Podcast: What on Earth is Psychogeography

I had the great pleasure of being interviewed live onstage at the fantastic Wanstead Tap about the subject of walking and psychogeography for the Tap Into Podcast. And appropriately I did ramble all over the place a bit.

Here are some of my notes.
Original definition of Psychogeography by the Situationist International:
“the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.” S.I.
dérive
A mode of experimental behavior linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. The term also designates a specific uninterrupted period of dériving.

Note on psychogeography from my book This Other London:
“In 1953 a young poet and activist, Ivan Chtcheglov, writing under the pseudonym of Gilles Ivain, produced an article called ‘Formulary for a New Urbanism’, in which he put forward this utopian vision: ‘Everyone will live in their own cathedral. There will be rooms awakening more vivid fantasies than any drug. There will be houses where it will be impossible not to fall in love. Other houses will prove irresistibly attractive to the benighted traveller.’

Quote about the S.I and the City
One article from 1958 sums up the group’s feelings about the city: “The world we live in, and beginning with its material decor, is discovered to be narrower by the day. It stifles us.
“We yield profoundly to its influence; we react to it according to our instincts instead of according to our aspirations. In a word, this world governs our way of being and it grinds us down.”

Video I made about Mathieu O’Neil’s Situationist Library in Paris.

Link to part of the Chris Gray Memorial Lecture at Housmans bookshop October 2012.

Extract from an article I wrote about British Psychogeography and the 90s psychogeography revival:
The revival of the London Psychogeographical Association had been announced with a statement in their first newsletter in 1993, “The revival of the LPA corresponds to the increasing decay in British culture, and indeed of the British ruling elite. It has been, in fact, an historical inevitability”. In an essay entitled ‘Why Psychogeography’ Stewart Home reinforced the point, “Psychogeography is not a substitute for class struggle, but a tool of class struggle.”

Sacred alignments of London map
Lud Heat map

London Psychogeographical Assocation NewsletterWhy Psychogeography
“There is a spectre haunting Europe, nay, the world. The spectre of psychogeography”
The publications of the London Psychogeographical Association forthrightly present a reconstruction of urban life.

Previous posts about Iain Sinclair and Psychogeography

Proto-psychogeography
The Fringe of London
“On rambling round the outskirts of London, and the unexpected turns, trials and triumphs that lie in the path of the wayfarer”. 

Discovering Maxwell’s The Fringe of London had been an epiphany for me, realizing that there was a heritage for this odd practice of wandering around neglected streets, following the city’s moods, tracking myths, retracing old paths and uncovering forgotten histories. – out-take from TOL

“The border-line between folk-lore and fairy-tales is not more nebulous than that between topographical research and “nosing about.”
The former, in either case, is but a grander name for practically the same thing. I mean the outdoor part of topography, not the many hunts in the land of books that usually follows later.”

“There are two ways of topographical hunting: one is to follow the “scent” of a clue, and the other is to go into the unknown to find what may be. Each way has its own charms and surprises. “

“The way of the topographical rambler is sometimes hard, often muddy, usually interesting; but never dull.” – Gordon S. Maxwell – The Fringe of London, 1925

England’s Character by SPB Mais 1936
“So make up your mind to be bound by no programme, to travel with complete irresponsibility, to start nowhere in particular, and the odds are that you will catch a glimpse of England that is vouchsafed only to the privileged few.”
“What you are looking for is as elusive as the faery music of the piper at the gates of dawn. What you see may be incommunicable to others, but it will provide you with a vision that may well alter the whole of your outlook on life.”

“Londoners live and sleep in places that in one’s lifetime had been remote and inaccessible”
Walter George Bell, 1926

“… I decided that these little towns must be celebrated. I would lock up, gather toothbrush, comb, and razor, and revisit them; make a Grand Tour of the true heart of London”
The Outer Circle Rambles in Remote London, Thomas Burke 1921

Some previous posts about psychogeography

Secrets of the City with Iain Sinclair

Iain Sinclair walk – Austin Friars to Mile End Road

This was a mystery walk, and a walk of secrets revealed. It seemed to come out of the blue. I thanked the great writer Iain Sinclair for the directions he’d provided for the Austerlitz walk I did with Bob and Roberta Smith and sent him a link to the video. He replied saying that he’d show me the house in Alderney Road where he believed the fictional character in Sebald’s book had lived. In addition, he said, we could add to the Van Gogh walk we’d done at the back end of 2018, and loop in two of Iain’s recent projects – his journey to Peru following the footsteps of his great-grandfather, and a piece he’d written for the Swedenborg Review.

Iain Sinclair John Rogers

John Rogers and Iain Sinclair at Austin Friars

I met Iain outside WH Smith at Liverpool Street Station, once part of the opulent Great Eastern Hotel. Among Iain’s many casual jobs in the past, he’d worked night shifts at the Station (from memory as a baggage handler?) in the days when it was a dark and dingy terminus, as described in Austerlitz. We moved on quickly through the City, heading south down Old Broad Street, breeching London Wall, then diving into Austin Friars Passage off Great Winchester Street. Iain touches the ‘pregnant’ wall in the alleyway, “you actually can put your hand on it, avoiding the chewing gum, and you take the temperature of another era of London,” Iain says. ‘Taking the temperature’ of London is a good description of Iain Sinclair’s work. He’s had an amazing knack of finding the territory that contains the story of London at that particular time, the Thatcher era in Downriver, the mid-90′ end of Tory rule in Lights Out for the Territory, the early bravado Blair years at the turn of the millenium with London Orbital, through to the new city being spun out of the Overground railway with London Overground. Today we’d be slicing across these timelines ending back with one of Iain’s earliest works, Lud Heat, where he accidentally gave birth to a particular Anglo-Celtic variation of psychogeography while working as a gardener in the churchyards of the East End.

 

Iain Sinclair John Rogers

Plantation Lane

The church at Austin Friars was home to London’s Dutch community in the 19th Century and was visited by Vincent Van Gogh. His sketch of Austin Friars Church is one of the few artworks he produced during his time in England. We follow this leg of the Van Gogh trail into Gracechurch Street, where the commercial gallery he worked for had a branch.

A coffee shop triggers the next chain of assocations on our walk, which now diverts its theme to Iain’s recent travels to Peru tracing the journey of his great grandfather, who had been sent there in the late 1800’s by the Peruvian Corporation of London. His mission had been to travel deep into the upper Amazon to see what crops could be grown there. The conclusion that the land would be suitable for the cultivation of coffee has its legacy in coffee shops and supermarket shelves the world over. You pick up references to this notable ancestor in various Sinclair works, particularly in Dining on Stones. This Peru expedition will be the subject of Iain’s next book, and you can read his blog posts of the trip here. There’s  a podcast in post-production and a film, The Gold Machine directed by Grant Gee, is due in the autumn.

Thames Wapping

 

We inevitably find ourside by the Thames, passing through the tourists laying seige to the Tower of London, talking of the legend of Bran the Blessed and the alignments linked by myth laid out in E.O. Gordon’s book, Prehistoric London, its mounds and circles (1904). From the start of this walk I’ve had no idea of the route, just following Iain through the City, knowing only that we will at some point arrive at Alderney Road in Stepney. We retrace some of our steps through Wapping from one of the walks for our London Overground film, passing the Thomas Rainsborough memorial and Turner’s Old Star.

Iain Sinclair walk

Chigwell Hill

We cross The Highway, the spire of St. George in the East lancing the East End sky. Designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and tagged as a nodal point in the psychogeography of London, largely thanks to Iain Sinclair’s early writings, you’d assume that St. George was where we were heading. But it turns out to be a site with possibly more tangible esoteric resonances.

Dodging into a small park beside the throbbing road, I find Iain stood looking at a London plane tree on a raised oblong of graveled ground. Swedenborg Gardens marks the spot where the Swedish philosopher and mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg was buried, in a churchyard since destroyed. It links to the Sebald story via Rabbi Chayim Samuel Jacob Falk, who was also said to be a kabbalist and alchemist. Falk, a friend and neighbour of Swedenborg’s in nearby Wellclose Square was buried in the Alderney Road Jewish Cemetery where Jacques Austerlitz lived in an a house overlooking the burial ground. “Both of these celebrated aliens, seekers and scholars, were buried in the ground of the territory: Falk at Alderney Road and Swedenborg beside the Highway,” wrote Iain Sinclair in the Swedenborg Review.

Iain Sinclair walk

Iain Sinclair in Swedenborg Gardens

From Swedenborg Gardens we pass along storied Cable Street and up through Watney Market as the traders are packing away for the day. The dangling lights from the metal stall frames sway like lanterns in the late afternoon darkness. Sidney Street is yet another location on this schlepp with a tale to tell, Seige House feels like an odd tribute to the events of 1911 that took place down here.

Across Mile End Road and we home in on the end of the walk at Alderney Road, still calm and peaceful as described by W.G Sebald in Austerlitz. Iain guides me to the house where he believes the fictional Jacques Austerlitz would have lived given what can be extracted from the book. By now it’s pitch black and I ask Iain to stand under a street light for the camera. He willingly poses in the shower of lamplight, the occasional passing car casting additional illumination – the perfect end to an incredible walk.

Iain Sinclair walk

Iain Sinclair & Edith Walks at Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema

Iain Sinclair Leytonstone

I had to photograph Iain Sinclair in front of Leytonstone’s Olympic Fish Bar in Church Lane. The great London writer had come to introduce his film collaboration with Andrew Kötting, Edith Walks at Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema in Leytonstone Library. Iain had been a prominent critic of the London 2012 Olympics, resulting in Hackney Council temporarily banning him in 2008 from speaking in its libraries.

Iain Sinclair Leytonstone

Iain Sinclair introducing Edith Walks

Iain Sinclair Leytonstone

Iain Sinclair introducing Edith Walks at Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema

When introducing Iain Sinclair, I mentioned how in the boom years of the psychogeography revival at the turn of the millenium, the idea of a Sinclair – Kötting collaboration was considered the psychogeographer’s ‘dream ticket’. Then while I was working at the National Film Theatre that dream ticket quite incredibly manifested itself with the film Offshore Gallivant, which screened at the NFT in 2006. Iain gave a humorous account of the making of the film as the crew spent the entire trip throwing up over the side of the boat meaning little footage was actually shot, however somehow Kötting still managed to make a film.

Iain related this to the making of Edith Walks, one of a number of subsequent collaborations between the pair, documenting a pilgrimage in the wake of King Harold’s wife Edith Swanneck from Waltham Abbey to the battlefield at Hastings. The nature of a 100-mile walk meant footage was not easy to capture throughout. Some of the scenes I shot at Waltham Abbey and on the towpath to Enfield Lock made their way into the final cut. A fair percentage of the film was shot on iphones using a Super8 app. The result was something magical and entrancing that the audience received warmly and sparked a fascinating discussion after the screening.

Edith Walks by Andrew Kötting

Iain Sinclair in Edith Walks directed by Andrew Kötting

Edith Walks Kötting

Claudia Barton as Edith Swan Neck

Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema is the first Wednesday of the month at Leytonstone Library

The Last London – in conversation with Iain Sinclair

Last week at the Wanstead Tap I had the great pleasure to talk to Iain Sinclair about his new book The Last London.

He read a passage about a walk along the Barking to Gospel Oak branch of the London Overground, a walk that I accompanied him on for a short section through Leytonstone, on the morning of Donald Trump’s US election victory.

“My theories at the time of Lud Heat, deriving from E.O Gordon, Alfred Watkins, John Michell, Nigel Pennick, were about lines of force connecting the churches, making patterns, and provoking crimes, rituals visitations, within an unregistered sphere of influence. What I now understood, in steady rain, on this morning of political madness, tracking an inoperative railway to a place nobody wants to go, is that the walks we are compelled to make are the only story. Walks are autobiography with author.”

Iain Sinclair the Last London

photo by Keith kandrphoto.com

Iain Sinclair’s work has had such a profound influence on London writing over the last 30 years at least, an influence that has stretched into film and visual arts. He synthesised a way of understanding the city and helped codify a new form psychogeography, distinct from its intellectual French roots. He expanded on the background to his hugely influential book Lud Heat:

“There was a period when you were able to absorb so many eccentric influences from all over and it goes back for me to a kind of collision for me between cinema and poetry which were my twin obsessives when I was very young and coming to London to be in film school and beginning to do long rambles and wanders and generally just to find one cinema to the next, whatever it was, and later as a gardener realising that the structure of these churches were enormously powerful and were in some ways, if you looked from the top of Greenwich Hill, connected. London was an irrational city but with rational plans put on top of it at various times generally doomed to fail in their own way but to become part of the story of the city.

I got very intrigued by that and from those kind of interests emerged a hybrid form of writing that was live day-to-day reportage of what I was doing as a gardener in an exciting part of London that I was only beginning to discover. And secondly then having the time to research the churches and their history in places like the Bancroft Road Library, which is sort of more or less gone now, which is a huge resource of local history and the librarians were so knowledgeable, they’d open up dusty boxes and show you all this stuff. It all fused together into a kind of writing that combined wild speculations, satires to do with the awful way the workers were treated down there and the idea that these jobs would disappear and that the landscape itself would disappear because we were treading on the ghosts of the future Docklands, ghosts come from both sides you know, ghosts of the things you find in the past, the ‘scarlet tracings’, but there were also ghosts of the future and they met in that landscape.”

Listen to the full audio of the conversation above.

Iain Sinclair and John Rogers

photo by Keith kandrphoto.com

 

Photos by Keith Event photos by Keith www.kandrphoto.com
https://www.facebook.com/kjmartin88

Iain Sinclair – The House of the Last London

The House of the Last London

Last Thursday to the opening of Iain Sinclair’s installation at Gallery 46 in Whitechapel – The House of the Last London. The double fronted Georgian terrace behind London Hospital converted into a gallery is in prime Sinclair territory, the ideal spot for a gathering of artworks and artefacts mapping the great London chronicler’s collaborations from the 1960’s onwards. Among those in the house are Andrew Kötting, Chris Petit, Susan Stenger, Brian Catling, and Effie Paleologou.

The House of the Last London

The Cave of Memory – Iain Sinclair

I’d delivered some reproduced pages from my journal when Iain Sinclair walked through Leytonstone for his book The Last London (the exhibition is timed to coincide with the book’s publication) with photos of Iain stapled in celephane wrappers. Iain gave me a walk through with the artworks lying on the floor waiting to be hung. The wall in the photo above was a partial recreation of exhibition Iain staged with sculptor Brian Caitling at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1973 – Albion Island Vortex. Chris Petit arrived to install his House of Memory in an attic room – we carried furniture from his family home up the narrow flights of stairs discussing the state of London.

The House of Memory Chris Petit

The House of Memory – Chris Petit

Lud Heat map - Iain Sinclair and Brian Catling

Lud Heat map – Iain Sinclair and Brian Catling

I predict Room 7 – The Cave of Memory, will become an Iain Sinclair shrine over the course of the exhibition which runs till September 17th. People will sit on the floor beneath Brain Catling’s sketch map of the sacred geometery of London reading re-issued copies of Lud Heat, originally published by Iain Sinclair’s own Albion Village Press in 1975. We passed the site of the printers just off Balls Pond Road on the nightwalk for our London Overground film January last year, Iain lamenting that he no longer possessed any of the original editions.

Lights Out for the Territory Image Journal - Iain Sinclair

Lights Out for the Territory Image Journal – Iain Sinclair

If you want to have an understanding of the evolution of English psychogeography – or more accurately neo-psychogeography – you could do worse than pay a visit to The House of the Last London. There are missing links of course – the copies of the London Pyschogeographical Association newsletters that Iain picked up at Compendium books, Camden for example – but you probably knew all that stuff already. The Lud Heat map is almost a key artefact – the merging of earth mysteries, mythology, folklore woven into the built environment, the lingering sense that there are hidden forces surpressed beneath the pavement, choked by property development and loss of memory. Iain Sinclair The House of the Last London

Iain’s 1960’s-1970’s Super 8 diary films spool round in one of the attic rooms with Sinclair’s voice collaged into a soundtrack. You look out of the window onto Whitechapel streets earmarked for demolition, as Iain remarked to me that day, ‘the perfect place for the House of the Last London’ as it too will soon be swept away and consigned to an archive of memories.

Alan Moore and Iain Sinclair at the Brighton Spiegeltent

Alan Moore Iain Sinclair Brighton May 2017

Down to Brighton to see Iain Sinclair and Alan Moore speaking at an event  in the Brighton Festival Spiegeltent celebrating the amazing history of Watling Street, a road so old, as John Higgs told us, that it may even predate humans, being carved out by migrating animals.
Iain Sinclair Brighton May 2017
Iain Sinclair recounted his walk along the section of Watling Street from Dover to Westminster, with the footage shot by Andrew Kotting and myself projected on the screen behind. He talked of the mysteries of Shooters Hill, Andrew’s constant banter that on one occasion led to missing the last room at a Travelodge and having to sleep on the floor of a disabled toilet. He told the story of walking to Mortlake with Alan Moore to visit the home of John Dee, Moore arriving at his house with a bag laden with esoteric books.

Iain Sinclair Brighton May 2017

After a musical interlude Alan Moore took to the stage and gave a long and beautiful riff on a conversation with a scientist (I think) who’d explained the probability that we are living in a computer simulation. Alan’s own intervention on this theory was both funny, enlightening and poignant linking it back to explaining to some people in Milton Keynes how he could be their God as he had worked on the building of Milton Keynes. He also gave a brilliant explanation on the meaning and importance of psychogeography, how you can create your own epic mythology for where you live and your own place in that world. It was one of those evenings that makes you feel differently about the world around you, mind expanded, horizons widened.

Alan Moore and Iain Sinclair at the Brighton Spiegeltent 24th May 2017

Afterwards I went and ate fish and chips on the beach and pondered Alan Moore’s idea that perhaps we live the same life over and over again instead of merely ceasing to exist after death – this, he posited, was a good reason to fill your life with great moments. With this in mind I bought two cans of Adnams Southwold Bitter to drink on the train back to London.

 

Interview about psychogeography and London Overground on Celluloid Wicker Man

celluloid wicker man

A couple of weeks ago I met up with film-maker Adam Scovell in the Olympic Park and we had a great chat about my London Overground film with Iain Sinclair, psychogeography vs deep topography, the development of London etc.

A: So where does London Overground fit into this then?
J: Part of Iain’s genius is, in the book (and I hope it comes across in the film), dealing with a really unwieldy idea and set of issues to get your head around by addressing it with such a universal idea.  I’ve been documenting various campaigns around London over the last few years, starting off with the E15 and even before.  And where you look at it on a case-by-case basis, there are economic patterns that underpin this and ways which different local authorities deal with this.  But, if you try and find a universal narrative, something that links it all together, it can be quite difficult.  Also, from a campaigning pointing of view, you deal with specifics.  So London Overground takes the simple device of walking in a day around the Overground, looking at that circuit, which is newly completed (before you had fragments) so we have a new circuit from disused track that ran from Dalston Junction to Whitechapel and other bits to complete a circuit that didn’t exist.  In doing so, in a microcosm, it tells you the story of what’s happening in London today.

Have a read of it here on Celluloid Wicker Man – and also check out Adam’s Super 8 films

There’s also an edited version of the interview here on 3:AM Magazine