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: