Psychogeography: London, Southwark

It’s now the low residency fortnight on the course at UAL. I’ve spent the past three days in the Southwark area of London while attending some of the course events. Since starting the course, most my Southwark walkabout explorations have been from Denmark Hill train station to Camberwell University of Arts on the Peckham Road. Now I had the chance to soak up this buzzing, thriving environment even if it’s just fleetingly. Below are a few observations recorded in sound and visuals. It’s true, what you read does have an influence. I’m currently reading Jon Day’s Cyclogeography: Journeys of a London Bicycle Courier. Day’s (now a lecturer at a university in London) memoirs are very engaging even if the reader (like me) is unfamiliar with areas of London he documents. I make comparisons when I’m weaving through the traffic in central Tokyo.

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 16 

Camberwell Rd & Peckham Rd Derive

peckham-road-derive-2017

The local cafes offer warmth from the bitter cold and are good retreats to scrutinize the everyday activities. The two that I did frequent were surprisingly almost empty at peak breakfast time. Is it the end for Greasy Spoon cuisine? I hope not.

The Jungle Grill on the Peckham Rd

 

A recording of a police car’s screaming siren on the Peckham Rd.

Lyrics of an old Jam song spring to mind, more nostalgia:

“A police car and a screaming siren
A pnuematic drill and ripped up concrete
A baby wailing and stray dog howling
The screech of brakes and lamp lights blinking
That’s entertainment”

Peckham Peace Wall

I was really taken by The Peckham Peace Wall. Jonathan had gave us some historical background  when visiting Peckham platform the previous evening. I returned the following morning just to get a better understanding of this moving piece of art.

peckham-peace-wall-2017

From the Peckham Platform website:

“Peckham Peace Wall by Garudio Studiage celebrates the wall of post-it notes of love and respect for the area which grew on Rye Lane following the disorder of last year, and launched on the 8th August 2012 to mark this one year anniversary.

Commissioned by Peckham Space with funding from Southwark Council’s Greener Cleaner Safer fund, the Peckham Peace Wall comprises 4000 original post-it messages including those from London Mayor Boris Johnson and Leader of Southwark Council Peter John alongside those from residents. Each of these was digitally hand-traced by artists Garudio Studiage working with young people from Peckham” 

Letterpress Workshop

The workshop was a very nostalgic experience. After leaving school I briefly worked in a small back-street printers for about a year learning how to operate Heidelberg printing machines. The smell of the inks and machinery in the work area instantly came back to me. However, due to new printing technologies at that time, new companies began offering a faster printing and publishing service and sadly our small company went bankrupt. I was made redundant at 17. Disruptive technologies?

James, the letterpress technician gave a very informative workshop and after a brief history of letterpress printing, talking about the tools, how to do basic compositing, dos and don’ts etc, we got round to ‘play’ Here, I began composting letters, numbers, hard objects and anything that I was ‘rollable’ where I got an impression on the paper. My ‘play’ evolved into an urban landscape. How fitting that the brick wall, some insulated wire and an electrical box make up an apt background.

letterpress-1

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 17 

Camberwell Rd-Walworth Rd-Elephant & Castle Derive

camberwell-road-derive-2017

I’m up early and on my way to meet a friend who I’ve known for a few years but never met in the physical. A good example of how technologies are making human relationships. We’re meeting at the Tate Britain, so I head towards the Elephant & Castle. As with many inner city London areas, the busy road is lined with a mixture of council blocks, Victorian terraces, open markets, eyesaw-looking shopping centres, eateries=good,bad and seriously ugly  and a few saw dust bars.  Drifting along the unknown eventually bought up to the Elephant & Castle tube and the end of my play. The statue of red elephant prominently marks the area. I wasn’t able to get lost. What a shame. As I now know that I’m not too far away from The Oval, it will be interesting revisiting this area in a different season.

Star Cafe, Arnside Street Walworth

Egg,Bacon, tea and toast= £3.20

Laura Oldfield Ford

Earlier this year I went to an exhibition followed by a discussion at  The Towner Gallery  in Eastbourne called Recording Britain  . I witnessed some fascinating drawings and paintings from a variety of British artists. Most of the artwork in the collection is between 1939-1942. However, there are a few more recent drawings and photographs in the collection. I was particularly drawn to a drawing by Laura Oldfield Ford . It was an urban scene from a London suburb in which a menacing Brutalist high-rise occupies the backdrop. The drawings offered a distinctive punk visual aesthetic; I was instantly drawn to her work.

These stylish dystopian scenes  made me think about the ‘derives’ (drifts) I have been on around the backstreets of inner-city Tokyo. A city no different than London being centres for free enterprise and modernity. Yet in Tokyo, particularly in the sprawling metropolis of Nakano-ku  and Shinjuku-ku, old crumbling relics of the Showa Period are still in abundance yet inevitably and sadly their days are numbered. I also learned that Oldfield is a psychogeographer  and ‘has organized drifts, flag burning ceremonies, mass activisms and other performance pieces in an unconventional extension of her practice’. (C.Lomax, July 2008).

To celebrate a few pieces of her work in a slide show, I’ve accompanied Mountain’s 1971 Nantucket Sleighride. An instrumental piece that later gained more acclaimed when used for the political/current affairs program Weekend World in the late 1970s.

 

Day Tripper: Ho Chi Minh City

 From my note book written last week, the following is a brief travelogue documenting an experience in Vietnam while en-route to Tokyo. 

“Yesterday I got back to Tokyo. The trip was more exhausting as usual and to be honest, I don’t think I’ll go down that avenue again, just in pursuit of a bit of adventure that is (I know, I’m sounding old). No problem with the place, I just wasn’t really prepared. Anyway…. 

Last month I spotted a cheapy flight from London Heathrow to Narita Tokyo via Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The cheap price relates to the fact that I would be in transit in Vietnam for just over 12 hours. As there are no visa restrictions for Brits to enter Vietnam, I thought I could make a day trip of Ho Chi Minh City and do a bit of exploring.

After the 12-hour flight, I’m in the airport, it must have been about 35 degrees. The humidity was quite intense even at 9 in the morning. After a quick airport toilet wash and gulping down a few bottles of mineral water, I studied the map at the airport tourist office. Psychogeography  was the next part of the plan. I considered doing a ‘Will Self’ which was to walk from the airport into the city. By doing so, I could get to grips with the environment, atmosphere and its surroundings which would give me a better perspective. However, on second thoughts, the controller voice inside me was telling me that if I get lost, mugged or injured somehow along the way, the consequences would cause serious problems as I had a full-on schedule the following day in Tokyo. I took the safe option and hopped on the bus instead. On the semi-packed bus I got talking to an American/Vietnamese woman. She gave me a few useful survival tips. One of them being, when crossing busy roads, don’t run, just hold up your hand.     ???? I thought.

Ho Chi Minh City (2016)

45 minutes later the bus had transported me into the city. It was frenetic beyond belief! The main roads were just a total free-for-all. Buses, trucks, cars, bicycles and scooters in their thousands moving in all directions. The woman directed me to the first port of call, the  Bitexco Financial Tower  . “Over there” She said. Then I tentatively crossed the busiest road ever amid the mayhem around me, taking her advice, walking slowly with my arm held aloft. It worked; I was still in one piece!”

Saigon Sky Tower
Bitexco Financial Tower Sky Deck

 

Bitexco Financial Tower (2) Bitexco Financial Tower (3)

Bitexco Financial Tower (1)

The Bitexco Financial Tower (what an awful name!) is a very impressive structure. While in the Saigon Sky Deck on the 40 something floor, I found myself  drawn more to the ceilings than the view. Like a hall of mirrors at a fair, there is an abundance of glass facets on the ceiling. Here I’ve enlarged areas of interest where the natural light is clashing with the reflected surfaces. The textured, geometric abstractions are just absorbing . 

April 22nd, 2016      

 

 

 

 

Cyclogeography 1: A Linear Drift Through West Tokyo

These past three weeks I’ve been facilitating in the classroom so my practice has been pretty much shelved. Though I try to keep a dialogue going between myself and blog, if and when I get a free moment. This week was that free moment as my teaching program closed for a week.

Last week I watched a very inspiring video on Youtube, ‘Will Self talks at Google’. Basically, Will Self’s talk is on the subject of Psychogeography. A term that was defined by French theorist, Marxist, filmmaker, Guy Debord in the mid-1950s. Debord was also a member of Situationist International. From research, I’ve found that everyone has a different viewpoint on this topic. Though the overall view being that districts and quarters have their own distinctive character.  Peter Ackroyd’s Psychobiography of London is a good pointer. One prime example in his book being Gin Lane. Infamous for the consumption of excessive gin drinking and famously depicted by the artist William Hogarth in 1751. Debord’s theory was that modern cities were constructed by commercial imperatives and the way individuals move around the city. For example, we go to the cinema, a football match, go home, go to work etc etc. In that sense the individual becomes lost and therefore it could be argued that we don’t really exist in that city. He stated that the way we could  counters this notion in what he called a ‘drift’ (i.e. moving aimlessly through the city). Debord’s early methodology or should I say putting his theory into practice is typical of radical ideology of the 50s/60s. (I’m not being critical of this practice)  The original idea being, going out with his Situationist friends, buying wine along the way and roaming from one end of Paris to another. (Sounds like a pub crawl without the pub!) Seriously, I get his objective here; not using the city as a capitalist environment. Sounds fun whatever the objectives maybe. Interestingly, Debord wasn’t much heard of as a leftie radical at that time but fast forward 12/13 years and he was a very influential figure during the student riots in Paris in 1968.

It seems that everyone has their own method of Psychogeography, me included. I suppose the most typical example we see or have experienced is when you’re in an unfamiliar city on holiday and you’re trying to navigate yourself around a city with a Lonely Planet book or a map from the Tourist Information. I give a dated examples, sorry. Now it is Google maps on our i-phones.

Yesterday I embarked on an aimless linear journey through the Tokyo suburbs and into the city. My rusty,fold-up bicycle being my tool of transportation so the practice being cyclogeography. It was a bright and sunny day like most days this time of year. The sky was icy blue. Tokyo is still fairly warm in early November with temperatures ranging between 18-20 degrees. I didn’t have any idea where I would end up. It wasn’t important. I would follow the Keio line as it gave me some perspective as to where I was in West Tokyo. First, I felt this plan was a cop-out but Debord did state in his study of Psychogeography, ‘ the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals’ . Consciously organized or not, I’m safe! but does this definition apply to cyclogeographers too?? I thought. But my favourite definition has to be from Joseph Hart in his article’s article, A New Way of Walking in Utne Reader in 2004.  “a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities… just about anything that takes pedestrians off predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape”

Shiraitodai-Chitose Karasuyama

Drift Starting Point:  Shiraitodai  (Fuchu City)

Date: TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 3rd (Culture Day)

1/ A desolate suburban area. 10:15 a.m. approx     2/The train crossing gates designed to prevent pedestrians, motorists and cyclogeographers (me) from potential hazards. I’ll be doing many more of these ‘waiting’ situations  during the drift.

1 Musashinodai 2   2 Musashinodai Rail Crossing

 

 

3/ A Stone Garden (Trystan would love this! I should have got a stone for him)  4/ A scooter that delivers potted flowers straight to your door! I’m sure those pots at the front aren’t legal! But we’re in the suburbs and laws are relaxed.

33 Stone Garden on Shinagawa Kaido4 5 Flower Pot Scooter (Kyu Koshu Kaido Avenue)

 

 

5/ Tobitakyu. A sporting environment offering J-League football as entertainment. Walk down that road and it will take you to Ajinomoto Stadium. Home of the mighty F.C. Tokyo. My drift is moving me out of Fuchu shi and into Chofu shi (shi=city)  6/ Me waiting at a crossing in Chofu. It’s not a selfie! It’s proof I’m aimlessly drifting

55 Tobitakyu (Chofu) 66 Selfie (Chofu)

 

 

7/ Near Chofu Station, the environment now becomes busy, noisy, regimented and ordered. Public transportation becomes much more prevalent. 8/ An off license just outside Chofu. I like the owner’s Gothic-style typography.

7 7 Chofu Station 8 8 Yamaguchi Off License (Chofu)

 

 

9/ A flower shop in Fuda. The warped wood, worn wood catches my eye. 10/I get off the busy road and randomly choose a quiet road. My mood becomes instantly relaxed. I notice a ‘Gomi’ collection outside someone’s house . Basically, give-a-ways and usually household objects that are nearing the end of their functional life. Notice how neatly they are arranged.

99 Flower Shop (Fuda) 1010 Free Rubbish

 

 

11/ Look carefully and you’ll notice a tree stump actually ‘in’ the Shibasaki train station just by the ticket gates! I’m all for saving the trees but I can’t get my head round this one. I mean, there will come to a point where a hole will have to be made in the roof of the station. Maybe not in our life time. 12/The centre of Danger: I momentarily drift in a dangerous environment. I hear the warning signal and drift away from danger. Between Shibasaki and Tsutsujigaoka train stations.

1111 Tree in Shibasaki Station 1212 On the Track (between Shibasaki & Tsutsjigaoka

 

 

13/ I’m somewhere near the unpronounceable Tsutsujigaoka station (Chofu-shi). I get off the rusty fold-up as my legs are aching and just look around. I instantly notice the small tobacconist signage ‘Nice Day Nice Smoking’ I chuckle to myself and think…… I wonder if the shop owners have erased the Smoking Kills information on all the fag packets?

13 13 Nice Day Nice Smoking (near Tsutsujigaoka Stn)

 

 

I’m not exactly sure but I surmise that I’m almost out of Chofu-shi. I drift down another inviting road away from the rail line. 14/ I notice this glorious piece of architecture. Probably built in the 30s. The old decaying wood glistens in the sun. Definitely my cup of tea. 15/ I look to my left and see the opposite of beauty. A characterless box, violently upsetting the surrounding beauty (the shack). Apologies if the owner of fig 15 is reading my blog.

1414 Old Shack 15 15 New House

 

 

16/ A small, cosy tunnel. The height is only 1. 7 metres. I needed to duck while cycling through it!

16 The Small Tunnel

 

 

17/ An elegant wooden house with a nice view. Houses with panoramic views are something of a rarity in Tokyo. 18/ Emphasizes my point about views. In Tokyo people generally buy the land, the old structure gets bull-dozed, quick as. The houses are closely-knit. Look how close this plot of land is next to the surrounding houses.

17 17 A House with a View 1818 Plot of Land

 

 

19/ ‘Kind Concrete’ I take the rusty fold-up the steps. The step planners ensure getting from A to B is not too strenuous for cyclogeographers by including a ramp in the centre of the steps. How thoughtful!  20/ I have a little stroll and come across this allotment and what appears to be an improvised shed made from various urban materials. A Post-modern masterpiece!

1919 The Kind Steps 20 20 An Allotment with a View

 

 

21/ I’m quite lost at this point and sensibly I didn’t bring any maps or devices with me. Sensibly? Yes, I don’t want my drifting experience spoilt. The view is a peaceful one. I feel calm and solitude in this non-threatening environment.

21 A View

 

 

21 /Material contents of the interiors are usually on display during agreeable climates. Here, the futons (bed blankets) are getting a good airing. 22/ A decorative bridge. I’m somewhere in Setagaya ku. It’s a wealthy area of Tokyo favoured by politicians and TV celebs, apparently.

2123 Airing the Futons2224 The Bridge (Setagaya Ku)

 

 

23/ I notice a distinct feature about the Setagaya neighbourhood. The streets seem to be narrower. Surrounding space is much more compact. Manhole covers are a very distinctive feature. 24/ We’re back to airing again. This time cushions in bicycle baskets and bath mats hung over the garden gate. With the surrounding shrubbery it all looks very quaint.

23 25 Narrow Road (Setagaya ku)    24 26 Airing the Cushions

 

 

25/ Through another tunnel. No ducking and dodging this time. At this point I change my camera. Out: Point and shoot, Nikon cool pics. In: Pentax Q7 (SLR)

25 27 A Tunnel

 

 

26/ I’ve drifted towards  a busy station, Chitose Karasuyama (Setagaya-ku). The concrete outside the station is rather decorative and welcoming. 27/ The cracked pavement, the most prevalent feature in a city. In Tokyo you could make ‘Cracked Pavements’ an interesting project as the width and length of the crack is largely determined by the earthquake tremors.

2628 Decorative Concrete (Chitose Karasuyama)2729 Cracking Structures

 

 

28/”A dreaded sunny day and I’ll meet you at the cemetery gates..” Echoing Morrissey lyrics as I drift into a quiet environment. Not a soul to be seen.  The high rise blocks menacingly dwarf the scene. 29/ A building a little further down the road. The circle shape is so dominant. It is functional? No one seems to be around (again) so I go and have a nose around the building.

28  30 Cemmetary Gates   29 31 Architecture

 

 

Drift Ending Point: Somewhere near Chitose Karasuyama Station (Setagaya-ku)

I’m near Chitose Karasuyama station. The excitement I have experienced begins to wane as fatigue sets in. It’s about 1:00 p.m and I’ve been cycling for just under three hours. The light will begin to fade round 4:30 and as I don’t have any lights on the fold-up, I begin to make a u-turn. But I could jump on a train, I think. No, that would be boring and it would make my cyclogeography drifting experience pointless.  Roughly but not completely knowing my route back still excited me. I might get lost again! and what new obstacles lie in wait in the return journey?

 

 

30/ Herbal medicine (Aloe vera) heavily guarded by PET bottles. The reflections from the bottles ward off cats, apparently. 31/ Another decorative manhole cover. These would make great charcoal rubbings! Another day, maybe.

30 32 Protecting the Aloe Vera    31    33 Decorative Man Hole Cover

 

 

32/ ‘Hidden Heaven’ A house sandwiched between houses. 33/ Dead end street so I need to re-route.

32   34 Hidden Heaven  33  35 Dead End Street

 

 

34/ Cracked pots: Picturesque detritus mingling with shrubbery.  35/ Netting, especially green and blue netting is another prominent city feature operating in residential areas of Tokyo. It’s function serves to keep the crows away from the rubbish. It works too.

3436 Crack Pots    3537 Keeping out the Crows

 

 

36/ Another ramshackle front yard. A pocket of curiosity. More airing in evidence. Rugs this time. 37/ Another dead end!

3639 Airing the Mat   37 40 Dead End Street 2

 

 

I try to follow the train track but end up cycling down continuous winding roads, weaving through countless labyrinths but still managing to head in a Westerly direction.  38/I stop for a quick drink and look up. The underside of a roof catches my eye. 39/Such crude D.I.Y. going on here, excessive use of gaffa tape.

38   42 Roof in need of Repair 39    41 Gaffa Tape

 

 

40/ An umbrella collection: Historical Discussion: In the Tokyo Gas Attack in 1995, umbrellas were the objects of disobedience. The perpetrators used the umbrella tips to puncture the bags to release the deadly sarin. After reading Murakami’s ‘Underground’, many years ago, umbrellas still carry an eerie presence for me. 41/ Yet another dead end! The environment is creating obstacle after obstacle for me.  However, this dead end has aesthetic qualities.

40   43 Brolly Collection    41   44 Backyard (1)

 

 

42&43/ It may be just another dead end but it’s visually stimulating. 10 or 20 years ago I wouldn’t have noticed this scene as it would have been clean and characterless. Now, punished by the elements and peacefully decaying in the sunlight, it deserves to be recorded by camera.

42 46 Backyard (3)       43  45 Backyard (2)

 

 

44/ After analysing countless manhole covers on my drift, Setagaya, it seems, has the most decorative ones. These heavy, circular iron pressings enveloped  in concrete enable the road to become a gallery. I’m fond of the chysanthemum designs. Now I’ve started to cycle round them and not over them.   45/ Dead end number…..I’ve lost count.

44  48 Man Hole Cover (2)  45   47 Dead End Street (3)

 

 

It’s about 3:15 in the afternoon. I manage to navigate through more roads, lanes, avenues , through Setagaya-ku and Chofu-shi. I find a familiar ugly main road, Koshu-kaido Avenue. I reluctantly cycle along it accompanied with familiar urban killer characteristics such as traffic, smog, carbon monoxide etc. 46/ As I’m passing through Chofu, I wait at the traffic lights under the monstrous and engulfing  Chuo expressway. It is here I spot a small playground. A space that functions for young children to play happily for hours on colourful and animated objects of amusement such as slides, swings, merry-go-rounds and climbing frames. However, this scene is frightening by contrast. Dark, cold and uninviting. Look closely and you are able to see express way escape stairwells on a pillar. Another Murakami book springs to mind (1Q84)  Actually, the stairwell should be lowered so the children are able to escape!  No, there is something disturbing and dystopian about this environment. Though amidst the noise, the voices of the children and parents echo; no doubt enjoying the open space and nonchalant about the out of place irregularity.

4649 Dystopian Playground

 

A Brief Conclusion

During the cyclogeography experience I did start to question which is more engaging (i.e. cyclogeography vs psychogeography).  I reflected largely on my own perambulatory landscape and cityscape experiences. For instance, the Somerset Moors, Dartmoor, the Algarve, Brittany, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, Ottolo, Siberia, The Forbidden City, and the Tokyo Metropolis which I’m forever exploring. I then realized that my cyclogeography experiences were practically limited. Reflection over. So, what did I learn and discover? Psychogeography being a continuous narrative which our physical dictates our motion. Depending on the region, in my case this week an urban landscape, the drifter(s) observes and encounters more aspects of human geography as opposed to physical geography. I was amazed by the number of obstacles I had to strategically maneuvre around. Tunnels, dead ends (cul-de-sac), railway crossings, one way streets being just a few examples. Again, thinking of Debord as he decried, the city dictates our movements and we are consumed by it.  Debord’s a bit too heavy for me. However, getting away from geographical jargon and Situationist rhetoric, from my observations, the urban landscape does offer a fascinating continuous visual gallery influenced by the human. Forms such as manhole covers, cracked ceramic pots, dusty cushions, decaying artefacts, refuse netting, and ubiquitous surrounding detritus. In short, a 24 hour, alfresco, free, art gallery.

Drift Distance: 5.7 miles/9.3 kilometres