From Hill to Sea

fromhilltosea

A frequent criticism heaped on practitioners of psychogeography is that despite its widespread acknowledgement as useful way to explore and interpret the landscape, it remains confined to theory rather than praxis. Even at the time when the concept was crystallised by Guy Debord, Abdelhafid Khatib’s Attempt at a Psychogeographical Description of Les Halles seemed to be the only attempt at the application of psychogeographical theory.[1]

Over the last few decades there has been a renewed interest in the topographical narratives of early 20th century London, Alfred Watkins’s work on ley lines and the surrealism of the earlier movement. Writers like Iain Sinclair, Will Self, Stewart Home and Nick Papadimitriou—although they wouldn’t necessarily call themselves psychogeographers—have been working in the spirit of the original concept with particular reference to London. Beyond London, however, we have been left rather wanting for works which apply the principles of psychogeography.[2]

If you are unfamiliar, Wikipedia has a decent overview of psychogeography:

Psychogeography is an approach to geography that emphasizes playfulness and “drifting” around urban environments. It has links to the Situationist International. Psychogeography was defined in 1955 by Guy Debord as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” Another definition is “a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities… just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape.”

If you want to get stuck in properly, I suggest picking up a copy of Merlin Coverley’s primer cited below, which offers a comprehensive overview of the disparate theories, works and thinkers which were baked together to create what we now know as pyschogeography.

The Fife Psychogeographical Collective is far and away the most consistent practitioner outside of London. Since 2010 they have been walking around their reason engaging with the landscape and teasing out lost histories, liminal spaces and hauntological hinterlands. From Hill to Sea brings together some of their finest work in print for the first time. It would be futile to attempt a synopsis when you can have a poke around the blog to get a taste for the book, which is split in sections focusing on walks in their region, work further afield and general musings on theory and art. What makes this such an enjoyable read—apart from the intriguing subjects at hand—is that the anonymous author(s) have a knack for vivid description and inquiry which helps to appreciate the geographic environment in new ways.

One of my favourite pieces in the book is Some Questions on the Drift, in which they pose the question “when does the inside become the outside?” in reference to the architectural skeleton of what was once Rosyth Church.

[1] Merlin Coverley, Psychogeography: 93.

[2] That is not to say there weren’t any at all.

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