Monthly Archives: December 2014

Spatiality and Emotion

Text: Bill Psarras © 2014

In her book ‘Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory‘ (1995), Lucy Lippard describes an ambulatory practice related with emotion from Eskimos tradition. In particular, ‘an Eskimo [Inuit] custom offers an angry person release by walking the emotion out of his or her system in a straight line across the landscape; the point at which the anger is conquered is marked with a stick, bearing witness to the strength or length of the rage‘.

Recalling American psychologist William James (1884), emotions are ‘the subjective experience of physiological changes within our bodies‘ – yet emotions vary across different social and cultural contexts. What has also to be clarified is the difference between affects, feelings and emotions. Following Massumi (1987; also Shouze, 2005), affect is non-conscious experience, it cannot be fully expressed through language as it is outside our consciousness (what Spinoza termed affectus). On the other hand, feeling is something personal with a biographical attitude – based on a previous similar experience. Finally, emotion is a social projection of our feeling, which its projection is influenced by social and cultural factors.

Returning to the Eskimos’ example of walking their anger out through a straight line across the landscape – it is interesting how walking contributes in such spatial dimension of emotion. Feet and body – the kinesis – across the landscape becomes the channel of expression. Of course, it is not only the movement across space but the durative character. The walking of emotion is a very special way of expression in Eskimos. As mentioned above, we are all influenced and influence within a web of invisible affects – we all experience feelings of happiness, joy, fear, melancholy, anger. However, there are cultural differences on the expression of emotion as others shout, scream, cry, re-act or perform / spatialize it in different ways.

What I could add is that the Eskimos tradition of walking their anger out is deeply connected with a spatialization of it through the traversed landscape where the socialization (emotion) of their feelings becomes a spatio-temporal experience. It is performed and expressed through two primordial elements: the feet and a line. It is an action with potential poetic, spiritual and symbolic implications – if we think Earth’s geological surface as a landscape inscribed by myriads of emotional expressions. To walk our emotion out, is a matter of time – something I also explored in my walking-based work (Emotive Circle, 2013). It is a sensory process of reflection and repetition, an almost personal pilgrimage that each unnoticed detail of walked line becomes one more fragment to the spatialization of emotional experience. Emotions constitute an inner geological shift with friction – resembling earth’s becoming. Varying emotional earthquakes deep in ourselves that become expressed; changing bodily and outer landscapes.

Bibliography

  • James, W. (1884). What is an emotion? Mind, 9, 188–205.
  • Massumi, B. (1987). Notes on the Translation. In Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Shouse, E. (2005). ‘Feeling, emotion, affect’ M/C Journal 8(6) [online].
  • Bill Psarras (2013). Emotive Circle, 43:47, audiovisual walking performance.
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The poetics of Underground

Text: Bill Psarras © 2014

..Tourists climb the Eiffel Tower to see Paris. Parisians know that to really see the city you must descend into the metro‘ (Augé, 2002)

Metro systems are rapid transit train systems that extend throughout a large number of cities around the world. London Underground is the oldest metro system in the world, along with the ones of Paris, Moscow, New York and Shanghai that constitute the busiest and longest ones. However, for the purposes of this post, I will use the British term of Underground when referring to such issues. Approaching Underground through metaphorical lenses, let me think of such transit system as a network of extending neurons throughout the urban skin. Lines of different colours are entangled; touching different areas of social, ethnic, historical and cultural hues. People – the passengers; the commuters – form the moving enlivened ingredients that set the city in motion each day. Indeed, if we think of London Underground, it is characterized by a cultural and historical significance after 150 years. A intermeshed network of lines and tunnels beneath London’s skin that has been used even during the World War. Such stations and lines have been inscribed upon the British urban. Underground means much more than the obvious – of moving someone from A to B. The use of underground contributes on the mobility of the contemporary city.

Unpacking the concept of metro (underground), Jensen (2008: 8) identifies 3 main aspects of it: i) the technical (trains, platforms, tickets), ii) the social (user groups, public experience of it) and iii) the aesthetic (art, signs, symbols, advertising). Stations are in-between spaces that bring together the surface with what is beneath it. The transient character in relation to the consumerism of such spaces makes them potential ‘non-places‘ (Augé, 1995) – namely spaces that do not hold any particular memory or history and their purpose is only to serve transition. A non-place is an ambiguous space that a person may feel self-suspended – a mixture of pleasure and uncertainty (Conley, in Augé, 2002: xviii). This concept is something I’ll go through details in future post.

Yet, the everyday layer of such spaces cannot just label them as ‘non-places’. On the other hand, the experience of riding the tube in another city may show a level of sameness and in-authenticity – what Relph (1976) calls ‘placelessness‘. So, the experience depends on the positionality of the person. Reflecting on this, the repetitive everyday use entails an emerging intimacy and attachment, which contributes to a certain level of ”insiderness‘ – to borrow Relph’s (1976) concept. Such insiderness can potentially magnify the poetics of mundane within such spaces. The repetition of patterns in advertisements, electronic voices, names, symbols, smells, colours and sits’ textures – seem to create a kind of poetics.

Underground and tube stations encompass hundreds of thousands (even millions) of anonymous mobile souls. Traveling minds in different combinations of clothes, colours and styles. Bodies and frictions that affect the emotional “ratio” of carriages and stations – transforming metro from a complex machinic assemblage to a pulsating mobile network. The maps of each metro reveal a different organism – a different potential system of neurons ready to be in motion. The transitional topographies that are interwoven in the urban consciousness. Riding the tube, changing lines and stations becomes a “weaving” of the (underground) everyday tissue. ‘In the subterranean experience of riding the tube through different lines as well as walking through stations’ spaces, the walking subject becomes a sensuous moving “terrain” always situated between arrival and departure poles‘ (Psarras, 2013: 420)

This version -  © Maxwell J. Roberts (2013)

This version – © Maxwell J. Roberts (2013)

Bibliography

  • Augé, M. (1995). Non-Places: An Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. London: Verso.
  • Augé, M. (2002). In the Metro. University of Minessotta Press.
  • Relph, E. (1976). Place and Placelessness. London: Pion Limited.
  • Jensen, O. B. (2008). ‘European Metroscapes’ Paper presented at Mobility, the City and STS workshop, 20-22 November, Copenhagen, The Technical University of Denmark, pp. 1-24.
  • Psarras, B. (2013). ‘Hybrid walking as art: Approaches and art practices on revealing the emotional geographies of Tube stations’ In Charitos, D. et al. (eds.) Proceedings of 2nd Hybrid City International Conference ‘Subtle Revolutions’, 23-25 May 2013, Athens, The University Research Institute of Applied Communication, pp. 415-422.
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Enlivened little earths: The geological thread

Text: Bill Psarras © 2014

What geology does is to look deeper, explore and analyse the stratification of layered things. It is attentive to earth in order to reveal the histories of becoming – the underlying tensions and forces that contributed and shaped the landscapes we inhabit or traverse. We are all enlivened little earths. Layered bodies and souls defined by stratified experiences, memories, characteristics and future potential.

What I’d like to reflect on this post, is a common connecting “thread” across a geologist, a psychoanalyst and an artist-flaneur/flaneuse. While the geologist indicates someone who studies the past morphologies that constitute to what we encounter now as earth – the psychoanalyst direction is also an in-depth process. It is a process of opening “fissures” to go deeper into the subconscious and lived experiences that have shaped a layered human. The geologist will consider qualities of materials, chemical processes, time, stratifications – indeed it is a science, yet with potential poetics. It brings forward the buried past, the reasons and processes it has been shaped this way – and they can provide a glimpse of potential future. The psychoanalyst becomes attentive to the experiences, the habits, the patterns of thinking and the interconnection of inscribed memories. Such entanglements shape us, how we act and re-act and a psychoanalyst can see how someone can change perspectives in future encounters. Thus, a psychoanalyst could be described metaphorically as a geologist of the soul.

Be reminded of De Certeau’s (1984) observation on the myriads of walkers that compose their anonymous spatial stories in the city without knowing – this connects to what I described as “little earths”. In the framework of city, such layered enlivened earths (humans) interact with each other, co-produce, affect and transform things and situations. For the contemporary artist-flaneur/flaneuse (what I have called elsewhere as hybrid flaneur), it is these ambulatory layered enlivened earths that he/she may has to focus on (as in various contemporary examples of artists). The connecting “thread” becomes apparent. As the geologist and psychoanalyst enter into depth on the earth and the human soul/experience – the contemporary artist-flaneur/flaneuse has to enter in depth on the social/emotional layers of 21st century city and urban subjects. In this way, the contemporary artist-flaneur/flaneuse becomes an “ambulant geologist”, who develops an attentiveness to the entangled stratifications of humans and non-human elements (also Psarras, PhD © 2014). Following what Benjamin (1973) described for Baudelaire’s flaneur as a ‘connoisseur‘ of the urban details – it is in the same way a geological connoisseur how co-walkers/co-citizens impact on and are influenced by the city.

Humans and Platforms - Bill Psarras (©)

Humans and Platforms – Bill Psarras (©)

 

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On cities: We are all cities

Text: Bill Psarras © 2014

City has been a notion approached by a huge number of intellectual voices across different eras. Thus, by starting such a post, it’s normal not being able to cover everything, yet I’d like to write down some reflections on the potential connections between city and human.

City Sillouettes - Jasper James ©

City Sillouettes – Jasper James ©

Histori-cities

The history of city extends across centuries and even millennia, from Babylon and the Ancient Greek cities (Athens) to other big urban spots of cultural, economic and political significance. The first idea of what a city is was addressed in ancient Athens through the Greek word ‘polis’ (πόλις). If I can reflect on the notion of city, it can be seen through multiple perspectives. In other words, the poetic, the material and the very everyday practical co-exist all together in multiple formations. To be reminded of Aristotle, he reflected on the city (polis) as ‘the only framework within which man can fully realise his/her spiritual, moral and intellectual capacities’ (Kitto, 1951: 36). It is thus these multiple perspectives and layers that a city brings together in different intensities, combinations and flows – creating ‘an evolving urban geology’ (Psarras, forthcoming paper). Cities have been given different characterizations by a number of poets, geographers, planners, philosophers and architects among others. During 19th and 20th centuries, cities became symbols of constant change and economic power. Their status was elevated bringing together different socio-cultural and political/economic forces that shaped its complexities. It is well accepted that the 20th century was ‘the century of urbanization‘ Harvey (2000: 7) as cities became globalized and interconnected cells.

City and Human: Multiple layers

City is thus a vast concept but I choose to describe it through the words of Lewis Mumford (sociologist/historian) as it illustrates city’s multiple facets and perspectives. In this way, it is what I could suggest as an interconnection between city’s and human’s multiple layers. To Mumford (1937: 92), the city is a ‘geographical plexus, an economic organisation, an institutional process, a theater of social action and an aesthetic symbol of collective unity‘. Extending my thought on his description, my argument will use the metaphor of tree as reflective lens. Let me think of the formation of city through a quite filmic way [use your imagination please].

City owns its initial generic shape on the geographical formations – a result of geological mobilities – a birth of landscapes given by the Earth. However, it is then the human factor that extends its branches through economic, political, social, aesthetic, sensory and emotional formations. City is a tree that its different branches and perspectives fit the different layers, experiences and needs of human. It is a tree that includes a parallel experience of it through different lenses. City can have potential, can be dreamy with a utopian sense and light but also a symbol of dystopia, fear, constraint and power-frictions. Humans resemble this description, they are lived examples of happiness, anger, failure, successes, potential and uncertainty. It is such oscillations that make them living evolving geographies. City’s streets can be at the same time mundane, static, vivid, noisy, optimistic, constrained – so the emotions and experiences of a human. Both city and human are layered – made of material/organic, cognitive, sensory and imaginative elements – formations that follow a resembling geological articulation. Cities as humans have similar neurons, channels of communication – or what we can describe as flows. Following Amin & Thrift (2002: 42), cities ‘are extraordinary agglomerations of flows‘. What can be the “flowing threads” of such agglomerations? Such flows are material, immaterial, emotional, economic, socio-cultural, technological, informational – entanglements and intensities that make a city a complex field – as Mumford (1937) described above.

The relationship between city and human is of an oscillating nature. City can be ‘the landscape of our confusions’ (Flanagan, in Lynch, 1960: 119) as we – humans – are like cities – made of both potential and uncertainty, fear and desires, asphalt and organs, traces and experiences, Thursday afternoon traffic tears and skin’s sweat. City different “threads” come to be attuned with human’s different “threads”. An everyday “weaver” that makes weaving an almost sublime process to answer his/her questions. In the words of Italo Calvino (1974 [1997]), ‘you take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours’.

City Sillouettes - Jasper James

City Sillouettes – Jasper James ©

Bibliography

  • Kitto, H.D. (1996). The Polis. In LeGates, R.T. & Stout, F. (eds.) The City Reader, London: Routledge, pp. 32-36.
  • Harvey, D. (2000). Megacities Lecture 4: Possible Urban Worlds. Amersfoort: Twynstra Consultants.
  • Mumford, L. (1937). What is a City?, In LeGates, R.T. & Stout, F. (eds.) The City Reader,Oxon: Routledge, pp. 91-96.
  • Lynch, K. (1960). The Image of the City. Cambridge: MA; London: The MIT Press.
  • Amin, A. and Thrift, N. (2002). Cities: Reimagining the Urban. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Calvino, I. (1974) [1997]. Invisible Cities. London: Vintage.
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The emotional in geography

Text: Bill Psarras © 2014

I am not a geographer but an artist, yet often find myself speaking in geographical terms. Given my gradual interest on the emotional aspect of urban experience, the field of ’emotional geographies’ was one of the main concepts I researched the last three years. Geography constitutes a spatial science which explores the interrelations of physical processes and human patters on earth. It derives from the Greek geographia (γεωγραφία) which means ‘to write, to describe the Earth’ – a word used for the first time by ancient Greek geographer, mathematician and poet, Eratosthenes (276-194 BC).

Geography: Brief trajectories

Speaking of geography discipline, its two main aspects are physical geography and human geography. While the physical in geography explores scientifically the earth, its landscapes, morphologies and climate patterns among others – on the other hand – human geography focuses on the human, social, cultural and economic patterns that shape society. My intention is not to delve into a detailed historical trajectory of terms; however anyone can go further into such knowledge by looking here or numerous books. Looking at the socio-cultural perspectives of the wider human geography, the geographical thinking was extended throughout 20th century into a focus on the social and cultural entanglements of human relations – concentrating on issues of power, gender-space (Massey), identity, politics but also on more recent subfields of mobilities (Cresswell, Urry, Auge), cities (Harvey), globalization (Thrift) and emotion among others. The cultural perspective in geography extended the discourse across various fields. The integration of geographical thinking across such emerging constellations brought apart from a ‘spatial turn’, a ‘cultural turn’ as well. Indeed, if we think of geography as a rational field, it was influenced by a ‘formal and quantitative’ grasp of space, to echo Lefebvre (1991: 49) as well as from an ocularcentric logic (Cosgrove in Rodaway, 1994).

Why emotional matters

To acknowledge the emotional in geography is something that challenges the scientific roots of the field. Yet since 1970s a number of human geographers (Tuan, 1974; Relph, 1976; Casey, 1993 among others) have mentioned the links between place and human experience. Since the beginning of the 21st century, geographical voices have argued on an emergence of ’emotional geographies’ (Anderson & Smith, 2001) and a gradual ’emotional turn’ (Bondi et al, 2005). Anderson and Smith (2001) argued for an emotional geography that considers the socio-spatial dimensions of emotions in everyday life. In other words, emotional geography examines the interconnection between people, places and emotions (Gregory, 2011). What have been suggested – and clarifies things – is that the intention of emotional geographies is not to objectify (to visualize) emotions but to consider them as ‘relational flows, fluxes and currents’ (Bondi et al, 2005) that are produced within the everyday and impact on the everyday. The becoming character of such emotional entanglements between people, places and socio-cultural situations seems thus to be of great importance. If we think of everyday life, emotions are significant part of the complex social, cultural, political and technological layers that comprise our lives – they have social aspects. Indeed, emotions are subjective but as Smith et al (2009: 11) argues, they are important indicators of our ‘entanglement with the world’. While contemporary geographers (i.e. Bondi, Davidson, Smith, Anderson) have argued on a direct, live and performative way of exploring emotional geographies – the performative element has interrconnections with the ‘non-representational theory‘ that other geographers (i.e. Thrift, Dewsbury, McCormack e.t.c.) have also suggested.

The shift of geography towards such direct, ambulatory and performative ways challenges the visual logic of geography – what Bonnett (2003) describes as the need to have a ‘big picture of the world’. Therefore, it initiates a dialogue on other senses as well – something that as I also researched in my PhD, may have connections to the walking practice and the aspects of flaneur and psychogeography. More thoughts soon.

Image from Mascalls School website

Image from Mascalls School website

Bibliography

  • Anderson, K. and Smith, S. (2001). ‘Emotional geographies’ Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 26, pp. 7–10.
  • Bondi, L. Davidson, J. and Smith, M. (eds.) (2005). Introduction: Geography’s Emotional Turn. In Emotional Geographies, London: Ashgate, pp. 1-16.
  • Bonnett, A. (2003). ‘Geography as the world discipline: Connecting popular and academic geographical imaginations’ Area, 35 (1), pp. 55-63.
  • Gregory, D. (2011). ‘Emotional Geography’ In Gregory, D. Johnston, R., Pratt, G.,Watts, M. and Whatmore, S. (eds.) The Dictionary of Human Geography (5th ed.), London; New York: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 188-189.
  • Lefebvre, H. (1991). The Production of Space, trans. Nicholson-Smith, D. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Rodaway, P. (1994). Sensuous Geographies: Body, Sense, and Place. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Smith, M., Davidson, J., Cameron, L. and Bondi, L. (eds.) (2009). Geography and emotion: Emerging constellations. In Emotion, Place and Culture, Aldershot: Ashgate Press, pp. 1-18.
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Senses and walking: The metaphor of skin

Text: Bill Psarras © 2014

Senses are everywhere. As David Howes (2005) also argues they ‘mediate between mind and body, idea and object, self and environment’. Walking is a multisensory process, it activates all the senses; initiating thus a dialogue of different intensities between the body and the surroundings. The sensing process produces knowledge, which the body considers and consequently acts. As senses form a connecting thread between walker’s body and the city, they connect it to the outer world – creating an emerging kind of sociality. Indeed, Howes (2005) among others has described ‘senses as social’ – but it is the walking process that creates an alignment between thinking, sensing and the world as Solnit (2001) also describes.

Walking in the city impacts on the formation of sensory and thus social relations, which initiate a series of felt emotional encounters of different intensities. ‘[…] Senses make place’ says Feld (1996, in Edensor: 2000: 121) and they create a connection, an attachment between the walker and the traversed place. The rhythmicity of the walk which is influenced by the material and immaterial encounters creates different sensory encounters. Thus, sensory experience is connected with the production of emotions and thus with our experience of a place. If we think of such experiences as sensory geographies, then they are closely connected to further emotional geographies (also Tuan, in Rodaway, 1994). Senses are both the medium and the message – to echo McLuhan – always under constant change while being on the move. Following Gibson (1968), senses are active systems – not passive receptors of information. Yet, let’s imagine the walker’s body in the city. Following the diagram of Skurnik & George (1967 in Rodaway, 1994: 27) ‘The range of senses’, sight and listening is the most distant senses while smell, touch and taste are more intimate. Indeed, (apart from the very personal taste), to smell or even touch something reveals degrees of intimacy, which if it is of duration, then it entails felt emotions and an attachment. Speaking of hapticity (i.e. touching or walking), I would like to address a metaphorical correlation.

Senses initiate from our skin. Can we also argue for the city as an urban skin? Following a philosophical reflection on the senses by M. Serres. Serres (1985: 3) describes skin as a ‘variety of our mingled senses’. In his words, human soul and the surrounding world celebrate their fusion upon the skin. Bringing my reflection in city terms, city’s skin (i.e. the street and public space / see also my previous post) becomes the mutual terrain that reveals every produced tension with social, cultural, political and emotional implications. If we accept human skin as something that is vivid with traces or scars of lived experience  – the urban skin becomes a surface of city’s experience, where the element of passing time is of great significance. Thus I could described it through geological lenses (Psarras, forthcoming paper) or through what Diaconu (2011: 28) mentioned as an ‘urban patina’.

© N. Charitonidou

Photo by N. Charitonidou ©

Bibliography

  • Howes, D. (2005). Architecture of the Senses. In Zardini, M. (ed.) Sense of the City, Montreal: Canadian Center for Architecture, pp. 322–331.
  • Edensor, T. (2000). Moving through the city. In Bell, D. and Haddour, A. (eds.) City Visions, Harlow: Pearsons Education Limited, pp. 121-140.
  • 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.
  • Solnit, R. (2001). Wanderlust: A History of Walking. New York: Penguin Books.
  • Diaconu, M. (2011b). Matter, Movement, Memory: Footnotes to an urban tactile design. In Diaconu, M., Heuberger, E., Berr-Mateus, R. and Vosicky Marcel, L. (eds.) Senses and the city: An interdisciplinary approach to urban sensescapes, Munich; Vienna: Lit Verlag, pp. 13-33.

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