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Tag Archives: psychogeography

Melbourne Psychogeography Regrets

Like the flâneurs (Sigmund Freud in Vienna, Charles Dickens in London and Gerard Nerval in Paris) psychogeography is pretty much the exclusive purview of a privileged minority of men. Psychogeography (along with the associated activities of urban exploration, surface archeology, ghost-signs, and paint-spotting) is unfairly dominated by white, middle-class, middle-aged men — including myself. From Will Self to the conservative politician Micheal Portillo’s tv program Abandoned Buildings or Tony Robinson walking somewhere else — at the professional level there are no women.

The activity of walking around the city unfairly excludes both women and other people (especially the original owners of the land) simply because they are not always as safe as I am. This is not a desirable situation. I don’t wish to exclude anyone and I would be happy if there was a much greater diversity of psychogeographers. Hence this statement of regret, that I’ve written on behalf of all Melbourne psychogeographers.

I want to write: women reclaim the night and explore the city… Indigenous people tell your own stories of it because it this always was and is your land… but that might not be wise… Indeed (if memory serves me correctly, because I am searching for the source) in the original phase of psychogeography the North African members of the Situationalists who were not legally allowed to explore Paris at night because of a curfew.

We need less cars and more people out on the streets, or even, at the front of their homes would be an improvement. Instead in home renovation after home renovation we have the architectural retreat to the backyard in the suburbs. We need more active witnesses, or ‘neighbours’ as they used to be called, and not passive recording on CCTV (see my blog post on CCTV).

In considering all the practicalities of walking around (insert a quote from Will Self here, something on his gore-tex underwear), the historical research, the documentation and photographs …. We have been forgetting to re-imagine the city. Renaming buildings and inventing readymade sculptures were amongst my first psychogeographical activities; there was the Dalek Headquarters in South Melbourne with its blue panopticon eye surveilling the city, the Cylons in Box Hill … Exercising the imagination is the start of the process.

We have to imagine a city where all people are equally safe, a place where being in public is safer than being in private, because only then can we make such a place a reality.

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Competitive psychogeography, preliminary rules

Introducing a new competitive form of walking combining a scavenger hunt with aspects of psychogeography. Walks would be scored not on speed but on what the what the walker, sees, photographs and collects on the walk. Judges, or social media, used to award bonus points. These rules still need to be tested, fine tuned and agreed to by a federation of competitive psychogeographers.

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Points are awarded for:

Spotting cats, first person to see and say: ‘cat’ wins one point. Photographing and reviewing random cats on Twitter for bonus points. Twitchy bird watchers may not approve but the birds are also trying to spot cats.

Playing cards, collecting found playing cards on walks with the objective is to make a full deck. The highest poker hand collected on the walk wins extra points.

Pavement stars are the junction of five or more divisions in the pavement. Avoid stepping on cracks in the pavement, although there is no penalty point for this.

Paper planes; the beat artist Harry Smith picked up every paper airplane he saw on the streets of Manhattan from 1961 to 1983 and his collection of paper planes is now with the Getty Research Institute.

Bonus points are awarded for:

Classic psychogeographical exercises in imagining new or clandestine uses for buildings. Consider what a building or area could be used for in a movie, here are some examples.

Paintspotting graffiti, street art and ghost-signs; again bonus points awarded for online posting.

Gleaming and foraging for edible weeds, fruit hanging over fences, hard rubbish collecting, dumpster diving and other locally sourced resources. This could be scored by weight, per kilo.

Saying ‘Snap’ when you spot someone with a matching item of clothing etc. to what you or your companions are currently wearing or carrying. I’m not sure how to score this but it should be higher than the single point awarded for simply spotting cats.

These rules are still in development and further suggestions for rules or point scoring are welcomed.


Psychogeographical Walk: shoes and artists

A small group of determined psychogeographers set off heading south from the corner of Illan Lane and Tinning Street. We were examining the transition zone between Sydney Road and the Upfield railway line, exploring some of the streets that running parallel to the railway, before doubling back along Sydney Road for a drink at Edinburgh Castle.

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We stopped at Tinning Street presents, the only art gallery that we actually visited on the walk. Michael Thomas’s photographs, Night Works looked as if they had come from Thomas’s nocturnal psychogeographical walks. The huge Duratran colour print photographs mounted in Tasmanian oak light boxes made the suburban look impressive.

Some of us were very familiar with the area but there are always something new to see when you feel like exploring. As well we had several fortuitous accidental encounters with local artists. The first was with Julian di Martino on his bicycle. I think Julian mentioned that he’d been to Soma Gallery, a shop front gallery on Sydney Road. Next we ran into Jon Beinart who was busy preparing to open a pop-surrealism gallery in Sparta Place, it is a great location for a gallery.

Brunswick Kind.. 8:13

Then, and we had just been looking at Brunswick Kind on the Victoria St carpark wall when Trevor ‘Turbo’ Brown came along carrying two paintings. Turbo is a Latje Latje man from Mildura and the winner of the 2012 Victorian Deadly Art Award. He was hoping to raise some money by selling paintings on the street, a tough gig with colourful bold paintings. We gave him some money to pose for a couple of photos.

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The larger painting is Turbo Brown Dingo Man, about his spirit animal. The smaller is about a story of hiding in the bush with his son to jump out and scare, “just to scare, not kill” Turbo explained, two white men who are running away.

The area that we were walking through is a place of shoe factories, new appartments, warehouses, art galleries and studios; this included the iconic Australian footwear of an Ugg Boot factory. The industrial machinery in the carport at the back was an interesting mystery until I noticed the shoe sizes and word “heel”.

Several shoe related warehouses and the Middle Eastern Bakery are still surviving. Other places aren’t doing so well.

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Maybe the shoe businesses are the last hold-outs of Brunswick’s industrial past. There are new empty blocks and new buildings. The entrance of The Wilkinson shows the poetic spirit of real estate developers is at its best when singing the praise of one of their own.

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We were an interesting mix of psychogeographers talking of such things as industrial graffiti, ghost-signs, graffiti, the surface archeology of architectural accretion in the urban environment. I am such a romantic that I have to take a photograph of love paste-ups.

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I wanted to do something to celebrate my 1000th blog post, something that wouldn’t matter if there was three or twenty people and that would require almost no preparation, so a walk fitted that description perfectly. I had requested gifts, drinks and I was rewarded with both including the latest issue of the Clan McGillicuddy magazine Th’Noo, from New Zealand.


1000th Blog Post

This is my 1000th Black Mark blog post. That means approximately 4,000,000 words and 1,400 photographs. There has had 495,000+ views from 155 countries around the world (still no views from Greenland, Cuba, Iran, South Sudan and various central African countries, you get the idea).

Mark @ Sweet Streets

I started this blog in on February 16 in 2008. My first Black Mark blog post was about the painting of the wall of Faster Pussycat and actually includes a video of several notable Melbourne street artists, including Phibs and Deb painting a wall in Fitzroy.

When I started writing this blog it gave me a new reasons and motivation to look at art and Melbourne. I started to look around in a new way. James Gleeson suggested that the role of the art critic is that of an explorer, leading others to new and interesting discoveries. Every week I try to see several exhibitions, walk the streets of Melbourne, as well as spending time reading and researching. I would like to see more art exhibitions but I can’t be everywhere; there is so much to see and Melbourne’s vast geographic sprawl does not make it easy for me.

Between the art galleries I am looking for graffiti, street art, ghost signs, urban design and public art. Other things that have caught my interest from the design of micro-parks to drinking fountains.

It was not just ‘paintspotting’, craning my neck to look down every lane that I passed in I case I spotted some graffiti or a ghost signs. Writing the blog gave me a reason to think more and follow up with further investigations into what I had seen. That research has lead me in many directions, a good hobby should do that, expand your interests rather than narrow them.

Last year my first book was published, Sculptures of Melbourne (Melbourne Books, 2015). My interest in public sculpture grew from writing blog posts about various sculptures. I couldn’t have imagined that I would write a book about public art before starting my blog. Looking at my top ten posts you can tell that the public is interested in the subject.

Top 10 popular Black Mark blog posts (aside from the Home and About pages):

  1. Banksy in Melbourne
  2. Types of Art Galleries
  3. Melbourne’s Public Sculpture
  4. Keith Haring in Melbourne
  5. Where is the political art?
  6. Leonidas @ Sparta Place
  7. Political graffiti
  8. More Street Art Sculpture
  9. More of Melbourne’s Public Sculpture
  10. Russell Street Sculptures

 

Slightly further down the list there is a cluster of three posts that I am particularly proud to have written. In Political Motivation Behind Police Raid I  discovered important background to a major story about attempts to censor art and end public funding for Linden Contemporary Arts. More Art Censorship is unfortunately about a similar story; my initial response to Kevin Rudd’s attempt to censor Bill Henson. I feel I got that exactly right. And my post about the relationship between Street Art, the Internet & Digital Cameras where I’m pleased to have used a chemical metaphor to explain their relationship.

I will be celebrating my 1000th blog post with a psychogeographical walk this Sunday. This is not a tour, but a classic psychogeographical walk, there is no plan and no destination. According to Facebook 20 people say that they will be joining me on this walk, I feel honoured, nervous, imposter syndrome, looking forward to seeing you and curious about what will happen.

Thanks everyone for reading, subscribing and commenting.


My Melbourne Writers Festival

People have been asking me how my book, Sculptures of Melbourne is doing since it was released in May.  I am still working on promoting it, as well as, writing bog posts, pitching for articles and applying for writers awards, the last two without much luck except for a couple of reposts in The Daily Review.

Sculptures of Melbourne cover

I do have a few more events and other things coming up to promote Sculptures of Melbourne. On Sunday there is my sculpture walk for the Melbourne Writers Festival (you can book for on the festival website).

I can’t believe that I am in the Melbourne Writers Festival with my first book. My neighbour Jane, who has written several books and a fun blog about her job on Melbourne’s railways (Station Stories), is green with envy.

The festival liked the idea of a sculpture walk, everyone likes the idea of walking. Last week I was working a sculpture walking map for Walks Victoria. It is almost finished; just a few more photos to upload. Anyone can map out a walk on their website and I notice that there are a couple of street art walks (I am doing my walk for an exchange for publicity).

During the Melbourne Writers Festival I hope that I run into the great pedestrian and writer, Will Self, who is also appearing at the festival. The ultimate horror of an intoxicated fan and first time author who wants to tell him that the solution to his, and J. G. Ballard’s, problem with ending their sci-fi novels is that they should be writing their stories as role-playing scenarios. Actually I’d probably just tell him about Nick Gadd’s superb psychogeography blog, Melbourne Circle. (Don’t worry Will I’m not a stalker.)

Anyway, fantasy conversations aside, Melbourne Books has done a fantastic, unbelievable job at promoting my book. I’ve had the experience of going into a bookshops and not being able to find my book because it has been so prominently displayed.

Charles Web Gilbert, Matthew Flinders Memorial, Melbourne

Charles Web Gilbert, Matthew Flinders Memorial, a stop on my walk.


Desire Lines @ Brunswick Arts

On Friday night there was an opening at Brunswick Arts Space, an artist-run-space. In the main gallery there is a group exhibition, “Desire Lines” with thirty-five works by Jo Waite, Leon Van De Graaff, Alex Clark, Martin Nixon, Jess Parker, Sarah Howell, David Blumenstein, Michael Fikaris, and many other artists. ‘Desire lines’ are informal paths that people make to get where they want to go.

The exhibition was mix of contemporary art, psychogeography, illustration, comics and zines that all remember and record Brunswick. It might sound like an odd mix but the local details illustrations of the suburb in the pages of comic books are a rich vein of psychogeographical research. There is a whole wall of art work for comic books that illustrate this point, like Martin Nixon’s “The way to the entrance to the entry to Squishface” (Squishface is an open comic artists studio in Brunswick). Melbourne underground comics have a long tradition of mapping the city, going back to, as far as I can remember, Yell Olé! by Brendan Tolley and Bernard Caleo where the heroes battled the architecture of the city.

The most comprehensive and democratic map of Brunswick ever constructed.

The most comprehensive and democratic map of Brunswick ever constructed.

At the opening the focus of attention and discussion was an open collaboration on a wall sized map of the suburb: “The Most Comprehensive and Democratic Map of Brunswick Ever Constructed.” Everyone at the opening was writing and drawing on it, adding their landmarks and details. The local artists are aware how much Brunswick is changing as apartment blocks are built around the gallery in the former factory space.

It was good to see Victor Gris, the curator of the Counihan Gallery in Brunswick, at the opening, not just personally but also that he is engaged with the local art community.

In the upstairs gallery was Denise Hall’s series of five paintings “Creature”. Hall’s expressionist paintings with a limited palette have been torn apart and reassembled, like the butchered meat they depict.


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.

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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 than 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.


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