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Thursday, January 07, 2010


It says a lot for our disconnection with the world around us that walking can be considered a creative, even subversive act. For the men of the post-impressionist era, the flaneurs for whom ready income and social status acted as an access-all-areas pass for the rapidly modernising metropolis, the idea of promenading without intent or purpose was, in some senses, radical behaviour. The modern city had never been explored in this way before.

Now there's Mythogeography: A Guide to Walking Sideways, a guide book that accompanies the rediscovery of slowly traversed space. From the blurb: 'In a city, for example, walkers become aware of their urban home as a site, a forum, a playground and a stage: all there to enjoy, understand and provoke on multiple levels'.

The walking history has been reclaimed from its earlier rural focus (see Nicholas Crane's Two Degrees West) through the suburban, post-industrial psychogeographical meanderings of Iain Sinclair (predated by the work of the London Psychogeographical Association), to concentrate explicitly on the city, a fulfilment of the Situationist playground, the home of drift. In a sense, even a click and drag around Google Streetmap is a form of drifting, but who are we really kidding; without the smells, sounds and textures of a real city, the fruitless zoom, enhance, pan and scroll of such virtual exploration will always be a poor second place.

Phil Smith's Mythogeography decribes the role of walking thus: 'as performance, as exploration, as urban resistance, as activism, as an ambulatory practice of geography, as meditation, as post-tourism, as dissident mapping, as subversion of and rejoicing in the everyday.' It's not strictly urban, of course - see Drift, for some rural wandering, or explore Smith's own starter kit for drifting, a way for 'opening up the world, clearing eyes and peeling away the layers of spectacle, deception and that strange “hiddeness in plain sight” that coats the everyday.'

There was a flurry of activity in GPS-created art a few years ago. GPS Traces on OpenStreetMap, or GPS drawing, or Waag's Amsterdam RealTime project, collated on this Me-fi post, where the antecedent of forms created from urbanism in Paul Auster's New York Trilogy is noted. This was walking as exhibitionism, the inevitable dovetail of technology and showmanship, venturing forth because we could.

It's a relatively bloody-minded pursuit, mythogeography, an attempt to absorb esoteric information from every conceivable source and to invest ulterior meaning in the transient and everyday. This obsession with static drift is, it has to be said, very much contrary to the screen-filtered world that has spilled out of the home and office and onto the tube, bus or pavement.

Mythogeography doesn't have much truck with technology. Like Nicholas Crane and his carefully hand-assembled strips of meridian, it is a discipline that demands paper maps, missteps, dead ends and an overall sense of not knowing exactly where you are. Nowadays, we're all concerned with our time to first fix, a suitably drug-laced term for a craving for instant location identity. It seems sad that we have to be instructed in such mythogeographical practices, that our default settings aren't to 'follow instincts not maps', but to plug in.

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Another pertinent set of links: iconic architecture destroyed in movies / a shape book at Miller Goodman's flickr stream / more shapes: contemporary Portuguese architecture at Ultimas Reportagens / fine Penguin Book Cover wallpaper.

We're really struggling to work out where the whole 'ninja' thing came from in relation to architecture blogging, e.g. Archi Ninja, Architecture My Ninja Please / MIMOA's review of the year.

Sign off and out forever with the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine: 'This machine lets you delete all your energy sucking social-networking profiles, kill your fake virtual friends, and completely do away with your Web 2.0 alterego.'

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Thursday, November 20, 2008
The end of the world is nigh, perhaps. The temples of doom, a recent Guardian piece by Rory Carroll draws parallels between the 'population explosion, ecological disaster and weak leadership' that did for Mayan civilisation and the apparent limits being approached by today's global culture, six centuries after the Renaissance.

The piece isn't especially alarmist; there's plenty of hand-wringing online and elsewhere. It wasn't so long ago that merchants of doomsday saw the enemies of progress as those most likely to send global culture backwards. Unsurprisingly, the writings of Ayn Rand, particularly those that date to the heady, corrosive, pick-your-corner period of American environmental history, kick-started by Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (given an 'honorable mention' in Human Events' list of the 'Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries').

Why so harmful? As Rand pointed out gleefully, the environmentalists were hell-bent on returning America to the Dark Ages:

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'Your wife gets up at six A.M - you have insisted that she sleep until the coal furnace, which you lighted, has warmed the house a little. She has to cook breakfast for your son, aged five; there are no breakfast cereals to give him, they have been prohibited as not sufficiently nutritious; there is no canned orange juice - cans pollute the countryside. There are no electric refrigerators.

She has to breast-feed your infant daughter, aged six months; there are no plastic bottles, no baby formulas. There are no products such as "Pampers"; your wife washes diapers for hours each day, by hand, as she washes all the family landury, as she washes the dishes - there are no self-indulgent luxuries such as washing machines or automatic dishwashers or electric irons. There are no vacuum cleaners; she cleans the house by means of a broom.

There are no shopping centers - they despoil the beauty of the countryside. She walks two miles to the nearest grocery store and stands in line for an hour or two. The purchases she lugs home are a little heavy; but she does not copmlain - the lady columnist in the newspaper has said it is good for her figure'
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This lengthy fantasy about an enforced return to a life of pre-push button drudgery, dimly lit and bereft of the benefits of planned obsolescence and consumer desire was a central element of Rand's rant against the apparently Luddite tendencies of the emerging American left. It's a perverse combination of Threads and the River Cottage.

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Other things. Stills from the Fountainhead at the LIFE Archive / Show me your wardrobe, a sort of in-your-face Sartorialist / a fashion blogs, Miss at la Playa / Make Mine Shoebox, a neat retro styled animation by Chris Harding. Some stills / English translations of Asterix / the guitar toolkit seems like a very good reason to have an iPhone.

Why mailmen give up / playing Mirror's Edge apparently makes you sick / paintings by Stuart Shils / paintings by Michael Tompkins, represented by the Paul Thiebaud Gallery. Fine art websites are stuck in a world of frustratingly tiny thumbnails / the Objectivist dating site, currently getting a lot of online attention.

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