The Fourth World Congress of Psychogeography (4wcop.org) happened a few weeks ago in September and was held at Heritage Quay at the University of Huddersfield. It was organised by Phil Wood (Urban Therapist http://philwood.eu), Alex Bridger (Huddersfield Psychogeography Network and Academic Psychologist the University), Dave Smith (Participation and Engagement Officer at Heritage Quay) and myself. It was much popular than we imagined (or planned for) with 98 people attending with 368 cumulative attendance over two days and eleven events. People came as far afield as Utrecht in The Netherlands, Exeter, London and Birmingham! We didn’t have any external funding but had a little bit from the University and venue for some of the headline speakers. The majority of events, talks and walks were done at no cost, and all events were for free. A few of the events were also promoted and part of the Heritage Open Days (PDF) for Kirklees.
If this is your first encounter with the topic of psychogeography, here is a quick summary of what it is. I gave this at the beginning of my walks:
Psychogeography is the study of place and people. It’s mainly a practised activity with walking at its core. You can learn three things from doing Psychogeography:
1) You can learn about a place (how it works, what’s there, what it is like).
2) You can learn about spaces and how places in general works (society shaping places, capitalism and cities, consumerism etc)
3) You can learn about yourself (what perceptions do we have, why do we feel this about that, how do we live your life in places, self reflection)
The walk or the “Derive” or drift is the main way people do psychogeography, and I think there are two main ways of moving.
- We walk according to our subconscious, we follow our own, or collective desires and let ourselves be drawn and influenced by the spaces we are in. We wander and move according to the spaces we are in. We walk to the places that attract us and away from those that make us anxious. The spaces and places we walk in shape our experiences.
- We walk according to random or a rule. We move more consciously into places which our desires may never have taken us. We follow a rule (such as take alternate left and right turns) or at random (for example, a roll of a dice) instead of relying on our own feelings or the feelings of a space.
Both types of walking can give us different things.
I developed the website (4wcop.org), using an adapted Bootstrap theme, Grayscale, swapping out the Google Maps API integration and using Leaflet. The code is open source and is also hosted using GitHub pages. A custom Mapbox tile style was developed using the Mapbox Studio online and shows the Heritage Quay venue.
The site had sections for event listing, biographies, an about section and contact sections.
History of the Congress
The name, the Fourth World Congress implied that we had three similar events, however the other ones were various and different. We all liked the self myth making nature of the Situationists, and their colourful descriptions of expulsions and history.
“The First World Congress of Psychogeography took place in June last year (2015) in two locations at the same time – Huddersfield and Leeds. The Congress was convened in order to host the launch of an edited collection of essays about current psychogeography in the United Kingdom (edited by Tina Richardson) and also to invite the Class Wargames collective to do a talk and to show how Debord’s Game of War works as a situationist board game with the aims being to use wargaming as a metaphor to explore the social relations of capitalism. Arguably, the hosting of these two events shifted the ley lines and seismic energies in the Northern Heartlands, as evidenced by a seventh levitation of the Odeon Cinema in Huddersfield. Members of the World Congress of Psychogeographers have previously levitated the Odeon Cinema a further six times previously in recent years! The second and third World Congresses may take place next year or they may indeed have already happened. David Bollinger the District Commissioner of the West Yorkshire Federation of Psychogeographers claims that that the second and third Congresses took place on June the 21st in 1984 and 2012, but we as the Huddersfield Psychogeography Network, argue that such claims are spurious. There are indeed some irreconcilable differences between Mr David Bollinger and the Huddersfield Psychogeographical Network with possible and necessary resignations from positions which may be required in the near foreseeable future.
For more details about the first World Congress check out the following links: http://particulations.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/the-world-congress-of-perambulatory.html and https://notanotherpsychogeographyblog.wordpress.com/2015/05/16/world-congress-of-perambulatory-sutures-huddersfield-and-leeds-1314-may-2015/ “
There were the following events
- Harold Wilson’s Turbo Derive (Phill Harding).
- Psychogeography Extreme (Phil Smith).
- Scavenger’s Hunt (Sophia Emmanouil).
- A Walk in the Park (Travis Elborough).
- What is Psychogeography (Alex Bridger).
- The Northern Powerhouse in a Post-Brexit World (Alex Bridger).
- Walking Over Mines (myself).
- Ghost Trails of Diaspora (Phil Wood).
- The Studentification of Urban Space (Tina Richardson).
- Getting Lost on Purpose (myself).
- Any Other Business (everyone).
Many of the events were live streamed by John Popham http://bambuser.com/tag/4wcop
Here are some notes about the ones I went on:
Phill Harding – Harold Wilson’s Turbo Derive
The Congress started with Phill Harding leading the Harold Wilson’s Turbo Derive. Phill Harding is a multidisciplinary artist who works with sound. The walk was, as it’s name suggests, a walk of very rapid velocity across the town. The main idea was to be in the moment as much as possible – no recording devices, no cameras, no headphones and no talking were some of the rules of the walk. It was both very fast, and very tiring – I think around 1/3 of the walkers who started the walk dropped out along the way (some reportedly went to the pub!). The idea was to move around the space in an algorithmically way, paying full attention to the sights and sounds around you. The algorithm had many left turns, and I suspect was based on the Left-Left-Right rule of the glider from Conways Game of Life. We started from the statue of Harold Wilson, outside of the train station (see above) and walked around the town. We often were walking up steep roads and paths and some of the hilliest parts of the town! We explored around the Goods building by the train station, walking underneath and around it. We explored around the towns shops. We climbed up Cambridge Road and Clare Hill through the car park into some bushes, by a tramps bed with a fire extinguisher, and finished by Cambridge Lodge.
This location was significant to two other events, a genus loci, as we shall see. The name “Clare Hill” gives a hint – it was where the Irish immigrants first settled in the town, and in this neighbourhood is where the Irish Centre still is. At the end of the walk Phill encouraged us to talk about our experiences. We discussed how we felt walking around the hills, about how some people dropped out, whether psychogeography was male dominated or not (we thought not – and in most of the events, attendances seemed equal between men and women. It was far less diverse in other ways though!), we talked about the rural and urban differences and how we should put in grouse butts in the towns and close neighbourhood for a season of shooting. We then walked back to the official opening event..
Phil Smith – Psychogeography Extreme
Phil Wood, with ceremonial flat cap and a gavel from the Heritage Quay Archives (that had, apparently been thrown around in a Situationist meeting in the 1950s) officially opened the Congress, and introduced us to the third Phil of the Congress – Phil Smith, aka CrabMan and his talk about Psychogeography Extreme. Phil Smith has written widely about walking, performance and psychogeography. Here is the abstract of the talk:
“What is the future for psychogeography? To open the Congress, Phil Smith, in this talk, proposes future shifts in contemporary Psychogeography for a walking that is both quest and architecture and against a ‘Spectacle’ that invades subjectivity and pixilates public space. Phil will argue for an ecological walking that acknowledges the malevolence of the planet’s molten centre, for the taking back of the surplus of pleasure, and for new ‘grounds’ for a politics of the anti-Spectacle where our entanglement with distant things changes the here and now”
Phil’s talk was interesting and covered much about the topic. I think it got people thinking about psychogeography quite a bit. He introduced a concept of psychogeography in your mind – that is, if we can construct spatial mind-palaces (method of loci) in our brains – then we can do walks around these constructs. We can do psychogeography in mental places. I think, looking back up to my three learning points, may not help with a couple of them. If we construct a mental place, even if it’s based on a real place, the way we construct it is influenced by our perceptions. We may learn much about the place itself, being able to experience it mentally, and we could learn much about mental spaces, but I doubt we could get much self reflection. Perhaps having a memory palace and walking around it in an algorithmic way could be useful.
You can read Phil’s presentation here: http://www.mythogeography.com/psychogeography-extreme.html
Sophia Emmanouil – Scavengers Hunt
“Calling scavengers young and old to follow a trail around the university campus in the search of items and stories, mundane or otherwise. The findings of the explorations will be exhibited in the Instant Museum of Curiosities at Heritage Quay, so come with a playful mood and an enquiring mind”
I teamed up with my friend and puppeteer Anzir to explore the campus, inside and out. We found a varied assortment of objects. Things we found included feathers, half eaten chocolate, nails, wet paint signs, leaves, a plastic puzzle.
This event was split into two – in the first half we went exploring and found the objects, and in the second half we came back to the venue and created stories around the objects.
We finished by putting some of the objects into little jam jars, labelling them, and exhibiting them in a display case – the Museum of Curiosities.
We wrote a song (based on Bagpuss) and I choreographed a dance, based on the objects.
We then performed the dance:
Other participants created works of more beauty and creativity. Stories of themselves, the objects the found and performed poetry. Some drew lovely drawings. Sophia works alot with schools, health and arts organisations, community groups and other voluntary and community collectives in a public engagement process. Although we didn’t have any children on this walk, I think it was incredibly playful and fun.
Travis Elborough – A Walk in the Park
Travis came up from London to give this fascinating talk about parks.
“Travis will present an illustrated, peripatetic survey of urban green space drawing on the material in his latest book A Walk in the Park (just out in Penguin), described as ‘fascinating, informative, revelatory’ by William Boyd in The Guardian, and his research during a residency in Victoria Park in East London with the Chisenhale Gallery in 2014-5. With their origins in aristocratic hunting preserves. Elborough argues that public parks have often proffered tame wildness to tame the wildness of the urban poor. As such their histories are steeped in age-old battles over land and liberty, work and leisure, taste and class, while currently they stand imperilled by government austerity measures and the invidious privatisation of free public space.”. Travis’s book A Walk in the Park has recently been released on Penguin Books.
His talk gave some interesting insights into the history of parks, why they came to be made, how they moved from the UK to the States (and the formation of Central Park). What types of uses there are in parks, the relationship with recreation. One theme was the influence and relationship of technology with parks – for example, landscaping and fountains with today’s use of CAD of planning. The main thing is the industrial revolution – increasingly worsened health and the need for clean air, increasing population and Victorian ideas about fitness, culture and the like.
Tim Waters – Walking over Mines
I ran a walk entitled “Walking Over Mines”
“Tim will lead you over the labyrinth of concealed and invisible coal workings that lie just beneath the surface of Huddersfield town centre. His psychogeographic insights will give you a whole new view on the stuff beneath our streets.”
This walk was part of the Heritage Open Days programme as well, and so this had a fair bit of local history inside it. It was likely that many people would turn up who were not psychogeographers but who were curious about mining or local history – and I think on the day, we had about half of the walkers who just came for that. I think the total amount of people was 23. John Popham livestreamed much of the walk.
I spend a couple of days doing research in the Library and National Coal Mining Museum which was just down the road, including a visit to the West Yorkshire Archive Service. I also had several walks around the town to determine the route, get the timings right and make sure it was wheelchair accessible, and friendly with drop kerbs etc. On the day because we started a little bit late and had a larger group this made my timings off (something to learn from next time!) On the way back, to save time I thought we should take the direct route, instead of going through the town centre shopping area. The direct route, however, was along the demonic ring road, and was probably slower, as it had many timed pedestrian crossing points! A lesson for next time is to give more time for contingencies and groups.
The good librarians in Huddersfield Library got digging and showed me their mining collection – including some historical maps from the 19th century, and a great geological map. I took a photo of these, and georeferenced them on mapwarper.net
For historical mine and shaft locations I consulted the National Coal Board website which shows these points. Most of the shaft locations were on the historical map. Some locations of mines were not on either maps – for example the Newtown Mill had a coal mine but was never shown. These missing mines were actually the subject for the walk – the time when the Ordnance Survey was doing its main mapping was around the same time as the first recordings of mines – the First Coal Act of 1842.
I then used UMap to make a couple of maps for the walk:
It was during the Maps day at Heritage Quay in January that I saw Roger Lynch talk about the Great Mining Map and about mines in Kirklees. What struck me was that the nature of mines in this area was very different than elsewhere. When you think about coal mining what comes into your head are probably pictures of mining towns, strikes, big pits, large winch towers, mining communities and all the other local heavy industry. Here in Kirklees, the situation was much different. Because its to the west and is closer to the Pennines, the coal strata comes closer to the surface here. It’s easier to dig up. Mines occurred all over and people travelled from village and towns and did a bit of mining here and there. Mines were smaller, and didn’t last long. Most mines were called “day pits” meaning that they were mined during daylight hours and not that they lasted a day! They were either simple shallow bell pits or drift (there’s that derive connection) mines dug horizontally into a slope.
In some parts of the town of Huddersfield the coal seams were a foot down, elsewhere they were 10ft or 40ft – quite shallow compared with the larger mines.
These simple older style mines were less advanced, technologically than the larger ones. They would put young boys and girls down these mines. They were smaller and weighed less for the small seams and shafts. They didn’t even have ponies or steam winches in the region – there was no need.
The child labour was one of the reasons leading to the First Coal Act – where it was forbidden for miners to employ all girls whatever their age and all boys under 10. There were stories of children shabbily dressed, almost naked, and stories of mothers raising their babies underground. Mining children were described as being more feral than children who worked in mills and in industry.
Around the same time as children were being saved from mining was a change in how mining in Huddersfield worked. The town of Huddersfield belonged to and was controlled by the Ramsden family. The town, in the middle of the industrial revolution, was growing rapidly. shallow surface mines everywhere were often leading to subsidence and collapses. Ramsden decided that buildings were more profitable and better long term investment than mines. Mining was banned inside of a half mile radius and restricted for another 1/2 mile outside of it. Special rules were introduced, for example to leave enough coal under the Leeds Road and the Canal nearby – to take only 50% of the coal found there.
We walked along a few mining seams, had a look at the location of a drift mine, and visited the locations of the mines at Grove Pit, The Lane Mine and the Newtown Mill Mine. We also stopped at the top of the Hard Bed Coal seam very near the venue door, at the valley slope by the narrow canal on the university campus.
I brought along some copper dowsing rods and I encouraged people to have a go at using them before and during the walk. We would use the rods to find coal.
The use of dowsing rods, at least little that I have gathered is that there are three main theories: Firstly that a mysterious outside force moves the rod, secondly that your body moves the rods unconsciously (the ideomotor effect) and therefore can detect water, coal, magnetic fields, etc, and thirdly that you are psychic and the rods are merely a tool to indicate certain things. I favour the second of these explanations, and told the participants that!
Indeed, I encouraged them to look at the coal and consciously make the rods move. Then move over the coal and then allow your unconscious to do it. I think several people were able to see how that worked.
The walk continued…
At each location I placed a piece of coal and we all stood around it and looked at it for 60 seconds in silence. We then left that piece of coal in the place. It both brought back some of the lost history, evoked the raw material, and was a different kind of activity on a walk! At one location – the Lane Mine – a site of several pits – and on Diamond Street (diamond is carbon is coal!) – we encountered a phoenix and a song bird.
It was sublime.
I had worried before the walk about how to make it psychogeographic – in the end it was more local history walk – but I had thought about doing dances, or collaboratively making a song.
Dancing – during our bio-break at the pub, I discussed this and asked the group if there was a coal dance – by good luck, John Billingsley, the editor of Northern Earth was in the walk, and he said that the rappers – the dancing with metal sword type of folk dance – was thought to have originated from coal miners – the swords are actually tools used to mine.
Looking at some rappers on YouTube – I was struck by how close the dancers got to each other, and how physcial and joined together they were, and how more energetic it was (compared to any variety of Morris dancing, for example). I would think that coal miners had to be as comfortable in physical and personal spaces. It could be said to be a claustrophobic dance style?
Phil Wood – Ghost Trails of Diaspora
We were late getting back from the mines walk, and I missed the beginning of Phil’s talk. Phil talked about some of the coincidences with places and people and families and Huddersfield. He framed the stories based on the locations he has been to over the years.
The stories were primarily about immigrant communities to Huddersfield. The location of Clare Hill and Cambridge Road featured prominently, again here! That area was where these communities first started out.
You can see Phil’s talk in video here: https://bambuser.com/v/6451751
Tina Richardson – Town and Gown: The Studentification of Urban Space
Tina gave an interesting talk – view the slides and documentation here – about how private (as opposed to those provided by a university) halls of residence were changing how students used urban space and how urban spaces of the town and gown were changing.
Private halls are marketed to students much like an product is to any group. Tina looked at a range of halls in the region and beyond, and analysed the marketing material. Some interesting observations were that private halls were not a “party hostel” rather a place of serious value for money.
Clients were viewed as being co-opted into doing their bit – to making the community.
One imagines that this means that students living there were expected not to make a noise, have parties all the time, and make the most of their investment. Indeed it seemed as if, compared to when I went to University, a private halls of residence is aimed at those students who want to get maximum luxury, safety, and value for money for their investment in their studies.
Tim Waters – Getting Lost on Purpose
I did another walk – originally called “Algorithmic Walking” and changed to “Getting Lost on Purpose”. That’s four hours of leading a walk in one day! The plan was for this walk to be about a quarter in a workshop and the rest walking and relaxing. As organizers we expected people to be dipping in and out of events and hanging out in the space. We were not ready for both the numbers and the eagerness of participants. We didn’t have much on the way of a workshop, and no discussion of the theory or what I expected walkers to expect on it. As it happened then, this walk took me by surprise – and I thought I reacted badly to it towards the end – and I’ll give some ideas about why later on in this section.
As I wrote in the beginning of the post – walking around could be done in a kind of random or algorithmic way. The theory is that we can experience a place more consciously than just being drawn this way and that by the attractions and anxieties of a space. I was hoping that the walk would be a more active consideration of the areas we were walking and more active consideration about how we walk, and about how we react to the areas.
On the day, we had over twice as much people turn up, and we had to split into two groups. The instructions, without the above theory explained, were changed. This change led to a change in what I expected. Anyhow, the instruction was as followed: “The aim is to come up with ideas and methods for getting lost. I’ve got some props here, a dice, dowsing rods, compass, a street map to give you some inspiration. Grab a sheet of paper and a pencil and write one or a few ideas about how to get lost. For example you might throw the dice and if it’s 1 you go north, or you might follow your smell, or you might want people to look for a colour etc”. After a few minutes people made several ideas. We shuffled them up, and devised a way so that every 5 minutes we chose and changed the idea. Here are a couple of photos of some of the ideas people wrote:
I led my group with Alex being the Reader of The Ideas. We walked to and ended up at…YES Clare Hill and Cambridge Road!
Some of our ideas were, if I remember correctly:
- Follow the rise of the land and find a lookout spot
- We went up the hill to the market
- Follow places of worship
- We went from Temple of Consumerism / shopping mall to the parish church
- Navigate using natural phenomenon
- We generally stressed out some pigeons before following a high flying crow
- We had a couple of following colour rules – stop at red, and turn at blue for example
- You are being chased by a beast! Run away
- We fled from the beast market towards the jaws of another beast – a huge jaguar statue (outside car shop)
- Follow someone
- We followed two lads as they weaved their way across the main roads and ring road to Lidl supermarket, then we went up a hill following someone else
- Spin around in a circle and follow the direction of where they stagger off to
- Head in the direction of the nearest pub
- Follow the stars
The other group had an interesting encounter with a local artist: Jake Mangel Wurzel.
This led to one of the younger participants, having a Wimpy for the first time in her life, as, with her dad they got separated from the rest of the group! She liked it.
The powers of the nice and the attractive are very strong. It was very hard to make sure the group stayed together especially a large group in an urban area trying to get lost. People are social and liked chatting to each other. Some walkers tend to dawdle and drift, and some are more active in their participation. Those at the front of the group may be running off following the idea, but those at the back may be unaware a new algorithm had been chosen.
I did struggle to ensure that the group remained together. In retrospect the group was too big – a couple of times we had to stop and wait for those behind to catch up because they were a bit slower crossing the road, and a couple of times we had to ensure that those who ran off ahead were brought back – towards the end I had turned myself into a kind of crowd control / lolly pop lady rather than another participant!
Our group’s walk finished in Cambridge Road. Again. As we were walking up one participant marvelled at how he, when he was himself an immigrant to the town, stayed in that hotel for a day!
We were going to make our way back to the venue and had one last idea to follow – follow the star or the nearest pub. The group split, those following the rule ran down the hill and some others were waylaid by a furry flower on a tree in someone’s garden:
Getting Lost and Lessons Found
The owner of the house came out. He was a fellow academic and local historian and eventually offered to lead the people in for a tour of his house. Half of my group disappeared. They properly got lost! The other half who were following the stars and went down the hill eventually sent a scout to came back up the hill to look for everyone! This combined situation I didn’t handle well, and I think that the tiredness after 4 hours of walking may have contributed: I felt responsible for those taking part, I felt responsible for making sure the group stayed together, and I wanted those taking part to be actively following the rule – even if it meant saying “no” to an interesting attractive house, and also I thought it significant that those who spend 15 minutes at the house chose to stop taking part on the actual walk. But it wasn’t their fault – they were not given the briefing session on the theory, nor were they instructed to be actively resisting attraction and instead aiming for following the algorithms. Indeed, those who got lost by the house actually completed the stated aim of the walk – To Get Lost! – so people followed the rules of the walk after all! They also enjoyed themselves and had a unique experience which was literally at the high point – the peak of the walk!! Lessons learnt – in the future I will be more flexible with divergences, there should be smaller groups, participants should know the rules of the walk beforehand and perhaps everyone should have some part in the walk, like having to read out the ideas, or timing them, or documenting them etc. In reflection, many of the ideas or algorithms, because they were interpreted on the spot, and because they were often deliberately open to interpretation were affected by our tendency towards the nice and away from bad. I think we saw some anxiety in one part, for example as the rules took us into a park where The Town Youth were hanging out. I can bet you that in a drift we wouldn’t have gone into that area.
Everyone – Any other Business.
The Congress was officially ended, with the decision taken to do another Fourth World Congress next year, with the Motion of No Confidence and formal Dis-Assembly of the 4th World Congress of Psychogeography, including any expulsions, unresignations and votes.
We hope to do another Fourth World Congress in 2017!