If you ever find yourself walking (not ambling) more or less without direction, but with an awareness of your surroundings, especially through an urban area, writing about random sights and encounters along the way, then you are engaging (unwittingly, possibly) in psychogeography – in particular a dérive, or ‘drift’. For me, having an interest in the idea of ‘place’ and a liking for producing little snapshots or vignettes of daily life, this is something I did before I knew that it was A Thing. I had named it ‘gristing’ as it produced grist for the word-mill, but those Parisian Situationists got there decades ago, so dérive it is, and dérive I do.
…each circled crack marks
a year lost and unremembered
Of course, walking around seeling inspiration is quite a natural thing to find yourself doing, whether writing, sketching or taking photos. However, there’s a slightly different angle here – getting away from the famous landmarks, tourist attractions, the often arted-about. Instead, it’s about finding value (another of my key artistic themes – you can see why I like this…) elsewhere, and assigning your own importance. On one dérive in Southampton (they are often done in groups), we noted that the top of a multi-storey carpark, prosaic and aesthetically unappealing though it might be, had value as it was (a) publicly accessible, and (b) afforded a view across the rooftops of one of the older parts of the city. Its physical form might be ‘meh’, but it had an unintentional function that was all ‘yeah’.
…to slowly stroll, unseen by whoever
might disapprove and gossip.
So, what’s the outcome of a dérive? Firstly, it can lead to a fresh appreciation of the (urban) environment away from (or as well as) the locations we are told are important. I tend to be drawn to abandoned buildings, little-used yards, and the unkempt parts behind-the -scenes – rusting metal, decaying stonework – anything that adds some diversity to the shiny-shiny frontages and new-build shopping centres worshipped by Mammon’s marketeers. This also where the graffiti hangs out, where the non-mainstream do their thing, and where weeds are allowed to be flowers. Secondly, it is a source of inspiration, material… grist. I’ve recently published a poetry pamphlet, Navigational Array (Dense Weed Press, 2017) which is largely based on dérives, including the illustrations, ink-drawings based on photos taken along the way. The poems are very different from my more satirical performance pieces, and would not exist if I didn’t dérive. Not only do I learn about my surroundings, but I am broadened creatively, so on I drift…