Three Days of Psychogeographic Heaven - An Overview of the PsyGeoConflux 2003 in NYC
> By Dave Mandl, Christina Ray, and Conflux participants Karen O'Rourke, Colette Meacher, Laurel Beckman, Geoff Dugan, and Callie




Psy-Geo-Conflux 2003 was a three-day event we organized on New York's Lower East Side in May of this year. Our intention was to explore the various ways in which artists, writers, and theorists are interpreting the idea of psychogeography today, at a time when the paper maps used in early dérives have been supplemented by mobile phones, GPS systems, and advanced field-recording techniques. The event, held in and around the collectively run art space ABC No Rio, featured eight different walks around the city using a variety of organizing principles; a neighborhood-sized chess game using humans as pieces; a public audio blog constructed from mobile-phone messages; an art exhibition featuring work in a number of media, some of it interactive; live music performances incorporating environmental sound recordings; and an unauthorized "noise parade" through the neighborhood that brought hundreds of baffled but excited residents pouring out into the streets. The response to the Conflux was overwhelmingly positive, and the turnout was gratifyingly large, reflecting the explosion in interest in psychogeography that has taken place in the past few years. (We're hoping to make the Psy-Geo-Conflux an annual event, and have already begun planning the 2004 Conflux.)

Rather than write something from the administrator's-eye-view of the organizers, we thought it would be more interesting to ask the participants themselves--the people who presented art, led walks, gave talks, etc.--how they felt about the event. We emailed them a list of questions about their projects, their thoughts on the subject of psychogeography and the ways it informs their work, and their feelings about the Conflux in general. Here are some of the answers we received.

--Christina Ray (Glowlab) and Dave Mandl (Brooklyn Psychogeographical Association) [email: ray at glowlab.com / dmandl at panix.com]

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Karen O'Rourke (korourke at wanadoo.fr):
Psychogeography brings internet-based art out of the ghetto and into the real world. As a cross-disciplinary cross-cultural enterprise, it brings together people and projects that might normally be perceived in separate spheres. It informs my work in that it deals with people's interaction with their surroundings.

The Psy-Geo-Conflux was a good pretext for walking in New York!

My intention was to get people to look at their everyday itineraries in a new light. I set up a website to serve as both an online marketplace for "used" itineraries and a means of charting urban travels online, using text, images, and sounds. The itineraries will be linked up to form a "Map of Tender" drawn by surveillance technology. Since I am asking the public to participate via an online questionnaire, I decided for this "New York Body and Soul Map" to use (follow) their itineraries and document my own impressions in counterpoint to theirs. If I had it to do over, I would have focused more on the live event and how it links up to the database.

I had some interesting responses to my questionnaire before the event took place. However, it would have been even better if people had been able to access the website at the gallery. Many people present at my talk didn't want to fill in the questionnaire on paper because they preferred to do it online, but somehow they never got around to it. I'm using the responses I did get as the basis for further work on the project, for the development of an online semantic map interface.

I liked the generally low-tech flavor of the event. I enjoyed meeting people I'd corresponded with. The lecture sessions created some lively exchanges. The experimental and somewhat informal atmosphere was for me a strong point of this year's Conflux.

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Colette Meacher (colettemeacher at yahoo.co.uk):
Psy-Geo-Conflux 2003 achieved something unique by bringing together strangers all connected by the common thread of psychogeography, whose paths might well have criss-crossed before, perhaps without their knowing.

For me what the Conflux demonstrated is how walking has come to proliferate in a whole range of subversive, playful, and interpretive ways around Europe and the U.S. I came to recognise how psychogeography is a word with enfolded immensities, which we should rightfully respect as a lexicon rather than through single interpretation--there are as many ways to walk as there are synonyms for the word walk itself. I was there to strut my stuff too--presenting a paper entitled Kant: Walking the Talk. This gave a broad overview of the ways in which artists and writers have employed walking as a means to experience or encounter the sublime, from the eighteenth century to current-day practice. I aimed to show how the German philosopher Immanuel Kant's theory of the sublime is still intriguing today, whilst showing how such an immaterial, ephemeral, and essentially difficult-to-grasp concept may be more easily found than we think. Walking has always been a means to discovering the unknown, not just for artists and writers but for philosophers too--many are known to have relied upon walking as part of their methodology of thought; as a way of walking out their ideas.

I was in New York to walk out my own ideas, to meet people practicing "the walk" in new ways, and to experience their way of walking with them. I hoped to experience the improbable--to get lost in a concept-city tightly written by the quadrillage of its streets. I hoped to find hidden inscriptions, coded messages, silent dialogue, unconscious ghost-writers, unknowing proof-readers.

Unawares, in the spirit in which all the best things happen, I found myself staying in a former flophouse with guys who really did know the streets like wizened cartographers, having been homeless street-walkers. Surreally, I fell ill on the night I arrived with uncontrollable nausea and dizziness, which remained for my whole trip and for some weeks after arriving back in London. The irony of being diagnosed with "labyrinthitis," a viral inner-ear infection, was not lost on me: I saw New York in a way which made the street sculptural, so vividly did I perceive each and every sense-impression, sound, color and disjuncture, each step of such textural impact it was as if I was indelibly printing my soles into its careworn sidewalks.

I give thanks to all those who came and listened, and more, shared their thoughts and words after my talk. Many interesting comments were made, and it serves as a tribute to the spirit and organization of the conference that people felt uninhibited, resourceful and engaged to create a dialogue which is not over yet. I'm already researching the subject of psychogeography and writing it into being--a project which I am encouraging as many people to give expression to as possible. I'm openly inviting people to come forth with their stories and threads as part of the weave--all those interested can contact me directly. This will in turn become my presentation for next year's Psy-geo-Conflux, an event too compelling not to miss. Who knows? Perhaps our paths will criss-cross...

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Laurel Beckman (beckman at earthlink.net):
My research centers on the convergence of consciousness and phenomena. My current project, Day Tripper, included in the Conflux, was described by Arthur Aghajanian in Site Street magazine as "an invitation to the viewer to reconsider the urban landscape in relation to perceptual phenomena... a site-specific work that maps cities according to the experience of natural and artificial light. The project is concerned with the ways in which light stimulates the brain towards a range of restful and alert states... Viewers are made aware of those overlooked elements of the modern city that play a part in shaping experience..."

I was very pleased to be included in the Conflux, as it was a great fit with the intent of my project. It's important to me that my visual work perform actively, reconfiguring both everyday and transcendent experiences to include a collaborative, sometimes messy potential. I take this to be an aesthetically imbued political position, as I investigate the possibility to move people towards moving themselves.

I interpret psychogeography to be primarily where the individual and the site meet. The intersection of the mind-body with built and natural environments suggests a plethora of contexts and happenings. Considering my own interest in the consciousness of matter, I'm curious about the conversation between perception and phenomena, and how that might promote a heightened sense of empathy. The concept of psychogeography is compelling due to its wide embrace of subjective experience, and the ability to promote change through awareness, play, and communication.

I especially appreciated the mix of components in the Conflux (performance, visual art, events) as anchored by the eclectic walks. (My own walk was unfortunately cancelled due to gray skies.) This was an ambitious, fun, innovative, intelligent and no-attitude offering to the people of New York.

Next year I would like to see a larger festival, more of a public campaign component (I mean street-posted and -performed works), and concurrent satellite projects in other neighborhoods and cities.

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Geoff Dugan, GD Stereo (gdstereo at rcn.com):
Psychogeography is a subject that I have used as a means to merge my interest in music and sound with architecture and the urban environment. Since I have produced several audio CD projects based on this Situationist concept, I felt compelled to accept the invitation to be part of the event.

When psychogeography is limited to the realm of listening, it challenges the listener to accept the given environment on certain terms (less the ocular) and presents new territory that may not physically exist. My composition Beneath, a concrete music performance presented at the closing party at the Subtonic Lounge (not a place for listening), was composed of dérive recordings from beneath New York City. This subsurface psychogeography is an immersion into an improvised architecture in sound. It included a forgotten sanctuary beneath the Manhattan Bridge that was illuminated with a live acoustical performance by Sean Meehan. I plan to be a part of future Confluxes where the subtleties of listening can be better accommodated. Psychogeography is also an example to learn from and to experiment with in sound and architecture. I continue to listen, record, and produce as improvised architecture influenced by the psychogeographical.

The Conflux was an invigorating event centered most suitably for the ABC No Rio venue: a living anarchist collective. I hope that in the future a place for listening can be located for the expansion of psychogeography in the realm of listening.

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Callie, Swoon (swoon at nycmail.com):
Psychogeography is a question which asks me...you people are the city, how will you make a city you love to live in?

One of the major areas of interest for me and my work is cities, and how an active citizen can shape the way we live in our cities. I come from a street-art background, but sense that the kinds of interventions that fit strictly within the categories of graffiti and street are just one way of answering that question. The Conflux was exciting for me because it represented a convergence in one place of all kinds of people with many different viewpoints ready to actively investigate how we live in a city, ready to show each other what an ideal weekend might be like in a city of our making.

My collective, Toyshop, worked for weeks focusing on the thrown-away bits of New York--buckets left on the side of the road, spools of wire found in dumpsters, bottles, cans, sticks, pipes, whatever could be reformed into a noisemaking object. We built an approximately two-hundred-piece junk orchestra complete with a giant pipe xylophone, a percussion cart, and even a barbecue grill on wheels, all made out of things we found by the wayside. We also made banners and flags and hats and armbands and some costumes sewn from newspaper to give the feeling of a parade that has almost spontaneously constructed itself out of the floating refuse of this city. And the people--a couple hundred of them--came, and they played! It was a small-scale takeover of the Lower East Side, at one point filling up all of Houston Street--no other traffic going in our direction. People poured out of bars to watch it go by, and some even heeded calls to join us. It was a giant participatory junk band; it was loud and gregarious but very beautiful.

As far as people's perceptions of the city go, I think we wanted to create a little anarchy, to show that you can make whatever you want out of nothing, that the city will provide, that we don't have to sit in bars on the Lower East Side to entertain ourselves--we can entertain each other--and that a little wild-in-the-streets for no reason at all is necessary sometimes. One thing that may have changed some participants' perceptions of the city was the police resistance we got--we were followed almost immediately by a procession of five police cars and three paddy wagons, and were eventually routed from a public park (maybe it was the giant bonfire?), but you become aware that unsanctioned acts of screaming joy are a great cause for alarm for some.

On a Saturday afternoon having french toast at a free impromptu outdoor cafe, walking in circles playing Shuffle [Christina Ray's scavenger hunt/collaborative urban detective story], running into so many smiling faces from the night before, the Conflux made the neighborhood that weekend.

The Conflux should be yearly. It's hard for me to project what should happen differently except that I hope that it will organically grow and diversify and come to affect our daily lives.



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Images courtesy of Glowlab.

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PsyGeoConflux 2003 Homepage