Unit 2: Dérive context

In conducting formative assessments this week within my tutor group, I became aware that I had neglected to fully contextualise my projects thus far in unit 2, and so I am keen to rectify this! Rather than something we complete as a first step and move on, we’ve been encouraged to begin there and return to recontextualise as we progress. I believe I have recontextualised as I went along, reflecting on the direction(s) my work took, but that the broader initial context has gone unseen, so I shall focus on that.

Dérive was one of the strategies created by French Letterist art movement, which was later subsumed by the Situationist International group (and more recently adopted by artists such as Wrights & Sites). A strictly urban endeavour, the notion was to ‘drift’ while walking, subverting the usual way in which humans behave in the urban environment, in order to better reveal the ‘psychogeography’ of the urban landscape. This refers to the precise effects of the built environment on the emotions and behaviour of the people within it, and by studying this the Situationists hoped to better envisage and be prepared for their ideal city.

This notion is interesting to me as I have come across before how building design can have a direct impact on people's wellbeing - e.g. whether you have a window and what you can see out of it can have a measurable effect in length of hospital stays.

These art movements were anti-capitalist and anarchist, building on the teachings of Marxism, and sought to reawaken the consumer to authentic experience (so that they might not continue to merely be passive receivers of mass media/commodity). A direct result of their interventions (so called situations), was the Paris uprisings in 1968.

Something that I found to be relevant to some of my ongoing research for the upcoming Future project (i.e. a future where work may mostly be done by machine/AI and the human worker is obsolete) is that the Situationists thought work in advanced capitalist society would become increasingly absurd. As technology progresses, and work becomes more efficient, the work itself will by nature become more trivial. 
In researching this context, I found myself tunneling through wikipedia through link after link of related pages that sounded of interest to me. This reminded me of a game I had played at university around 2007, where you had to get to a destination wikipedia subject page from another (unrelated) subject faster than someone else, e.g. from polar bear to ice cream truck. Very good for long library essay writing sessions... The parallel here with the dérive strategy is quite marked, and I was intrigued that there should now be a dérive app to help you navigate out in the real world, but not a dérive equivalent for the now hugely extensive online world.

It could be fair to say that the Situationists politicised an act that had first been popular in French society in the 1800s and particularly espoused by Baudelaire – flaneur. Though the flaneur too walked aimlessly in an urban environment, they were perhaps more attentive to the other people they encountered, hoping to be an observer of society.

Strangely, I came across this term – flaneur – in a book I am reading, On Photography by Susan Sontag:

Gazing on other people’s reality with curiosity, with detachment, with professionalism, the ubiquitous photographer operates as if that activity transcends class interests, as if its perspective is universal. In fact, photography first comes into its own as an extension of the eye of the middle class flaneur…The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoiteuring… the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes… The flaneur is not attracted to the city’s official realities but to its dark seamy corners, its neglected populations – an unofficial reality behind the facade of bourgeois life that the photographer ‘apprehends’, as a detective apprehends a criminal.

It’s interesting that this class tourism rooted in the notion of the flaneur would find it’s expression later in the works of the anti-establishment Situationists. But then this aimlessness for them served a purpose (unlike the flaneur for whom it was more like a hobby).