Monday, November 9, 2009

Derives - A Genealogy of Sorts

· This project seeks to present a genealogy of sorts that traces the evolution of ‘psycho-geographical’ mapping representations.
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." The most important of these strategies is the derive (drift). - (

· The presentation aims to trace the evolution of psycho geograpical derives –

(From acts) intentioned originally as a reaction to the perceived ‘cold unresponsiveness’ of the modernist architectural city when initiated by the Situationists ( among other socio / political concerns)


current day practices that seek to represent and institute a refamiliarization with the physical city ( in its varied forms – architectural, social, natural etc) in an attempt to locate / annotate the meanings associated with everyday physical interactions with it / in it.


Indicate the evolving usage of the ‘derive’ as a methodology to inform upon the individuals position / meaning amidst a changing landscape.

· It also seeks to present/underline the importance of the act of the derive and psycho geographic mapping as an exercise.

While the ideological purposes of the different groups that have practiced ‘derives’ over time have varied, the act of the derive itself and its representation are consistent.

The presentation makes a case for

1. the narrative potential explored by each differing group through the practice of the derive,

2. and its mapping as a method to represent ‘individual’ ‘meanings’ associated with their physical environment.

Lets start with Guy Debord and the Situationists –

What it is -

· An example of mapping the neighborhoods of a city on the ideas of the international Lettrist and Situationist movement.

· The map of Paris has been cut up in different areas that are experienced by the user group as distinct sets/neighborhoods.

· The perceived distance between these areas are visualized by spreading out the pieces of the cut up map. The distance represented does not signify the actual physical distance, but rather the perceived distance of values (social, psychological, attitudinal etc)

· By wandering or drifting (dériver is the French word used) through the city each person can discover his or her own ambient impressions/perceptions of a specific city.

· The red arrows indicate the most frequent used crossings between the islands of the urban construct.

What it does –

· Provide a visual commentary to support the Situationist political and theoretical ideologies.

· Allows for an individual interpretation of the journey through each city, and a unique representation of the experience.

Move on to another similar derive – different in expression…such as –

The Guide Psychographique de OWU by John Krygier

What it is –

· Executed during by five Ohio University students and John Krygier as an experiment in improvisational psycho geography.

· The map was the product of a course – Mapping Weird Stuff – offered at the OWjL (Ohio Wesleyan University Junior League of Columbus) summer camp for gifted and talented middle school students.

· a dérive to get a feel for the campus and its “resonances,” by means of blind-folded and ear-plugged tours through the campus, collecting smells and sounds, as well as texture collection expeditions.

· (see legend of map for ‘collected’ texture icons and also smell and sound icons.)

· (inspired, in part, by Denis Wood’s Narrative Atlas of Boylan Heights project).

What it does –

· Seeks a reorientation of sensory attention in the everyday.

· The derive itself, seeks to focus the experience upon sensory experiences that are lost or diluted in the everyday by the general focus of attention upon destinations.

· An experiment involving students, it seeks to redraw the attention of a youth group to the potential for sensory explorations embedded in the everyday.

The illustrations shown so far present the ‘derive’ as a method employed to assign precedence to the act of individual choice and sensory exploration over regimented urban constructs.

The next map –

The literary psycho geography of Edo/Tokyo by Tjebbe-van-Tijen

What it is -

· A proposal for an interactive map which records (as photographs) the real spaces described in psycho geographic literary texts – Japanese texts.

· Mirroring 'time balls' that represent psycho-geographic moments (time, space and mood) float over a satellite picture of Tokyo and Tokyo Bay. Different balls (psycho-geographic moments) can be chosen...

· A mirroring 'time ball' floats over a satellite picture of Tokyo and Tokyo Bay in a zoom-out overview. The small ball indicates the relative position of an area, which is described. One needs to zoom-in to see a more precise indication. The big 'time ball' shows a recent 'fish eye' view of the area that is described in a literary text .

· One can also "enter" the time ball and see the place described...

What it does –

· By illustrating selected texts by the ‘real’ spaces they describe, the mapping seeks to inform upon the actual physicality of described imageries.

· The derive seeks to focus attention upon the translation of physicality from - real – its expression – and its re discovery …over time

· It translates as an attempt to rediscover one set of the myriad ‘codes’ embedded in the urban environment by man, over time.

While the afore mentioned two illustrations are methods of derive that aim at drawing attention to sensory faculties and historical perspectives, the next illustration seeks to draw attention to and map emotion. And the need to develop a sense of community

The Stockport Emotion Map – Christian Nold

What it is –

· Over a period of two months in summer 2007, about 200 people took part in six public mapping events. This map collects together and shows the results of the two activities: Drawing Provocations & Emotion Mapping

· People were asked to sketch their responses to a variety of serious and humorous provocations about their daily lives such as –

- what really annoys them about Stockport,

- where they meet their friends,

- as well as who are the most important and dangerous people in town.

· Other provocations were focused on the town and its history, river and landmarks.

· The drawings were then scanned and used to create the map.

· The second activity involved people walking freely through Stockport equipped with a special device invented by the artist, that measured their emotional arousal in relation to their geographical location in the town.

· On the map, the walks are represented by thin angular lines tracing the paths that people walked.

· The emotional arousal is represented as a series of pillars at four different heights corresponding to the intensity of emotional arousal.

· Arousal as mentioned here, is not necessarily positive and is intentioned in terms of heightened attention to ones body or surroundings.

· The textual annotations on the map were written by the participants themselves to describe the huge variety of events and sensory stimuli that caused their emotional reactions during their walks.

What it does –

· This map suggests a model for recording the apparently trivial conversations and events of our everyday lives and

allows us to see them all simultaneously without being constrained to a narrowly defined topic.

· When it is possible to see this overview, these apparently disconnected conversations show their true value and form clusters of issues and concerns.

· The mapping of this ‘group derive’ helped realize underlying concerns and reveal avenues for development about the city such as –

- The marginalized history of Stockport – and the locations in the city that could be further developed to encourage a sense of history in the community

- The hidden river Mersey – the apparent lack of awareness of the river due to its being hidden from view by buildings – and a discovery of the potential therein to develop a recognizable sense of identity for the city

- Monolithic shopping – concerns revealed issues about the disappearance of local shops with the influx of ‘chains’ and a consequent loss of the sense of community

- Lack of semi public spaces - and hence loss of potential for community interaction

- Isolation of young people – lack of community / city initiatives to provide opportunities to youngsters for self expression, interaction etc

· While the afore mentioned are documented results derived from the exercise, another important result of the exercise is the exercise itself as a community building exercise, and as a method to initiate a realignment of the participants with the environment they live in – and its issues.

The presentation so far, has tracked the use of the method of the derive and its mapping for expressing personal concerns about the environment, exploring the sensorial attributes of the environment, exploring the connection between the physical environment and its past (in this case literary), to using the method to establish and strength a sense of community related to the environment inhabited. The next illustration, in a similar manner of concern regarding the individuals relationship to the worlds they live in, tries to explore the physical environment using the codes of another environment that the users inhabit – the virtual.

dot walk - social

what it is -

· «.walk» by raises regimentation to an art form by giving instructions for a walk through a city.

· These instructions correspond to an algorithm and can be traced back to a simple computer programme:
1 st street left
2 nd street right
2 nd street left

· A detailed list of the codes provided and their iterations is given here -

· Participants then use the software code provided to initiate a derive in the city.

· Interaction, exchange of code and information occur at points where the paths / algorithms of two participants intersect.

What it does –

· The psycho geographical project «.walk» supplies instructions (software) on how to use a city (hardware).

· The artistic interest in this case is concentrated on the instruction.

· The aforementioned derive – is used as an illustration here to show how the advent of the ‘virtual world’ and increased participation across the platforms of ‘real’ and virtual’ has revealed a need to be able to illustrate our position across both clearly, and to attempt to map the superimposition of the two for the sake of understanding

· Tries to document the weaving of individuals through and between both worlds

· The aforementioned illustration is important in showing the change of direction in the purpose of derives. It marks a point wherein the focus changes from rediscovery of ‘forgotten’ aspects of experience (sensorial, emotional, communal etc) to attempts to ‘locate’ the individual amidst the changing topographies caused by the advent of the world wide web.

Continuing the same line of inquiry, albeit in a different manner, The next illustration seeks to use one aspect of our dual worlds (the virtual) to define the extents of the other – the physical world.

Digital derive in Graz –

What it is -

· Executed in 2006, by the MIT Senseable city lab, Digital Derive harnesses the potential of mobile phones as an affordable, ready-made and ubiquitous medium that allows the city to be sensed and displayed in real-time as a complex, pulsating entity.

· The Real-Time City Map registered and visually rendered the volume and geographic source of cell phone usage in Graz.

· Statistics from the A1 Mobicom Austria network was used to compute locations of users by ‘pinging cell phones as they moved through the city.

· The tracking was initiated upon user approval (by means of an SMS to the network) – giving them the control over the extent of mapping. The tracking was engineered to stop after a 24 hour period as a default setting.

· The Real-Time City Map registered and visually rendered the volume and geographic source of cell phone usage in Graz, thus showcasing a different layer in the use and experience of the city.

What it does –

· Because it is possible to ‘simultaneously ping the cell phones of thousands of users - thereby establishing their precise location in space at a given moment in time - these devices can be used as a highly dynamic tracking tool that describes how the city is used and transformed by its inhabitants.’ -

· The polis is hence interpreted as a ‘shifting entity formed by webs of human interactions in space-time’, rather than simply as a fixed, physical environment.’ -

· The rendering of the peaks & valleys of cell phone usage here is reminiscent of a topographic map, as if a representation of the real geography of the city – which in a sense it is.

· This derive is significant in its attempt to map the shifting sense of ‘geography’ as we make our way through differing platforms – the real and virtual.

The digital derive workshop and Personas, illustrated next, shifts the concerns/ preoccupation of defining ‘location’ with respect to the real and virtual – to attempt an experiment in deriving our ‘self’ from the virtual environment.

Personas and the digital derive workshop

What it is –


· A program that scours the internet looking for characterizing statements about the user to use in its analysis.

· After suitable information is found, the user watches the computer try to make sense of the found references.

· Once it has finished its conclusions the ‘personas vector’ is displayed and annotated with a minimal legend

· Uncanny insights and errors are part of the experience

The workshop –

· The topography of the digital landscape—an intricate web of links and nodes—promotes the kind of randomized exploration and discovery that psycho-graphers find intriguing in the urban environment.

· Traversing the internets information channels, encourages a proclivity to ignore conventional directional cues and stray off course – to drift in a manner of speaking in order to assuage curiosity – analogous to a physical derive the purpose of which would be to heighten awareness of the physical environment.

· Each map serves as a psycho geographical data “portrait” of the participant’s unique experience navigating the web for a period of time.

What it does –

· Shows you how the internet sees you.

· Creates awareness about data mining projects and threat of loss of privacy therein.

· While constrained in its effectiveness as a derive, it is a credible derive – in post rationalization.

· The experiment explores the idea of ‘virtual identities’ – and how users may be misrepresented – and evokes for the users a need to develop a conscious digital presence in light of the derive and its inaccuracies.

· The project presupposes the virtual environment as a platform of active participation and integrated into everyday life’s of consumers and seeks to highlight the presence of the individual and the interpretations of their PERSONAS from their trails upon it.

The next and final illustration – Urban Tapestries – attempts to provide a platform to institute derives that are executed simultaneously across the real and virtual worlds – and presupposes most of the aforementioned as credible concerns, seeking to enable its consumers to address them.

Urban Tapestries - Public Authoring in the Wireless City

What it is –

· Urban Tapestries is the name of a research project and experimental software platform for knowledge mapping and sharing – public authoring – conceived and developed by Proboscis in partnership with collaborators such as the London School of Economics, Birkbeck College, Orange, HP Research labs, France Telecom R&D UK, Ordnance Survey.

· It was begun in late 2002 and completed in Autumn 2004, with a follow-on research program of experiments with local groups and communities called Social Tapestries starting in April 2004 and completed in Summer 2007 (additional publications and outputs will be released in 2008).

· Urban Tapestries investigates how, by combining mobile and internet technologies with geographic information systems, people can 'author' the environment around them; creating a new social anthropology.

· The projects are documented in a variety of ways - from essays, project reports and academic papers to videos, installations and software (interfaces and code.)

What it does –

· The over arching attempt of the project is to engineer a platform that allows for public authoring.

· It proposes to adopt and adapt new and emerging technologies for creating and sharing everyday knowledge and experience.

· In addition to collating contemporary consumer knowledge, it seeks to build up organic, collective memories that trace and embellish different kinds of relationships across places, time and communities.

· The Urban Tapestries software platform enables people to build relationships between places and to associate stories, information, pictures, sounds and videos with them.

· Allows a platform for the ‘anthropology of ourselves’ intentions behind derive mappings.

· Indicates a societal shift towards ‘community expression’ over ‘governmental / institutional’ regimentation.

· Almost as if a realization of the implied goals behind the efforts of the original/early derives.


















· LITERARY PSYCHO-GEOGRAPHY OF EDO/TOKYO & AMSTERDAM - End-Report for the Japan Foundation of the research done by Tjebbe van Tijen in the cadre of the Medium Term Visitors’ Program in Commemoration with the Okinawa/Kyushu Summit 2000 from 2/10/2000 to 28/2/2001

URBAN TAPESTRIES - Public Authoring, Place and Mobility by Giles Lane & Sarah Thelwall with Alice Angus, Victoria Peckett and Nick West, © Proboscis. All Rights Reserved


Tjebbe van Tijen said...

interesting, ... BUT you must be more accurate and more handy with your links... I see one of my maps her... nut you fail to give the source when you shwo it + my name and the appropriate link.... good credits show good intentions... so please try to do it better

The full report on the Edo/Tokyo reserach is published at

meghna said...

I apologize for the oversight - have updated the post with the appropriate corrections. Thank you for bringing this to my notice.

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