psychogeography and drift

A midwest collaborative arts group called COMPASS is doing an interesting residency at Southern Illinois University this week. One of the artists, Sarah Lewison, is quoted in a recent article about their focus on the Situationist tradition of derives, or drifts, the significance of maps and map-making, and the group's focus on the power dynamics that influence place.

Lewison said the term “drift” was used by French artists who were disheartened with the way post-WWII Paris was being reconstructed with little regard for its former intimacy and sustainability or for the mom and pop businesses that were destroyed.

“The artists created their own maps of the city and started making these kinds of adventures where people would wander through the streets exploring the city rediscovering what they wanted to save. They called that a drift,” she said.

Lewison said most maps are made by people who have power.

“In a city or in a small town there are certain people who get to determine how that town looks.   The image of the town becomes an image of, usually, the most powerful people in that town,” she said.   “We are interested in what might have been the image of the other people who didn’t have so much power.”

Lewison said it’s important to understand how power works in an area and to use that knowledge as a way to learn how you can protect what is important, such as community and environment, and the ability to care for others.

She said the phrase, “region from below,” refers to conceptualizing a region from the vantage point of its less powerful inhabitants and that COMPASS advocates “cartography with your feet,” or walking through an area with an attitude of curiosity and openness about what might be discovered.

Guy Debord writes about the collective activities that took place in the early 1950s with a theory of psychogeography, which he describes as a way to critique the urban geography. I'm wondering how many of you have already studied this writer and this movement as a part of art school thus far. Our first assignment for the course encourages you to take a wander that in order to think about our site in new ways, albeit in a more structured way than the Situationists would have pursued. I'm hoping we can incorporate a shared drift into the time we spend together later this month.

You can read the article quoted above in full here: 


notes on meeting with John W.

Today I met with John Wawrzaszek, Columbia's Sustainabilty Manager over at the Office of Campus Environment in order to discuss the class. He reminded me that Earth Day falls on April 22nd, which is the Monday after our workshop. He suggested that it would be very cool to have an event to showcase our class findings that day in the garden, weather permitting.

Last week class member Jillian mentioned that we could inquire with the school about objects in storage that could be reclaimed and used as materials for our project. I asked John about this and he mentioned that since some new construction has taken place on campus, his office has less involvement with reclaimed materials. He recommends that we contact specific departments directly in order to find out what materials or items they have ready to discard. John said that the work room at the 619 S. Wabash building or the 1104 S. Wabash basement grad student workspace is a good source for leftover materials. I'll let you all (the grad students!) investigate whether or not there is anything useful for us there.

John did mention that he had about 1000 or so extra aluminum water bottles from last year's new student convocation. We could slap some stickers on there and give them a new life! Something to think about as a giveaway for a public event/exhibition.

During this meeting I asked John about the new compost program on campus. I was thinking about artist projects using compost, like the U.S. flag that was vermicomposted by Chicago-based artist Claire Pentecost for her piece, Proposal for a New American Agriculture. Claire collaborated on another soil/compost project for the most recent Documenta, you can read more about it here.

There are many other soil and compost projects that might serve as inspiration. Recently I learned about a new website called Soil Arts, which seems like someone's PhD project in ecology. I'm guessing it will turn into a book eventually. I like Kultivators' Guerrilla composting, Feed-back Berlin and Lisa Johannson's Compost Distiller, both of which I learned about from my buddies Bonnie & Brett at Mythological Quarter. Check out their blog for loads of great posts about the intersections of culture and ecology.
Proposal for a New American Agriculture, Vermicomposted Cotton Flag : 5′ x 9′

John informed me that composting can't happen at the garden due to sanitation concerns and the need for on-site permitting. He encouraged us to experiment with this place but also cautioned that the precarious future of the space depends on cultivating positive experiences there.

His caveat made me think deeply about the contradicting forces at play. We are being asked to bring art and creativity to the space, but we need to avoid rocking the boat, so that Columbia students will not be prohibited from using this space in the future. It reminded me about this project from the Freee Collective, called Artists Cannot Bring Integrity To Your Project Unless They Provide A Full And Candid Critique Of Everything You Do. They have done several other text-based pieces that question the ways in which public art functions. How are artists and their work used by institutions (directly or indirectly) to promote economic growth, to increase property values, to re-brand, market, or sanitize public space? What responsibility do artists have to expose and reveal these hidden agendas?
from Freee Collective's The Three Functions project

Here are a few other things I learned during my conversation with John:
- When the old Buddy Guy's Legends was demolished, a large cavity was left in the ground. So the gravel that fills the pit goes down several feet.
- Columbia's compost is collected by a non-profit organization called the Resource Center
- The vinyl banners with photographs at the bike parking lot were posted by Student Affairs during Manifest last year and have stuck around. 
-He mentioned the idea for a bicycle-powered paper pulper that came up during previous conversations about the garden with April Sheridan. I have read about two projects that have used this kind of pedal power: one from Combat Paper, another that was designed for use in Ghana.

Some of you may know this stuff already but it's useful to document all the information and have it in one place to share. If you have other ideas for getting reclaimed materials, trivia about the site, or thoughts about the function of public art, please post them here!


Welcome to Permanently Temporary!

Columbia College's Papermaker's Garden is the focus of our course. When I was talking to another faculty member about the future of this site that is owned by the college, she mentioned that some school administrators have referred to it as "permanently temporary". This phrase struck me as characterizing a very interesting dilemma for a socially engaged art practice. That's what inspired the name for this project blog.

A landscape architect has already designed the new physical infrastructure for the site. Word on the street is that construction for those plans will begin in June. The site has a lot of potential for change, but our creative efforts must happen in response to this very specific context of liminality.
When I did a quick internet search for the phrase "permanently temporary", I came across this sculpture of the same name by UK artist Graham Guy-Robinson. I'm interested in considering his use of temporary barrier material as it relates to the dominant physical feature of the Papermaker's Garden: the chain link fence.