Protocol 5 – The View from the Map

 

 

Baudrillard famously said ‘hence, the map precedes the territory,’ suggesting maps can conceptualise terrains and construct solid topologies, without needing to set a foot on the soil. Maps are representations, organisations, memorised directions reduced to icons, signifiers, scaled to two dimensions and arbitrary orientations. I have followed them for miles, I have been lost and delivered by them, tyrannised and seduced. I have struck up a bad boyfriend relationship with several: arguing, insecure, distrustful, angry and bargaining in turn.

A map changes a walk. It shifts the playful to the purposeful –  even if conceived for leisure – a destination plotted across grids creates expedient or scenic ways to achieve an end; there is a challenge, an outcome, a temptation to rush to the end, to the final result, a sense of competitiveness creeps in.

Maps contain many paradoxes – in order to find yourself, you have to know where you are: to read it, you have to be simultaneously outside it and within it. They provide freedom to explore while constraining your adventures; demanding you pay minute attention to the details of landscape – the trig points, footpaths, buildings, contours, sunken copses. Concentration requires energy; no time to stop and stare, or to loosen oneself from the demands of logic or ego.

As Baudrillard suggested, maps bestow assumptions. Following the broken green lines of a footpath circling a U shaped coombe on an OS map, it’s easy to imagine a bordered path, which in reality is a vague grass trodden track through a field.  Or to search for a bridle path to one’s left, only to be confronted by a narrow gully bearing dog leg fashion between hedgerows. When Columbus first landed in Cuba in 1492, he thought he was discovering part of mainland Asia. He refused to believe the indigenous people when they told him he was on an island. The information conflicted with the naval charts drawn up by The Admirality. They had to be mistaken.

When walking, the view from the map is vertical: a slow goose shake of the head, up and down, down and up, finger tracing bridle paths, losing and finding your place as you estimate distances, your footprints a pedestrian camel train on the track, your rhythm interrupted by stops and starts. No time for introspection or to follow loose and lovely chains of associations. The map leads you blindly, concentrating your attention to the middle, the monocular, urging obedience. You can argue with its despotism, despise its democracy (all codings hold true, whatever the reality of the path), the neutrality of space described, and ache for something more from the flapping pages and folds worn to hole. You may even glance across lovely hills, coppery with chestnuts on the turn, and feel overwhelmed with an urge to deface it.

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Protocol 4 Mindful Walking

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How to pay attention to the walk, to one’s feet, one’s breath, the swish of a jacket against skin, the smell of diesel or elderflower blossom; if not, what is the point of walking? The paradox being that one walks to lose oneself, and in doing so finds oneself. When the first psychogeographers wandered the streets of Paris, they did so with two different aims in mind: either to focus on their feelings; their subjective reaction to the buildings and squares around them, or to let their feet beat a rhythm, the mind drift freely into a meditative state.

Often when I walk, I have a problem staying present.  I can walk from Hove Street to St James’ Street, across main roads, along the seafront, into the narrow roads of the north laine, and suddenly realise I haven’t registered a thing. If someone were to ask what colour was the sea?  Was the tide out? Were the shops open? Were people waiting at bus-stops? I wouldn’t know. My mind roams, often in circles, cartwheeling over problems – both real and imaginary. The same thing happens in the countryside – mile after mile can flow pass, when suddenly I look up to see a flint path, edged by shoulder high cow parsley, or arrive at a silvered wooden stile, and realise I have  no idea where I am. Have I walked too far or not far enough?

Over the years, in a bid to stay present, to be in the walk, I have developed a method of mindful walking. It is a combination of Buddhist mindful techniques and a writing activity taken from Nicki Jackowska’s book ‘Write For Life’ (the chapter on geography offers precise and inspiring directions for writers to capture objective and subjective perceptions invoked by walking).

The secret to good writing, as George Orwell suggested, is to write about objects not abstractions. So, it is with walking. Sensory information – what reaches our eyes, ears, nose and skin, the lights and colours, sounds, smells and textures – builds a solid frame on which our personal narratives can soundly hang.  And, if writing isn’t your thing, the act of fixing the mind to specifics opens up a little space, a distance from one’s usual preoccupations, and if nothing else, provides a little  perspective.

Below, I offer two options, one short and simple, for the shortest of strolls,  the other an extended version for when there is time to go deeper.

OPTION ONE

While walking take in five things around you (immediately or on the horizons) you

  • See
  • Smell
  • Hear
  • Physically feel/touch/experience

As soon as you have run through the list, start again, as you will have walked on, and sounds, sights and smells will have changed.

OPTION TWO

Do the above, but this time add:

  • Which makes me feel……
  • Which makes me think of….

The rote of ‘fives’ came about after experimenting with ‘threes, fours and sixes’. Five just worked best for me, but you may find differently.

When you return from your walk, capture your thoughts spontaneously, free-writing without critiquing/editing. Review at a later date, highlight interesting words, thoughts, sensations, insights.

*Write For Life, Nicki Jackowska, Bloomsbury Publishing

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Protocol 3: DRIFT App (a tool for getting lost in familiar places)

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A phone app created for the 21st century deriver – requiring no imagination or forethought, all you have to do is show up with your phone, calibrate your compass and off you go. I drove to Saddlescombe ten miles or so outside Brighton, abandoned the car on a slipper of gravel opposite the old farm buildings and hopped over a gate.

Instruction 1 –  Take note of the sounds immediately around you.

North takes me back to the road, so I head south. Traffic is all I can hear.

Instruction 2 Walk north until you can no longer hear those sound and take a picture of the nearest tree bark.  

This is fun I thought, here I can canter around the countryside, looking lost as Ophelia, but holding my phone like a tray of canopes, I have a purpose. I snap a shot of bark.

Instruction 3 – walk away from the last thing you took a picture of for one block then take a picture looking back.

What is a block, half a mile, a mile?  I walked until I come to a fence, gazing back into thickets of sycamore and hawthorn.

Instruction 4 – Walk east and look for a piece of public infrastructure that seems newer than the things around it, take a picture.

I found a telegraph pole, marooned and lovelier in a photograph than looming over fields of cattle and sheep heft hills.

Instruction 5 – Walk west for two blocks and make a sound document.

Wind whistles through the valley, trees rustle, a bird sings, the drone of traffic drowns it out like tinnitus in my ear.

Instruction 5 – Walk north until you find an example of ‘anarchy at work’ and take a picture of it.

Ah, a deviation. I’ve walked this valley for years, but missed the narrow  path running parallel to the one I usually take. It meandered through a wooded copse, chalky grassland buzzing with insects, leading after half a mile to a steep bank of wild marjoram; back to the road. I took a snap of a man, dozing inside his Transit van, dozing over the wheel, head resting on his arms.

Instruction 6 – Walk east a couple of blocks and find something that reminds you of home and take a picture of it.

No. I thought, I don’t want to do that, and dropped down to a shady track leading downhill, through young saplings, and damp red earth, secluded and shady.  There is nothing like being given instructions to make one rebel. The lane narrowed to muddy puddles. There was a house, builders working on the roof on the outskirts of Fulking village, but what was the point of a picture?

Instruction 7 – Walk north until you see something interrupting something else and take a picture of it. 

North would take me back in a circle, to the magnetic pull of the road, so I went south again, feeling increasingly resentful. I thought of something Ivan said about how ‘the derive controls you.’ This is not a liberating or enlightening way to walk.

Instruction 8 –  Walk south and look for something out of the ordinary and take a picture.

The banks were high with grasses, brambles, blackberries, ripe little jewels, crickets buzzing, loose chalk stones underfoot. This instruction could be an invitation to unearth the ordinary buried beneath the unconscious half vision of everyday looking, but casting around for something to snap felt increasingly like that child’s game where you have to find a hidden object, directed by shouts of getting  hotter or colder, irritated to the point of screaming when told you were so hot, you were practically on fire, and you still couldn’t find the secreted object.

Instruction 9 and 10 – More north, east, south, more pictures….blah blah blah.

I gave up. I was still only ten minutes from the car-park. Perhaps, if I started from deeper within the countryside, discoveries and revelations may have opened up; but even so, the act of obeying arbitrary commands, searching not for what sparked my curiosity, but an impersonal algorithm, became boring and uniform.  Whoever followed the instructions, would take the same monocular recordings.  I thought of that quote from Baudrillard about a photograph acting out a way of grasping the world, without ever giving it meaning.  It seemed an apt summary of the experience. The drift didn’t draw the mind inwards, but skimmed a dull surface, focusing attention externally. There was no discovery, no peeling back of layers, memories or associations, no room for personal narrative.  Where was the point in that?

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Protocol 2 Walking the circle

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A favourite Letterist trick to promote random and playful ways of walking was to place a glass down on a map and draw around it and walk the perimeter. Using an OS Landranger 198, I set down an IKEA glass, drew around it with a pencil, cutting across broken green lines and the spiny contour lines of Scare Hill, Flint Heap, Rag Bottom, Granny’s belt, Holt Bottom, and set out to walk the line.

In the fields above Braypool, green fields rise gently, dissected by chalky white lines studded with grey flint. Below me, Brighton glitters, the thin steel pencil of the i360, rudely jarring the landscape. It’s not yet 8 a.m., I walk through fields of silvery grass, yellow heads of ragwort and groundsel. A plane banks round on its descent into Gatwick; the horizon and sea a bowl of blue. On R4 this morning, a film director, talking about filming in winter said: ‘the hardest thing to fake is sunlight.’

I’m happy to be alone; but anxious too, a physiological response to open space, making me alert to the slightest sound and movement – I am one of those people the BBC refer to when they say: ‘look away now if you have a nervous disposition.’  In line with the circle, I keep to the left of the Chattri – the Indian Memorial, dwarfed by the copse of sycamore and beech. Cows nudge against the wire fence; hawthorns lean, braced to the wind and in the valleys, red tiled roofs dot the folds. I walk past a noticeboard, through a silvered wooden gatepost, feeling like a Head Girl, wanting to do it right; take notes, remember, pay attention, and in doing so I’m sorely aware I am missing it.

The circle means heading off the footpath into the long grass where the walking’s harder, the long grass long slaps my legs, bigger strides are needed, the ground is springy and uneven. I walk until I come to a fence, a gate marked: PRIVATE LAND. Through the wooden slats, fields of dark green wheat following the curve of my circle. There’s no-one in sight to witness any acts of civil disobedience, so why do I submit meekly to the sign’s authority, skirt the fence back to the footpath, feeling annoyed, ashamed of my timidity? It is so much easier to be bolder in company, it’s why pilgrims travelled in gangs.

Finding my way back to the circle means climbing another fence, walking straight on until I hit the footpath. The problem with following a line, is that I have no bearings to tell me where I am on the map. Either side, the chalk path is bordered by shoulder high cow parsley. Two middle aged joggers pass me, red faces shiny with sweat, too breathless to speak. I can tell a walker’s gender from miles; the size and shape, speed and gait as it approaches. I am always relieved if the walker is female, though it’s rarely the case.

The path crosses another footpath. The fields are unfenced. Theoretically possible to walk the rim of the circle, but the verges are overgrown with thistles, brambles and nettles. Again, I retrace my steps and follow the lane into a valley, where for the first time this morning, the drone of traffic disappears. The downs rise like green walls. Sheep graze and bleat.  I am alone. I take the chance to have a wee in a small copse of hawthorn. As I pull up my jeans, a young man wearing a Bush hat appears from nowhere, (I could pee on the moon, and find life).  He jumps, as do I, then realizing what I’ve been doing, looks embarrassed.

‘Good timing,’ I say, walking past.

Rebecca is a big fan of the Shewee when walking, though I don’t understand what difference it makes, coopying or standing, everyone still knows you’re having a wee, ‘It’s not like anyone can see anything,’ I say.

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At the bottom of the valley, the track turns to tarmac.  Two men wearing cotton gloves stand bend over a pile of rocks, sorting flint. They say hello without looking up, their casual disinterest is comforting. A flatbed Mazda parked on the verge has the registration: FLINT8 which makes me smile. I cross the tarmac, over Wonderhill Plantation, climbing again. A herd of cows huddle around the gate, swishing tails, stamping, snorting and shuffling. Two weeks ago, a professor in Guestling was trampled to death by cows. I remember a story Dee told me about walking by the Avon when two heifers charged from behind a bush, ‘it was as if they’d planned it,’ she said, ‘like they’d been hiding, waiting.’  Dee thinks cows see you at least ten times bigger than you are. Instead of retreating she waved her arms over her head and lunged at them shouting Moooooo… . but I’m not that brave. I retreat, detouring further along the road, before cutting back up Poor Brow. Sussex Rampion grows on the hill, its small mauve-blue head delicate as an anemone.  80% of young people under 25 don’t know the name of a bluebell, and only 10% can recognize a primrose, according to the news. In a similar vein, writers have written to the Oxford Junior Dictionary about the latest edition which has cut over 50 ‘natural’ words, including: catkin, cauliflower, chestnut and clover – replacing them with broadband, cut and paste.  When I Tom and I first got together, we walked around Cissbury Ring with his kids. They didn’t know the name of a daffodil or that an acorn came from an oak tree.  Tom thought my indignation was funny.  ‘What does it matter?’ He said, ‘it’s just a name.’

‘It matters,’ I said.

‘Why?’

I couldn’t explain. Naming something is the beginning of knowledge, comprehension, the precursor of application and evaluation, ‘ if you don’t know the name of something, how do you know whether its poisonous, it’s a question of survival.’ I argued.

He sucked on a piece of glass, handsome, infuriating in his Raybans and Chinos, ‘They can Google it if they want to know….’

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Poor Brow leads back to the path where I started, to the noticeboard reminding me to keep dogs on leads and pick up litter.  The smell of bacon frying wafts up from the van parked  on the lay-by. It’s gone 11. I’ve walked five miles. Men with neat haircuts and ironed blue shirts carry paper plates of bacon butties and cups of coffee to their cars where they eat, staring out of their windscreens.  I retrace my walk on the map, its lines reduced and squeezed to the shape of a letter B, curtailed by private access, cow-phobia, unwalkable verges and overgrown paths. But you wouldn’t know that, if like the men with their bacon butties, you sat in your car looking out at miles of fields and rolling hills, the illusion of space and entitlement remains blissfully in tact.

 

 

 

 

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Writing The Map

Christina at: createlearnconnect@gmail.com. Mobile: 07738 763 161. https://writethemap.wordpress.com/ @ChrisSand12 #writingthemap  Facebook: writingthemap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Protocol 1 – Identity, Herzog & The Examined Walk

 

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I walked with a friend from Falmer to Lewes. I wore new Berghaus boots. She carried a sketch pad and a bag of almonds. ‘Identity is a meaningless question,’ she said when I told her the plan,  ‘you see it everywhere, the artist is exploring the links between identity and blah blah blah, the work is informed by the artist’s identity…..I never know what that means. Everything an artist does is about them.  In his book on the Philosophy of Walking, Frederic Gros claims walking contains no identity – it’s something we hang like a coat on a peg and leave behind us as we stride out of the door.

In 1974 when Werner Herzog left his house in Munich to walk to Paris to save his friend Lottie Eisner from dying, he left, convinced only walking would save her ‘…My steps are firm. And now the earth trembles. When I move, a buffalo moves. When I rest, a mountain reposes. She wouldn’t dare….’ Packing a compass, duffel bag of necessities and wearing new boots, he left to test himself against mountains and weather, buoyed with self-belief. If identity is the total of our physical, cognitive, emotional make-up, the sum of our experiences, values and ambitions, it informs not only our walks, but the decisions we make to walk long before our feet hit the soil.  Herzog was a celebrated director with a reputation for making films pitting man against nature; he was a product of gender, socio-economics and the Bavarian landscape. We were two middle aged women carrying water, backpacks, expecting to be home for supper.

In the poppy fields above Falmer, my friend sat in the long grass to sketch the undulating fields in the long afternoon shadows, while I stared at the wide wings of the Amex Stadium curving into the crowns of beech, thinking of a night last November when Brighton played Bristol City, and we climbed to the top stands to watch Bristol City lose 2-1. When the match was over, all the men stood around the TV screens in the bar, singing: ‘there’s only one Bobby Zamora’ every time they replayed the goals.

‘Memories, associations evoked by place,’ I said, ‘isn’t that identity?’

‘Memories,’ I get, she said, ‘but that’s not always place.’

To our right, a battered fence led over the top of the downs, to our left rounded hills, softly feminine, cut with chalk tracks. Wind flowed through ripe wheat, sheep grazed on distant hills – the managed countryside geographers refer to as second nature – sheep hefted, farmed with cattle, stewarded by the National Trust and empty, apart from walkers making their way along narrow tracks cresting the fields, their routes restricted to the green broken lines of bridle and footpaths running like stitches between plots.

The first time I walked this route was over fifteen years ago, with a friend I’d made shortly after moving, when our children were very young.  The walk took all day, which would have been hard to arrange, to get out for that stretch of time.  Our pre-occupations as young mothers were very different then. We were always anxious, and broke, projecting on a good day, irreverence, a cheerful kind of making-do, and on a bad day, calling each other up with complaints, injustices, tiredness wired in our bones. We worried about the children endlessly:  their eating, sleeping, reading, friends – whether we were too strict or not strict enough; how long they should play video games or watch TV;  it was all so serious, when most of it mattered so little in the end, which is why I imagine parents look forward to being grandparents; to put the wisdom of hindsight to the test.  As the children grew up, my friend and I drifted apart, but a little while ago I ran in to her in town and she told me her daughter had moved to Berlin, and was training to be a permaculturist. My friend sighed. The daughter told her that living in Berlin was the first time in her life she’d felt free to be herself.

‘That’s how identity can interact with place,’ I said.

‘Yes, but you only do that when you are young,’ my friend insisted.

A narrow chalk gully path led steeply down to Kingston where we walked past gardens with empty swings and missed the turning to Spring Farm as I’d missed it the last time I walked here. There’s a reason, for this, a neurological kink. The brain retains misinformation, privileging it over fact when faced with choice.  As Lewes, rose over the floodplain of the Ouse, my friend stopped to sketch the willows hanging over the still water. My new boots pinched my heel. I longed to take them off.  The willows trailing into the black water reminded me of a painting hanging over the mantelpiece in my parent’s old house. A cheap reproduction of a Corot. If you looked hard enough into the bleak melancholic shadows cast by the trees, you could make out a figure sitting alone in a barque. What was he doing there? I used to wonder.  I never liked to be alone in the room with this picture.

At the new Harveys brewery bar, we drank halves of IPA, sitting in the garden, surrounded by families dining out.  A woman at the next table, with blonde hair sprouting from a headscarf, talked loudly on her phone: ‘He put milk in the f***ing kettle. He’s 23, for Chrissake.’

‘What stands out about the walk?’ I asked my friend.

She took out her sketch pad, flipped through pages, holding the sketch pad at arm’s length, a critical eye appraising each one, and told me about advice William Kentridge offered his students on drawing landscape, ‘to find the best possible view to sketch and turn 180 degrees.’

‘But you didn’t turn 180’ I said.

She laughed.

The train home followed the route we’d walked. Dusk fell in long purple shadows over Scabby Brow, and the foot-holes. I felt a sense of curiosity, of yearning, something missed. I thought of Herzog, on his way out of Munich at the start of his journey. For all his bravado, he’d been worried about crossing the River Lech and stopped by the Pasinger hospital to see a friend, who’d read his tarot. There was a hangman and the devil, but the friend had lost the piece of paper to interpret the meanings. What would Gros make of that?

It seemed to me that identity whispers with each footstep, sometimes it screams, a thousand reminders that the mind and body are connected through landscape at a particular moment in time; fragmentary associations, memories, actions, chains of associations bubble to the surface, each containing their own journeys and connections within. But, if you hold identity to the light with conscious question, the lovely, elusive ideas and webs of associations dissolve rather than coalescing to insights, knowledge or inspirations.

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Mapping Inside Out – Psychogeography, Psyche & Personal Narratives

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What is a walk? A foot rising, falling, lifting and connecting with the ground unconsciously thousands of times in a lifetime; only its beginning and end giving rise to thought, be it linear or circuitous; ideas precede movement, dictate our choices. We walk on average at 3 miles an hour, heel walkers rather than toe walkers, bipeds whose skeletal structure and muscles have evolved to favour distance over speed. Whether we walk as a means of getting from A-B, a physical challenge, meditatively, questing, or purely for leisure, we walk for paradoxical reasons:  to simultaneously lose and connect with ourselves and our surroundings –  either focussing our minds inwards, away from the busy rush of our lives, or outwards, losing ourselves in surrounding streets or country lanes.

A year ago, I walked 193 miles from my present home in Brighton to Bristol where I was born. It came about as a result of moving house three times in four years. None of the moves were made by choice, but were the consequence of decisions or paths taken earlier in life combined with divorce, and a housing market on the verge of exploding. The walk was intended as a way to explore the concept of home; the various shelters and nests we create, and the many migrations that comprise most of our lives –  The UK has the highest levels of internal migration in the EU. In 2014-2015, 2.85 million people or just under 2% of the population moved in England, according to ONS. We are a nation in transit, materialistic nomads, upping sticks regularly for jobs, lovers, families, or simply a restless sense of the elusive other.

The walk was conceived for a purpose, a conscious contemplation of journey and place.  In her introduction to psychogeography, Walking Inside Out, Tina Richardson distinguishes this type of conscious walking from the ‘Sunday Stroll’ school:

‘….it is absolutely about the process itself, …the walker connects with the terrain in a way that sets her, or himself up as a critic of the space under observation, but at the same time, they unite with it through the sensorial acknowledgement of its omnipresence. The space become momentarily transformed through this relationship. The psychogeographer recognizes that they are part of this process, and it is their presence that enable this recognition to occur.

In recent years, ‘conscious walking’ has collected many labels, theories and manifestos, variously described as psychogeography, radical walking, mythogeography, hauntings, the Sebald doctrine. Explorations may be serious or playful, subversive or literary, political or curious; the landscape is interrogated through multi-lenses, splintered into external rationalities, drawing on the subconscious to create new relationships with the past. Journeys are self-conscious, performative, often produce their own mappings. They are mainly urban and male. The point of these wanderings is to focus the  senses externally and forensically on topologies and micro-cultures, away from the interior life of the walker, the thoughts and feelings which rise from the rhythm of feet hitting the ground. They don’t seek to interrogate the subconscious to reveal personal narratives in relation to place, to achieve, what I have begun to consider a type of interior archaeology.

The term psychogeography was first coined by a member of the Parisian based Letterists, and appropriated by Guy Debord, in the 1950s.  Eschewing the deterministic nature of geography, he sought ways to interact with the urban environment through political, emotional and sensory responses to space.   Debord defined psychogeography as: ‘The study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviours of individuals.’  Algorithms called derives or drifts were developed, ways of walking to encourage playful and political exploration.

From the drifts around Paris, Debord developed a series of maps, recreating a city for walkers as opposed to highways designed to efficiently process capitalism. Yet, for all its playful and political intentions, the praxis of psychogeography failed to produce the precise laws or objectivity it sought. By the early seventies it had all but disappeared.

In the last thirty years, psychogeography has undergone a revival, reinventing itself in radical acts, disruptive walking, shifting shape and intention, purposeful in its lack of purpose, full of paradoxes, its tentacles reaching across art, politics, sociology, geology and literature. The word geography comes from the Greek, geo meaning land, and graph to write; literally to write the land. In Greek, psyche is named after the Greek Goddess of the soul – it is also the word for butterfly. In Jungian psychology, the myth of Psyche’s marriage to Eros, is said to variously represent the physical, soul and ego, or the maiden, mother and crone. It is a tale of transformation, of the mind dividing and reuniting, an archetype for the journey from immaturity to maturity, from innocence to conscious wisdom. Adapting the tale of Psyche and Eros in the White Bear King, Robert Bly acknowledges the transformative nature of journey, both physical and psychological, ‘I am embarking on territory now, which we don’t understand and which we are probably not qualified to speak of…’ so the story begins.

It is in connecting with our thoughts and memories that ideas and associations rise in tandem with our steps, the spaces we inhabit, the terrain we tread, our stories are part of an ever changing dynamic. ‘Stories,’ as John Berger said, ‘walk like animals and men, and their steps are not only between narrated events but between each sentence, sometimes, each word. Every step is a step over something not said.’ 2

The walk from Brighton to Bristol took 10 days, door to door. On returning home, restless in the way one can only be after a long walk with the rhythm of motion still pulsing inside, long after one is contained by a house, shut off from the sky, views restricted to garden walls and car lined streets, I tried to make sense of what I experienced, the thoughts and feelings, lost turns, days of solitary walking in the rain, memories rising unbidden from the dullest copse or gloomiest paths. There was no overarching narrative or grand theme, just a connection of associations, a web of stories extracted from other journeys made over a lifetime: from Bristol to Brighton,  Hatfield, St Albans, Cahors, Reading, Hammersmith, Brixton, Stoke Newington, Holloway, Watford, Rickmansworth, Boston, Baja California, Easton, Catsford, Bermondsey.  Stories created in places, stored in our psyche, in muscle memories. Places, as Michel de Certeau said, are: ‘fragmentary and inward-turning histories, pasts that others are not allowed to read, accumulated times that can be unfolded but like stories held in reserve, remaining in an enigmatic state, symbolizations encysted in the pain or pleasure of the body.’ 3 

Psychogeography, with its hotchpotch of research and methodologies, offered a door to the world I wanted to capture;  a means to conceive walking as a reawakening, to note the affective and cognitive, the random and subjective as well as sensory information. I It suggested a way to turn the lenses inwards rather than out to excavate an internal landscape in tandem with place.

In their drifts around Paris, Debord and his allies were sniffy about the countryside, claiming  it contained few cultural curiosities and offered little opportunity for random encounters. Yet, the countryside itself is as politically and culturally constructed as the built environment – its fields and downland the products of land-grabs, industrialization and policy change  – its scenic spots and heritage trails created for consumption, while history passes invisibly through empty fields, palimpsests layered with contested meanings.  As DeQuincy, Poe and Baudelaire romanticised the city, Hazlitt, Thoreau, and the Wordsworths championed the countryside, praising its ‘naturalness’,  a place for retreat, recovery and leisure. For many city dwellers like myself, this view still prevails. We talk of shaking off the cobwebs, getting fresh air, needing perspective. Or, we treat the countryside like a giant activity park for barbecuing, trekking, cycling, pitting ourselves against the landscape, forever testing our mettle. Yet, it is the very nature of being far from the crowded imagery and distractions of the city, that enables one to simultaneously pay attention to the landscape while contemplating our own emotional responses, the tangle of associations and connections Bachelard described in the Poetics of Space, as our relationship with ‘the limitless world.’  4  One lonely afternoon near the Hampshire border, drizzle turning the world grey, I walked through meadows, rain dripping inside my hood, the only sound, my coat flaps swishing against my waterproofs, the dark mass of Winchester Hill rising in the gloom, and thought of Peter Jackson’s depiction of Mordor, the impending sense of menace it provoked among the audience, the soft plush seats of the Odeon in Brighton, the smell of popcorn making me feel sick. The memory was as real in that moment as the cows huddled under dripping trees at the far end of the field and the slippery chalk track beneath my boots.

So…the question I set out to answer was whether it was  possible to port psychogeographical  theories to the countryside, to find ways of walking which bound one to the landscape, transformed that relationship, and in doing so, opened a doorway to identity; the physical and emotional journeys we make through life?  In one sense, a personal narrative is linear; we are born and die. In other senses it is circuitous, networks, connections and disconnections, dead ends, which don’t always make sense, ripple out, merge osmotically to create new meanings and new ways forward. Paths are walked and remade. The process is iterative, revelatory, transformative. The journey – the relationship between walker and landscape and association – becomes the map(s).

The blogs that follow are based on research conducted between June and August 2017, testing techniques created by the original Letterists, subsequently adapted and extended by contemporaries into praxis which offers ways of re-imagining journey by linking the affective with the cognitive and physical, the walker with the map with the journey.

As a crude attempt at benchmarking, I developed a set of questions to evaluate the effectiveness of each protocol:

Did it:

Reconceive my relationship to landscape?

Unearth personal insights, memories, associations in response to landscape?

Promote/encourage/facilitate ways to think about identity?

Conceive the journey as the process not the outcome?

Create a new kind of knowledge that was personal, insightful, in tandem with place, and could be used to create a new map containing multi-textured personal/objective information?

The Protocols tested:

  1. Walking with a question
  2. Walking the rim of a glass
  3. Walking with the ‘Drift’ App
  4. True Drift (instinctual)
  5. Route maps
  6. Mindful walking
  7. Macro to micro

References:

Richardson T.,  Walking Inside Out, Rowman & Littlefield

Berger J., Another Way of Telling, Bloomsbury (2016)

Certeau, M., The Practice of Everyday Lifehttps://chisineu.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/certeau-michel-de-the-practice-of-everyday-life.pdf

Bachelard G., The Poetics of Space, Beacon Press

July 2017

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WalkShops – Brighton & Bristol

Over the summer, I have been experimenting with ways of walking to free the subconscious, unearth memories and associations, and connect our internal journeys to the landscape.

I will be sharing the protocols and inviting walkers to test them out for themselves at two Walkshops in September:

BRIGHTON – Friday, September 8th  (approx 10-2pm)

BRISTOL –  Friday, September 15th (approx 10-2pm)

The Walkshops are free. We will not be walking for four hours.  The morning will be a mixture of sharing project findings, walking activities, and exploring ways to capture our walks in writing to create a series of narrative maps.

Participants will be supported to develop their work, to contribute to an interactive project blog: https://writethemap.wordpress.com/ and take part in a Spoken Word Events in October.

Places are limited, bookings only.

If you would like more information about the project, or would like to participate in a Walkshop, please contact Christina at: createlearnconnect@gmail.com. Mobile: 07738 763 161. @ChrisSand12 #writingthemap  Facebook: writingthemap.

Writing The Map is funded by The Arts Council.

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