Psychogeography describes the effect of a geographical location on the emotions and behaviour of individuals
Photo: Constant (Constant A. Nieuwenhuys) Tate London
25 March 2022 | James Porteous | Clipper Media News
How do different places make us feel and behave?
The term psychogeography was invented by the Marxist theorist Guy Debord in 1955 in order to explore this.
Inspired by the French nineteenth century poet and writer Charles Baudelaire’s concept of the flâneur – an urban wanderer – Debord suggested playful and inventive ways of navigating the urban environment in order to examine its architecture and spaces.
As a founding member of the avant-garde movement Situationist International, an international movement of artists, writers and poets who aimed to break down the barriers between culture and everyday life, Debord wanted a revolutionary approach to architecture that was less functional and more open to exploration.
The reimagining of the city proposed by psychogeography has its roots in dadaism and surrealism, art movements which explored ways of unleashing the subconscious imagination. Tristam Hillier’s paintings such as La Route des Alpes 1937 could be described as an early example of the concept.
Psychogeography gained popularity in the 1990s when artists, writers and filmmakers such as Iain Sinclair and Patrick Keiller began using the idea to create works based on exploring locations by walking.
Revolutionary alliance of European avant-garde artists, writers and poets formed at a conference in Italy in 1957 (as Internationale Situationiste or IS)
The IS developed a critique of capitalism based on a mixture of Marxism and surrealism.
Leading figure of the movement Guy Debord identified consumer society as the Society of the Spectacle in his influential 1967 book of that title. In the field of culture situationists wanted to break down the division between artists and consumers and make cultural production a part of everyday life.
It combined two existing groupings, the Lettrist International and the International Union for a Pictorial Bauhaus. As well as writer and filmmaker Guy Debord, the group also prominently included the former CoBrA painter Asger Jorn, and the former CoBrA artist Constant. British artist Ralph Rumney was a co-founder of the movement.
Situationist ideas played an important role in the revolutionary Paris events of 1968. The IS was dissolved in 1972.
Perhaps, like me, you’ve seen wildfires raging and glaciers melting on the news and felt helpless. In the face of reports that the impacts of climate change are worse than expected, what on Earth can you do?
While you may not be able to fix the big problems alone, there are ways to take action, and this can start with something as simple as a walk.
Walking mindfully – taking time to observe your surroundings and the thoughts and feelings they evoke – can help you see familiar spaces like your own street anew. This can make you more aware and appreciative of them, perhaps igniting a desire to protect them in turn.
I first became aware of the power of walking as a way of engaging with climate change when writing my novel, The Half-life of Snails. Setting time aside to explore the landscapes around Wylfa in North Wales and Chernobyl in Ukraine – both marked by the presence of nuclear power stations – I discovered how these places can awaken extreme emotional responses to this way of generating energy.
Urthona has always been a champion of psychogeography.
Like psychotherapy psychogeography inhabits the uncertain border between science and art.
It is the exploration of landscape and nature as a mapping of the psyche, in which inner terrain becomes outer terrain and vice versa, and in which the structures of society are experienced by the act of walking the land.
A few years ago we interviewed the celebrated nature writer Robert McFarlane, and asked him about his psychogeographical influences. To reach this go to URTHONA SHOP above and order issue 28.
Here are some links to other features of psychogeographical interest around this website.
More entries: click on Psychogeography in CATEGORIES menu at bottom of page.
NEW FOREST FRINGES A tour of the littoral fringes of Southampton Water
QUEST FOR CONTOURS in the company of Ruskin
EDWARD THOMAS master of the prose of walking.
THOMAS HARDY a tenebrous walk in Grantchester Meadows.
CLIFTON photo diary: faded elegance, stone alleys & balconies.
NEWNHAM poets in the suburbs.
Editor’s landscape photography: studies in atmosphere, hidden corners & byways….
Other Psychogeography Blogs we recommend