City Perception Through Psychogeography

Molly Dilworth, Naked City 1, Naked City 2, 2008; acrylic on paper. Dilworth transposed satellite maps of the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles with communications patterns from telecommunications networks and other invisible forces. Dilworth’s hypnotic patchworks suggest the multi-spatial and temporal geography involved in locating and describing oneself in the contemporary city—the virtual “abundance”. From Issue 58
The 19th Century English essayist and critic, Thomas de Quincey is supposed to be the first case of an obsessive vagabond who randomly walked through London. De Quincey, who was born in the city of Manchester, is well known for his autobiography “Confessions of an English Opium Eater” (London, 1821). He was an Opium addicted that influenced on writers as Poe and Baudelaire about the imagination and altered states of consciousness.
In the SXX, the Surrealists and Dadaists in the 30’s, and the Lettrists in the 50’s, transformed this necessity of walking into a systematic practice that included drug and alcohol induced wanderings through Paris. In the 60’s, the Situationists supported by the social theorist and filmmaker Guy Debord, developed the psychogeography, a science of “derive” that relates psychology with geography and Art. The Virtual Museum Canada provides this definition : “Psycho geography is defined in the first volume of Situationist International as “the study of specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.”
The adjective psychogeographical can be applied to the findings arrived at by this type of investigation, to their influence on human feelings, and more generally to any situation or conduct that seems to reflect the same spirit of discovery. (G. Debord. Les Leveres Nues #6, september 1955). Debord proposed to delineate some terrains of observation, together with the observation of certain processes of chance and predictability in the streets. The exploration of the built environment would not include preconceptions and would not be restricted by discussions about architectural styles or residential percentages. The discussions would be based on the theory inhabiting an urban environment in a new way. Some adopted methods were, for instance, to follow one’s nose by chasing smells or navigate through Paris utilizing a map of London.
Another important text was “Formulary for a New Urbanism”, published by the political theorist Ivan Vladimirovitch Chtcheglov under the name of Gilles Ivain in 1958. This text was the inspiration for the Lettrist International and Situational International. Lettrism was an artistic style conceived in Romania based on Surrealism and popularization of Poetry. The lettrists worked including sound as well as graphic arts involving letters.

Guy Debord, “Psychogeographic guide of Paris: edited by the Bauhaus Imaginiste Printed in Dermark by Permild & Rosengreen.The map of Paris has been cut up in different areas that are experienced by some people as distinct unities (neighbourhoods). The mentally felt distance between these areas are visualized by spreading out the pieces of the cut up map. By wandering, letting onself float or drift (dériver is the French word used) each person can discover his or her own ambient unities of a specific city. The red arrows indicate the most frequent used crossings between the islands of the urban archipel (separated by flows of motorized traffic). Excerpt and picture from

In the psychological field, Psychogeography studies the behavioral impact of urban space. The representation of the analysis is firstly a creative writing, then, a walk through the city on foot and finally the preparation of a map, that more than a map is a graphic expression with symbols, pictures and drawings with interesting emerging patterns of loops, spirals. Being a filmmaker himself, Debord also collaged sound and image in disjunctive forms designed to impact the standard current effects of mass entertainment. “Though maplike, The Naked City is not a map but, rather, a diagram of psychogeographic terrain. In this revolutionary document, Debord and Jorn recorded (first on foot and then graphically) their experience of the few remaining areas of Paris that they felt had escaped destruction through modern bureaucratic development.” (Stephanie Snyder, Art Lies issue 58)

Campbell, Entangled We, 2008; graphite and colored pencil on paper. New York artist Beth Campbell explores psychogeography in terms of competing cultural forces, considering the potential of rigorous self-examination in relationship to dogma, popular culture and personal history. From Issue 58
Guide Psychogéographique de OWU, 2009, Student´s map. From
Recently the theory has been manifested in other practical ways and tangible interpretation of ideas, as the Situationists group, that brings projects to a more popular audience. The mapping is not a standard representation of a territory, but is committed to the “mental mapping” of physical civic spaces. It is a new kind of cartography, of versions of places as they exist in our minds influenced by our emotions. It rebuilds the way the urban environment is represented by the inclusion of geo- coordinates, graffitis, demolitions, mass media communications, etc.
The everyday elements that make these places what they are, and make them recognizable are not shown in an institutional map. Psychogeographists remind us that these places might be passed along, but the feeling, the emotional effects, are left out, outside in the city or inside a house or public building. The theory is complemented by the web, being it an analogy to “derive” through the city: “In 1992 the British author Sadie Plant wrote that, “to derive was to notice the way in which certain areas, streets, or buildings resonate with states of mind, inclinations, and desires, and to seek out reasons for movement other than those for which an environment was designed.” (excerpt from Virtual Museum Canada).

In the field of urban morphology, it would be a good idea to propose predictions and measurements of drifting patterns. The application of Psychogeography exercises does not need to be exclusively for the city. The concept could be applied to landscapes too, in different scales. In this case, the perceptions will be textures of leaves, grass, trees, maybe the location of stones, patches of different terrains, misplaced objects, any element we are able to perceive.


Stephanie Snyder, Art Lies issue 58

Formulary for a new urbanism (English translation)

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