensing the urban landscape seems to have a connection with such metaphor as senses are activated while moving through the city. As Clark (2000: 13-17) also argues, both the flaneur and the naturalist enter the city or nature by sensing while moving. They experience and encounter an unfolding condition through senses. Both flaneur and the botanologist enact an observation, a listening, a haptic and smelling experience and even taste. They initiate a bodily experience by exploring what the city and the nature offers to them. Such a metaphor involves a connections to duration and repetition. The early or contemporary flaneur/flaneuse could conduct a “botanizing” for hours, days or even months. It is probably a metaphor with epistemological potential that also shows possible poetics on the move.

Towards new aspects of ‘botanizing

Bringing the metaphor in late 20th or 21st century walking art practices, “botanizing” shifts into further layers of the urban experience. I could argue that Francis Alys in his walks The Collector (1992) and Magnetic Shoes (1994) performs a “botanizing” on the urban materiality – on the mundane relics and the very core of streets: the asphalt. Thus, “botanizing” illustrates a gradual negotiation of the artist’s path into the city. The artist’s metallic toy or magnetic shoes constitute a tool which shapes his ambulatory method – they become a kind of curatorial wearable extensions that attract, record and save the encountered. In the same way, in my walking-based work Walking Portraits: Performing Asphalts (2012), I made a series of walking performances across 5 London Tube station areas – documented through video, sound and GPS. The mundane and unnoticed details of everyday life became the poetic layer where I walked and performed “botanizing” metaphor. While passing from the interior to the exterior of tube/train stations, I followed repetitively different asphalt patterns, signs and coloured lines. It was a tactic that initiated a sensory dialogue with such transient – and other times – constrained areas. The metaphor of “botanizing” shifts into more experimental ways while applying this to other walking-based and technologically mediated artworks – as on the ones of Christian Nold Bio Mapping – Emotion Mapping (2003-) and Gordan Savicic Constraint City (2008). Nold’s participatory walking reveals an artist who goes ‘botanizing on the collective emotion‘ (Psarras, 2015: 93) through wearable technologies of Galvanic Skin Response and GPS attached on co-walkers’ bodies in various cities. On the other hand, Gordan Savicic walks with an interactive metallic corset on his body which becomes sensitive with various Wi-Fi signals of the city – leaving thus scars on the artist’s body. Savicic conducts a botanizing on the invisible technological “smog” of contemporary metropolis (also Psarras, 2015). I could argue that the metaphor of “botanizing” shifts from the material level to the embodied, the tacit and the immaterial. The change of metaphor into more fruitful variations possibly illustrates the change of flaneur from an early distant aesthete to contemporary hybrid one characterized by sociality, sensory attentiveness and sophisticated technological integrations.

Walking Portraits: Performing Asphalts (2012) - Bill Psarras ©

Walking Portraits: Performing Asphalts (2012) – Bill Psarras ©

Magnetic Shoes (1994) - Francis Alys ©

Magnetic Shoes (1994) – Francis Alys ©

Emotion Mapping [Greenwich, London] - Christian Nold (c)

Emotion Mapping [Greenwich, London] – Christian Nold (c)

Constraint City (still from performance, 2008) - Gordan Savicic (c)

Constraint City (still from performance, 2008) – Gordan Savicic (c)

Bibliography

  • Benjamin, W. (1973). Walter Benjamin: Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, trans. Zohn H., London; New York: Verso.

  • Clark, N. (2000). ‘ ‘Botanizing on the Asphalt?’ The Complex Life of Cosmopolitan Bodies’ Body and Society, 6(3-4), pp. 12-33.

  • De Certeau, M. (1984). The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California.

  • Lakoff, G. (1993). The contemporary theory of metaphor. In Ortony, A. (ed.) Metaphor and Thought, Cambridge; New York; Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, pp. 202-251.

  • Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors We Live By. Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press.

  • Psarras, B. (2015) Emotive Terrains: Exploring the emotional geographies of city through walking as art, senses and embodied technologies. PhD Thesis, 264 pages, Goldsmiths University of London.
  • Psarras, B. (2014). Altering the metaphor of ‘botanizing’ in the 21st century city. Conference talk at The British Sociological Association Annual Conference, Panel: Cities, Place, Mobilities, Space., April 2014, University of Leeds, UK.
  • Solnit, R. (2001). Wanderlust: A History of Walking. New York: Penguin Books.

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Towards an urban romanticism: The Antenna

Text: Bill Psarras © 2015

Everything is urban

I am urbanized. Possibly lots of us and numerous layers of our experience seem to have been urbanized. By this, I mean an entangled set of practices, situations and encounters that are not only characterized by the city but they also inform what we know as the urban condition. In other words, I am not referring on the the city as geographical/locative entity but as a way of understanding things – an urban way of perception. We use the term city to speak of cities but the scale, size and character of the city has already created conceptual stratifications defined by numbers of population: the city, the metropolis and the megalopolis.

Towards an Urban Romanticism

Going on the top of buildings, passing some time on the rooftops of city, the urban panorama seems to be similar to what the Romantic Caspar David Friedrich depicted on his famous painting ‘The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog‘ (1818). A man stands on a rocky corner of a mountain; starring towards a foggy horizon and landscape. In the same way, standing on the top of rooftops concrete and antennas and observing on the pulsating city of hopes and fears, reveals an emerging romanticism. Bringing together and entering this web of spatial formations, traffic rhythms, the surrounding concrete surfaces and the antennas and the changing sonic waves – reveals a resembling Situationist ‘situation’ on rooftops. However, by merging imagination, action and reality on the very core of now (the moment) gives us the opportunity to use as letters and sentences of our emotional vocabulary all these mundane, everyday but strange objects.

The Antenna and the Observer

In this way, antenna becomes a silent company for the observer – in front of the city. Antenna is part of his situation illustrating both the distant and the attentive – in other words: the artist. It is there as a receptor of signals from out of the urban, yet an indicator of existence with a metaphorical courage to stand our there in the name of the potential message, in the name of communication. Antenna seems melancholic, but this is not true – on the contrary, it is a strong indicator of life. Even within the multimedia city and the overstimulating everyday life – city panorama entails an urban romanticism – a condition that someone’s acknowledgement of it, is not distanced from reality but strongly political, poetic and active. [to be continued in future post]

Source: http://guinarona.com/ (copyright)

Source: http://guinarona.com/ (copyright)

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Skin and the street: Interrelations

Text: Bill Psarras © 2014

French philosopher Michel Serres (1985: 3) describes the skin as the ‘variety of our mingled senses‘. Yet for him touch is quite significant as the linking sense with the world around us. Indeed, touch and the haptic experience (hands, feet) connects the subject with the surroundings, making apparent the very personal “I” from the exterior environment. Somewhere between philosophy and poetic approach, Serres claims that the location of the soul is not a specific one in the human body but ‘it flares whenever and wherever’ the body through hands, feet or other touch the world. The very essence of human resides on the dynamic intensities of senses – a constant dialogue between the skin and the world. Thus, the skin is the mutable terrain – the meeting point of a “becoming” soul.

I could argue that asphalt and the street is the “urban skin”; the meeting point of the flourishing everyday inter-sensory relations. Street and the asphalt become the public daguerrotype that accepts everything to be inscribed upon – a terrain for the hectic choreography of humans to be articulated. It is thus that the very beat of the city – a glimpse of the urban soul – resides on every touch with the city. Myriads of millions of touchings through walking activate every second the city. Rodaway (1994: 44) reminds us that the sense of touch is the very first one that human embryo develops. It is a thought that triggers an interconnection with the very first steps in an empty, mundane or crowded street. In other words, as with the birth – there is a “spatio-temporal birth” to be given by the walker.

Still from 'Urban Halo' (2013) - Bill Psarras ©

Still from ‘Urban Halo’ (2013) – Bill Psarras ©

Bibliography

  • Rodaway, P. (1994). Sensuous Geographies: Body, Sense, and Place. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Serres, M. (1985) [2008]. The Five Senses: A Philosophy of Mingled Bodies, trans. Sankey, M. and Cowley, P., London; New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.
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Taking a walk with Kandinsky: Street and Canvas

Text: Bill Psarras © 2014

The last couple of days found me going back to Wassily Kandinsky and his influential book ‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art‘ (originally publ. in 1910). It was a book that caught my interest during my BA years. It has been nice to go back in such texts and find intellectual links between painting and walking/flaneur. In this post, I intend to take an imaginary walk with Kandinsky. Interestingly he reflects on the character of canvas – just before the hand initiates a drawing trajectory:

Empty canvas. In appearance – really empty, silent, indifferent. Stunned, almost. In effect – full of tensions, with thousand subdued voices, heavy with expectations. A little frightened because it may be violated” (Kandinsky, 1910)

Street and Canvas: Hand and Foot [tactilities]

The connection between the empty canvas and the street / city just before the first step; is fruitful. Empty canvas is white and silent, yet it is full of potential tensions and creative frictions between the hand and the surface. The hand thinks of the next constellation of expression through colours and forms in the same way the feet and mind of the flaneur looks the street as the air runaway just before airplane departure. It is the material terrain that will elevate the expectations of the walker – it will constitute the common milieu that steps, imagination and encounters will meet to create what we know as lived experience. The empty street – just like the empty canvas – has potential and an evolving beauty: that of what will happen next. The colours and lines of the artist-painter are the steps, rhythms and conceptual intentions of the artist-flaneur. The traditional palette has shifted on a spatial level in the case of walker. The street reveals degrees of social coloring by being empty, mid- or heavy crowded. These degrees await to contribute to the spatial painting of flaneur – they remain in a promising level of intensity – ready to be traversed, lived and “orchestrated” by the artist-flaneur/flaneuse. The urban canvas for flaneur is there; awaiting to be filled with the internal truths and thoughts of the artist – something that reminds us that the act of walking is not only an everyday biological process but also a movement with great spiritual intensities. Like breathing, walking is one of the very main actions that interestingly keeps its poetic nature. To echo Solnit (2001), walking is at the same time the most obscure and clear thing in the world.

Bringing the spiritual in the everyday city

Kandinsky describes probably his first encounter with what he developed later as a spiritual abstraction – it was an afternoon when he returned home, lost in his thoughts of what he had painted a few hours earlier. Entering in his dark room, he saw something in the wall that made his mind been electrified – something that was entirely new with its forms full of potential. A few moments later, he understood that it was his painting hanged in the wall upside down. In a similar way I am arguing that the street and the walking are two elements embedded in the everyday subconscious, which has made them mundane and unnoticed. Yet, it is that moment that the street starts to become a shifting terrain of spatio-temporal relations, sensory encounters and fleeting emotions. The different rhythmicity of the walker, the repetition of body gestures, the focus on specific urban “threads”, co-walkers and technologies creates the potential of walking to raise questions within that space. It is the potential to express the artist’s inner landscape – to “weave” patterns of it upon the urban fabric – to merge the aesthetic, the emotional and the political – revealing thus the spiritual in the everyday.

Wassily Kandinsky: Composition

Wassily Kandinsky: Composition

Bibliography

  • Kandinsky, W. (1910) [2001]. Concerning the Spiritual in Art, trans. Sadler, M.T., London: Tate Publishing.
  • Solnit, R. (2001). Wanderlust: A History of Walking. New York: Penguin Books.
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Walking as spatial painting

Text: Bill Psarras © 2014

There are times that words cannot fully describe feelings or situations. It is this moment that the performed action of walking, the produced noise between feet and surface and the rhythmicity come to present an evolving melody on foot. It is a physical friction between body and surface that brings forward a poetic friction between the tectonic plates of street and walker’s soul. In my work ‘Urban Halo‘ (2013) (image below), my walking explored further performative ways between my feet and urban surfaces. When the working materials I chose became so basic (i.e. surface, movement), it was a challenging process of trying to go back to the basics. The materiality, the asphalt, the feet movements and rhythms became what I could call the “spatial colours” to speak aesthetically within place.

The enunciation of feelings takes place on the move; a spatial story where senses handle the threads of intensity by coloring the lived experience in place. The artist-flaneur/flaneuse becomes the performative enlivened pen that tells a story without words. Instead, it is this ‘non-representational approach‘ – to echo Thrift (2000) – a theoretical platform that has shifted the understanding of embodied, temporal and multi-sensual geographies and spatial practices. Therefore, I argue that walking and flaneur is able to tell stories on the move – a kind of live ‘storying‘ to echo Fraser (2012) – through a bodily gestural vocabulary. Every step becomes a letter and rhythm contributes to the formation of words and sentences.

Source: Urban Halo - Bill Psarras © (2013)

Source: Urban Halo – Bill Psarras © (2013)

Bibliography

  • Fraser, M. (2012). Once upon a problem. In Back, L. and Puwar, N. (eds.) Live Methods, London: Wiley.
  • Thrift, N. (2000). ‘Non-Representational Theory’. In Johnston, R., Gregory, D., Pratt, G. et al. The Dictionary of Human Geography, Oxford: Blackwell, p. 556.
  • Bill Psarras (2013). Urban Halo, 5:59′ walking performance, audiovisual, narration. Commissioned by Onassis Cultural Foundation ‘Visual Dialogues 2013‘ group exhibition, Nov. 2013-Jan. 2014, Athens (Greece).
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Flying as walking: The earth as a fabric of becoming

Text: Bill Psarras © 2014

Flying within an airplane may be a sort of suspended lived experience. Somewhere between 30-40.000 feet from the earth’s ground, the travelers observe out of the window while their bodies are safely seated – finding themselves into an bodily and psychological inbetweeness. A geological ascension through clouds seems to make borders and countries an almost unseen element. What matters up there; is only a gradual becoming of landscapes, which can be a mobile and poetic experience for reflection.

The becoming of the earth: The becoming of passenger’s thinking

Flying transforms the earth surface into a continuous landscape – a geological fabric with ups and downs, mountains, seas, lakes and rivers. The eye is now capable of seeing the whole, in the same way De Certeau (1984) describes the power of such bird-eye view from the highest buildings of New York city. Everything down there become an ‘immense texturology‘ – not only in geological terms – but it is also important to acknowledge the social and emotional aspects. You can fly above your city and being able to distinguish familiar details – remembering that that same morning you were part of that landscape. Therefore the element of positionality – in other words: to watch or to be watched – is also relevant at this point.

From the above, the understanding of human life and experience becomes clearer. Borders and the lines of maps are for those down there. The eye can see at the same time two different cities divided by a mountain. How many thousand or millions of everyday lives are active down there? Clouds beyond the horizon will be there in a few hours – yet that city is not exactly aware of this. After an articulation of three mountains there is another city with a great cloud upon it. There will be probably thousands of people down there, stucked in traffic, walking with umbrellas; looking above and seeing this endless grey. Yet, you – the passenger from above – can see the end of what seems endless from that city because you can also see where this cloud ends – you are almost sure that they will see the sun, which is several kilometers away. Other cities are “electrified tattoos”, which from the above seem a socio-geological imprint of electricity and civilization on the earthly terrain. And this becomes an oscillating experience for the air-passenger: passing from bright cities in the night to dark spots in the landscape – and back again. In a few hours, the passengers of this airplane will be part of another city – they will land as “weaving shuttles” into the fabric of that city. A result with great emotional and social potential. The ones left back will carry on with their everyday rhythms and patterns. On the other hand, you will contribute on the fabric of the city you just arrived. The aesthetic consideration of air-passenger as a mobile and poetic enlivened subject could draw some connections to Benjamin’s flaneur as a botanologist of the asphalt – although the city has now become the earth surface for a potential “air-flaneur/flaneuse” to reflect on.

It is thus the ability to go up there – to see flying as walking. An experience that you can see, think, feel the potential of the earth and the horizon. In other words what Cloudkicker‘s music describes as ‘Let Yourself Be Huge‘ (2011) [listen to the song here]

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To the unknown place [Bill Psarras, 2014]

Text: Bill Psarras © 2014

The last 4 years, I have strongly considered walking in the city as part of my art practice. While my background as an artist is on the intersections of audiovisual medium – the gradual consideration of walking shifted my perspective on the art making towards an on-the-move one. Throughout these years, I have presented such personal or shared walking experience through what I call audiovisual portraits, essay films and maps.

To the Unknown Place - Bill Psarras (2014) ©

To the Unknown Place – Bill Psarras (2014) ©

Walking virtually towards the ‘Unknown Place’

During 2014, I completed an artwork entitled ‘To The Unknown Place‘, which was presented as a map. It was an ode to the utopian sense of place, which of course raises questions within the contemporary context of mapping everything. However, the process of making goes one more year back on 2013. It was a day that I was wandering through the virtual environment of Google Maps; exploring places of Greece; zooming in and out and encountering glitches and wonderful pixelated details. Finding my digital self around Acropolis hill (Athens), clicking and dragging the mouse – conducting an almost virtual walking – I encountered a small path near Acropolis – unchartered by Google – with the name “Without Name”. In search of other “without name” streets, my virtual wandering acquired elements of a virtual psychogeographical dérive – continued randomly through other Greek regions, collecting more than 100 topographic photographic stills from places that in the Google Maps environment implicated almost a non-identity, setting the final photos of them as almost ‘non-places’ according to Augé (1995). In ‘For The Unknown Place‘, street name reveals a geology of collective memory, which is critically questioned, drawing connections to issues of identity. Based on the political and poetic implications of map, the artwork collects, elaborates on and re-adjusts the old and the past by creating a new imaginative place “without name” – ode to the potential meaning of place – not only as a static topos but also as a process “towards” this.

The politics and poetics of bringing together a new place

During the making of this artwork; either as walking in Google Maps or selecting photos and reflecting in a cartographic way – there was a fruitful merging between myself as a walking artist and a experimental cartographer. This is also interestingly addressed through Corner’s words (1999: 225) on the cartographer as a nomadic subject who ‘detours around the obvious’ in order to reveal the hidden. The kind of “personal botanizing” – to be reminded of Benjamin – that I conducted on unchartered streets made apparent a poetic repetitive process of finding/zooming and cutting the unnoticed. Yet, the politics of bringing together all the Greek – but non-name streets – revealed an underlying political aspect of mapping. The final resulting island (see photo above) becomes an island with streets and areas to be named and to be inhabited. A new island with utopian sense – beyond what has been already mapped. It is a place with harbors, streets, neighborhoods – gradually elevated in a geological manner. A place of potential and becoming in the Deleuzian sense.

Bibliography

  • Augé, M. (1995). Non-Places: An Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. London: Verso.
  • Corner, J. (1999). The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique and Invention. In Cosgrove, D. (ed.) Mappings, London: Reaktion Books, pp. 213-252.
  • Bill Psarras (2014) To The Unknown Place, map, 1 x 1m, copyright of the artist [link]
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