With the General Election looming it seems an apt time to post this video of an psychogeographical intervention I was invited to stage by artist Bob and Roberta Smith in Michael Gove’s Surrey Heath constituency where Bob is challenging him on May 7th.
Employing an algorithmic derive seemed like a good way to unlock hidden aspects of the principle town in the constituency – Camberley. The Situationists had developed the derive as a form of reconnaissance mission for the eventual transformation of everyday life – in this case it would be launching Bob’s election campaign.
The algorithm (above) that we used, and the overall idea of algorithmic or Generative Psychogeography was developed by Dutch artists Social Fiction who experimented with the process over the Summer of 2001. I’d used these in a psychogeographical remapping of High Wycombe working with my sister throughout 2004-05 to great effect. What would happen in Surrey Heath?
In their essay, Algorithmic Noise as Free Culture: The Hot Summer of Generative Psychogeography 2002, Social Fiction write of the experience, “Participation in a generative psychogeographical experiment forces you to adopt the characteristics of a machine, you are pushed through streets like an object in almost closed loops which are connected by sudden rushes straight forward.”
As the algorithm took us into a series of carparks linked by flytipped alleyways this prediction appeared to be borne out – Camberley was perhaps a perfect ‘generator’ of psychogeography.
The process does come with the warning that, “the algorithm which should be able to produce a walk without navigational friction repeatedly produces more confusion than certainty: the algorithm becomes chaos.” Which certainly seemed to be the case as we crossed and re-crossed roads, and skirted a multi-storey carpark that Bob sketched.
I had stated that we would follow the algorithm for exactly one hour. Our final turn took us off the main road opposite Sandhurst Military Academy and into the carpark behind Argos. And there at the very end of the derive, dead on 1 hour of walking, we found ourselves outside Camberley’s one and only Art Shop. From the chaos the algorithm had produced the perfect conclusion to the exercise.