There are certain commodities that we take for granted on a moment by moment basis, not material things but abstract ideas that, though incredibly important to us, we never actively consider as being pliable. Space is in effect a non-tangible, un-corporeal entity – that is to say that it, in many ways, is out of our hands.
When we are younger it is the places that we cannot go that are the places that we want to go – reverse psychology in practise: if your mum or dad says that you cannot climb on or then you instantly want nothing more than to do that. As we grow up we lose that a little. Sure, it might still be there at the back of your mind but at the same time you become too ‘mature’ to act upon it. As well as that, our parameters change and suddenly, although we can climb on if we want to, being allowed means that we instantly don’t want to anymore. Finally there’s the added barrier of law – maybe you do have somewhere you want to go but aren’t allowed because of legal limitations?
I’ve been studying Psychogeography for a few months now and recently had my first real experience of what it’s about. It might not sound like much, but imagine an abandoned quarry-looking building. It isn’t explicitly signposted, but you know that you aren’t meant to go in there. Then you and about twenty other people (including your two lecturers (one of them being Will Self) and your guest speaker for the day) enter the site. The entry itself involves half-crouching under trees as you follow a graffiti-d cement wall off of the footpath, crossing a stream so stagnant that it’s a radioactive green, climbing a dirt mound dotted with rusty metal scraps, and then completed with the half-vault of the aforementioned concrete wall onto a pile of discarded metal. By this stage you already feel a sense of power – it’s surprising how often we ignore the effort of entering a place, we take it for granted that the door is open or that we are allowed. Our entrance – or perhaps intrusion – was followed by the place itself – littered with a literal mountain of things it was an old industrial site of some sort that was still home to the gargantuan machines that would, once, have been key to the sites operation – now they are disused and in disrepair, surrounded by discarded mattresses, iron and aluminium brackets, old newspapers and broken cars. The place is, for all intents and purposes, useless… But there was security, and they saw to it that we left, which is exactly the paradox that gave me my first visceral experience of Psychogeography.
…crossing a stream so stagnant that it’s a radioactive green…
As a school of thought, Psychogeography is based in some part upon the Situationist movement and is concerned with the individual, or human, relationship with space. For example, a Psychogeographer would be interested in the human relationship with public and private space, and no doubt the difference between the two. The relevance in our trespassing is that that space –seemingly disused and devoid of purpose – was, for whatever reason, off limits to the public. Perhaps it was the camaraderie of the situation, or perhaps it was the sheer individuality of that site (at least in terms of the places I have been before) but there was something utterly haunting about being there. For that small amount of time we, as a group, had claimed that place as our own despite laws and rights of ownership that stated the contrary – we had re-claimed that space.
Writing this, I am aware that this will not make sense to a lot of people – but as I said earlier, we take space, place and the ability to access it for granted. Consider for a second how you interact with space when you go shopping, how do you move? You go into shops and are restricted to the shop floor, you are aware that there will be warehouses or stockrooms somewhere close by but you exist within the illusionary environment that the company has created for you to exist within. It’s an idea that we are all absolutely aware of, but do not consider. Imagine if you tried to go off the shop floor and enter the stock room – you wouldn’t be allowed. It is an inherent part of our society, and indeed a fundamental aspect of Psychogeography as a discipline, that our experiences of place are heavily restricted or controlled by an anonymous or autonomous ‘power’ – whether that be in the tubes run by TFL or in the aisles arranged by TESCO.
…we had re-claimed that space…
The point is that, through whatever means or for whatever reason, we do not to relate to space or place in a natural way. Short of moving out into some wild forest, we simply could not. Psychogeography, to me, is an attempt to address the imbalance of the modern spatial condition. Strange as it sounds there is something utterly empowering about being in a place that you know you are not meant to be. There is something astounding in going into an off-limits site that could very easily act as a metaphor for all waste culture.
Climbing a mountain is a feat, standing at the top and knowing that only a handful of other people have stood where you are standing is deserving of its own kind of wonder. But Psychogeography has opened my eyes to the fact that it doesn’t take a natural mountain to find wonder – as amazing as Everest might be, a mountain of rubbish in an abandoned site on the outskirts of Uxbridge holds its own form of majesty and, for the most part, you can guarantee that once you’ve reached the top you will be one of a very few people that ever will.
…an attempt to address the imbalance of the modern spatial condition…
I am not asking you to go break into a building or an abandoned site but I am saying that, in this culture wherein we can easily become just a part of the larger organism of society, it is worth considering your relationship with place. It can be as simple a thing as turning left where you’d normally go right, or going up when you’d normally go down – my point is that in just a few altered footsteps you might happen upon a scene which utterly changes your opinion of environment, place and space.