Tag Archives: Situationalism

Psychogeography

Everyone has their own theory about the methods and purposes of psychogeography, is it magic or unknown science, but the one thing that people are sure about is that it involves walking. Psychogeography may be a form of literary or artistic fiction about a crowd-sourced index and map of various cities. It is not intended for the sole-benefit of the researcher, although it may well be, but for a larger audience. In this it can be distinguished from religious or spiritual walks; pilgrimages, walking meditations or the Aboriginal walkabout as these are done for the spiritual benefit to the walker.

Bionic Ear Lane

There are different types of psychogeography.

There is the psychogeography of the Situationalists; the dérive, and all that programatic pseudo-scientific shambolic stuff at the start. Not forgetting all the other wanders of the city that had come before them, especially in those Paris streets.

The psychogeography of Stewart Homes (London Psychogeographical Association and the Manchester Area Psychogeographic) where the Situationalists philosophy is mixed with the magical geomancy of lay lines and architectural conspiracy theories.

The psychogeography of Will Self with his long distance traverses of the urban landscape of London, New York, Los Angeles… As Will Self explains:

 “most of the pychogeographic fraternity (and, dispiritingly, we are a fraternity: middle-aged men in Gore-Tex, armed with notebooks and cameras… ) are really only local historians with an attitude problem. Indeed real, professional local historians view us as insufferably bogus and travelling – if anywhere at all – right up ourselves.” (Will Self Psychogeography Bloomsbury, 2007, p.12)

All this walking may not be as bogus for historian as Will Self implies; Charlie Ward writes on his blog:

“when I finished a Masters Degree and realised that I was a historian, I’ve noticed the foibles that characterise the guild. One of these is the habit of ‘taking the air’ in locations at which past events occurred. While I remain coy about these activities, I was buoyed to read in Mark McKenna’s excellent biography An Eye for Eternity ,that Australia’s pre-eminent historian, Manning Clark, was a committed practitioner of this eccentric science. According to McKenna, Clark spent days driving across the outback on trips punctuated by the historian pacing about like a bush parson, divining the temper of times gone by.”

My own version of psychogeography are predicated on research and strays into both the territory of local historians and even archeologists. When I asked my friend Geoff Irvin, a real, professional archeologist about describing my activities as “a surface archeological survey” was an abuse of term, he scoffed at the much abused idea of surface archeology and told me to abuse away.

My predilection for amateur local history comes from mother’s side of the family; my mother’s main interests are Chinese immigration to Australia and graveyards in Central Victoria. My maternal grandfather, Harold S. Williams wrote a series of history articles, “Shades of the Past” for the Mainichi newspaper during the years 1953 to 1957 along with a couple of books. He was a bit of flâneur, reporting on the local history, observing the coffee shops and other minutia of life in Osaka, sometimes with a revolver in his pocket. So I suppose that I’m carrying on a family tradition.

I have now been writing this blog for six years. Travelling around Melbourne: walking riding my bicycle, taking trains and trams. I am not a pedestrian purist, like Will Self, for me psychogeography can be conducted by other forms of transport, although for accurate observations being on foot (or on a bicycle because it is easy to stop and start) is best.

Perhaps we need another term, other crazy ‘psychogeography’, or perhaps the activity has already divided in specialist areas of interest: ghost signs, paint spotting (looking for graffiti), legend tripping and urban exploration.


Sexy Girls, Girls, Girls

Yes, lots of young, beautiful, sexy girls with big round tits all over Melbourne.

Sofles & Deb in Hosier Lane. Photo by Kevin Anslow

Sofles & Deb in Hosier Lane. Photo by Kevin Anslow

Photo by Kevin Anslow.

Photo by Kevin Anslow.

Photo by Kevin Anslow.

Photo by Kevin Anslow.

Kevin Anslow, who created the Melbourne Street Art 86 site, sent me these photographs of the paste up dialogue attached to Sofles and Deb’s new piece on Hosier Lane. (Thankyou Kevin.)

“Hey babe does it worry you that exaggerated, big titted girls like us are saturating street art iconography these days?” the speech balloon puts these words in the mouth of Sofles girl.

And Deb’s girl replies “No silly. From Rone to Adnate to Herakut, empty portraits of young girls with big eyes are the best way to make it commercially. Think anime or porn culture or fashion photography; this is about rehashing the most palatable mainstream motif. It’s not about finding beauty in new ways, it’s about reconstructing beauty in the most standard and insipid way. So girlfriend, stop trying to use your brain and just look pretty. Tee-hee.”

The speech balloon dialogue caps Sofles and Deb in the best possible way because it improves the work and opens up an interaction that wouldn’t be allowed in art galleries. The paste-ups are a wonderful piece of Situationalist provocation detouring and subverting the cartoon images. The dialogue is not puritanical; I enjoy porn and fashion photography but I wouldn’t want to look at them all day (I hate anime but this involves a reaction caused by an over-exposure to anime). Like me the dialogue is worried about “saturating” with over-exposure and not about the images themselves. It is calling for more progressive street art and attacking the conservatism of commercial art (the old school tattoo, comic book and fantasy art the influences street art). It is also a challenge to think about the issues of gender and commercial art.

Looking for the vocabulary to write about street art illustration work like Rone, Sofles and Deb, I turned to Japanese art and find bijinga (beautiful-girl picture). I was happy to find the word for there is little else to these bijinga pictures except for a beautiful girl. They are just, in the words of the speech balloon, “rehashing the most palatable mainstream motif” with different themes and in different styles. As art these bijinga pictures are simply eye candy and the artists who create them will enjoy ephemeral fame.

But what are the consequences of this abundance of images of wide-eyed buxom girls? Will people become bored with them and cause an opposite reaction in images?  Will girls follow their example?

P.S. Later the speech balloons were revealed to be the work of Melbourne street artist CDH, see his webpage for more about it.


The Assault on Culture

On re-reading Stewart Homes The Assault on Culture (Aporia Press & Unpopular Books, 1988, London).

Maybe I should have been reading Grail Marcus Lipstick Traces instead as it is better written and covers the same trajectory as Homes does in The Assault on Culture. Homes follows the history of the various post-war utopian art movements: Cobra, Lettriste, College du Pataphysics, Nuclear Art, the International Movement for the Imaginist Bauhaus, Situationists, Fluxus, Auto-Destructiove Art, Dutch Provos, Kommune 1, Motherfuckers, Yippies, White Panthers, Mail Art, Punk, Neoism, up to Class War in 1985.

Situationalist slogan stenciled in Melbourne, 2010

Homes published his shorter book a year before Marcus – it is shorter and physically lighter than Marcus’s tome. There are other physical differences between the two books – there are no illustrations in Homes, no soundtrack CD – just a densely written history.

Homes declares in the preface that he is writing for the insiders first and others second – Marcus is clearly writing for the others. Also in the preface Homes scorns Andre Breton’s interest in mysticism and magic whereas Marcus brings magic, heretics and, even, God into his preface. Although Homes can’t ignore the historical connections with Lollards and Anabaptists, he didn’t have to worry, the tradition can be traced further back to the completely non-mystical Cynics of Ancient Greece – Diogenes pissing and throwing plucked chickens like the punks – so we don’t have bring religion or magic into it.

Homes might be able to ignore the mysticism but he couldn’t ignore the music and it is the music that provided a focus for Marcus. The music of the Sex Pistols is the beginning and the end for Marcus. So Marcus leaves out Neoism, Mail Art, Fluxus and other groups.

This history could be continued with groups like Negativeland, Survival Research Labs and the Church of the SubGenius and the street art movement. Home’s careful distinction between groups and movements becomes clearer with these examples; Negativeland is clearly a group with a few members whereas street art is a movement with thousands of participating artists.

Paris, Melbourne

Why include street art with these utopian political art practices? It is a hard case to prove, as there are thousands of disparate artists involved with no leaders writing street art manifesto to quote but the trace elements (to use Marcus’s metaphor) are there. From the Letterist International street art has the love of letters and the continuation of an urban exploration and reinvention. The linage between political stencils and street art stencils is clear from Crass and other punk bands. And some street art is an opposition to the contemporary gallery art.

“Down with the abstract, long live the ephemeral” – a Situationalist slogan from 1968 that could be the slogan of street art.

Phoenix, Less Ephemeral More Ephemeral, Melbourne


Rone “When She’s Gone”

There was only one unsold work at the opening of Rone’s “When She’s Gone” exhibition at Backwoods Gallery on Friday night. Almost everything had been sold before the opening – red Backwood’s sticker beside them on the wall. When she’s gone she’s gone.

It was not surprising as Rone is a Melbourne street art legend, a member of the Everfresh crew, who was busted by the cops with Civil at the 2003 Canterbury “Empty Show”. Rone started decorating skate decks and skate parks and he then moved to large-scale faces of women. The high contrast images of the beautiful face of a young woman look like so many photographs from fashion magazines.

Rone has been refining his close-up image of a woman’s face for years in stencils, screen prints, paste-ups and stickers. And the image has become very refined. In 13 works in the exhibition and walls everywhere Rone’s image of a woman’s face was everywhere. Rone was giving away sheets of stickers of his postage stamp version of the woman’s face.

Everyone at the opening was talking about the works on real brick cladding that Rone was using as a support on four works. It is not that remarkable, just Google “real brick cladding”, and a bit hyper-real given that it didn’t matter what the support was, paper, canvas or brick cladding.

Rone uses the Situationalist International process of décollage (de-collage or tearing away) posters. The Situationalists like “anonymous lacerations” of advertisements defaced by vandals, they became “found images”. “In 1961 Jacques Villeglé and Raymond Hains exhibited their décollages—torn and ripped agitprop posters—at the exhibition titled in a play on words, “La France déchirée” (France in Shreds).” According to McDonough, Hains’ displayed the posters in order to expose the Algerian war. (Whitney Dail “A Critical Review of ‘The Beautiful Language of My Century’ by Tom McDonough”) Unlike the Situationalists Rone doesn’t use décollage for explicitly political purposes – it was all on top of Everfresh and other posters.

Rone’s exhibition is pure pop beauty. The triptych “I know what I know” fills the whole wall, like a series of comic book panels with text. Rone’s titles have pop culture references to song lyrics, like “Hurt So Good” (John Cougar) or “Blue Monday” (Joy Division) or “Ain’t No Sunshine” (Bill Withers).

“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone

It’s not warm when she’s away.

Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone

And she’s always gone too long

Anytime she goes away.”

- Bill Withers


Situationalism Up Against the Wall

The Museum of a World Forgotten presents “Where Popular Stopped Being Pop”. The museum is actually some frames pasted up on Sutherland Lane, off La Trobe Street. The cook standing at the back door of the restaurant sends his assistant across the lane to pick up one of the A4 pages documenting the exhibition. He doesn’t look at the documentation for very long – it is all art student bullshit.

The Museum of a World Forgotten, Sutherland Lane

“9. In a world which really is topsy-turvy, the true is a moment of the false.” (Guy Debord Society of the Spectacle, Debord’s emphasis.)

There is so much that is false in this urban intervention: the paintings are false, the exhibition is false and the documentation is false.

Some of the paintings are dross landscapes, obviously found in some opportunity shop; the others are prints of classic ‘Australian paintings’. The paintings images of a ‘real Australia’ detoured to an urban laneway; landscape painting is always emphasized in a history of Australian art. When did this type of landscape cease being popular? There are a couple of shows on Channel 31 that will teach you how to paint more like them.

The documentation for “The Museum of a World Forgotten” is actually the first five entries from Guy Debord’s book, Society of the Spectacle. The documentation’s layout of the pictures does not represent the actual layout of paintings; the numbers are also false. The only thing that is true about “The Museum of a World Forgotten” is that it is an intentional situationalist action.

I have often commented about street art and situationalism because there are some obvious connections. There are many other aspects of the Debord in street art including the graffiti slogans on the streets of Paris. In talking about street art we need to discuss Debord and the Situationists further: the detourement of images, psychogeography and the flâneur exploration of the city. But it is also sad that a philosophy developed in the 1960s in France when, post Stalinism, the revolution needed to reinvent itself is being repeated in Melbourne endlessly by sophisticated art students (like reciting verses from the Bible).

Ace Wagstaff writes about some of these connections in his article: “Duchamp, Nietzsche and the Spectacle of the Live Creative Act”. Wagstaff writes about the public enjoying the spectacle of a legal graffiti performance at the NGV.

Meanwhile is the ‘true’ revolution starting in the Melbourne’s city square?


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