Saturday, November 13, 2004

Lunchtime Dérive – Report 11.11.04

Met Alan at the Guinness Trust Offices in Mendy Street at 12.30pm. He was ready for action. He handed me a piece of paper recording his lunchtime movements over the previous week. I gave him the notepad, disposable camera and choice of two algorithms written on white postcards which he picked blind. He chose:
2nd street right
2nd right
1st left
I explained that he should follow the algorithm as closely as possible but if it led to a dead-end to head back to a point where the algorithm could be resumed. I also said that he should allow himself to be diverted from his route if he saw anything particularly interesting and then resume the formula.
At the bottom of the steps he could chose whether to start to the right or left down Mendy Street and he chose to go right towards Desborough Road. I followed filming with the video camera.
He started making notes and taking photos pretty quickly and very soon had his head down and was right into the spirit of the derive as he turned right off Desborough Road into Westbourne Street. The first left took him into the Desborough Road Service Road where we ran along the backs of garages dodging cars and palette trucks as lorries unloaded. You’d never normally go down here. With his head down writing and taking photos then purposefully marching off led by the algorithm it almost seemed that Alan had entered into the state of reverie of the ‘Fugueur’.
The next turning was into Desborough Avenue but at a point so unfamiliar to Alan that he had to go and find a street sign. This was the second new experience for him of the derive so far and led onto a third as we crossed a small open section of the river Wye at a low bridge babbling its way through an industrial estate and close to where it becomes culverted. We were both quite taken with this.
We next hit the heavy traffic of Oxford Road and some semi-derelict buildings. But even here amongst the banality there was beauty in the autumnal leaves by the roadside. From here it was into Bellfield Road and under a tunnel towards Hughenden and Morrisons supermarket. Alan photographed the overgrown railway banks with weeds in flower. We then headed in a loop around Parker Knoll Way, me scampering to keep up, Alan drawn to admire the verdant banks. This is an area of mini-roundabouts, a drive-through zone that Alan, a keen walker, had never explored on foot. We then crossed Temple End and under the railway bridge as a London-bound train clattered by overhead. This felt like a special moment as the deriver in the grip of the algorithm re-entered the life of the town. He stopped to take notes as the town bustled past him, took photos of a group of noisy lads drinking outside a pub. He was apart from this Spectacle, drifting through the lunchtime buzz like an urban explorer, a decipherer of the code of the everyday narrative.
He headed into White Hart Street after stopping to admire the fountain on Frogmoor. Then into Bull Lane where he reported that he thought the algorithm had broken down. As we’d been going for 45 minutes and the original intention had been to walk for 30 minutes I said he could stop here but he wanted to carry on; he thought he knew where it had gone wrong and so headed off along Church Street past M&S then past the Church into Castle Street and finally into Corporation Street. He decided to stop as he hit the High Street. The next left would take him towards Easton Street and the second right would most likely be at the Law Courts.
We discussed what had happened and Alan was enthusiastic about the experience, he keen to be loyal to the algorithm and said it was so often open to interpretation what the next right or left may be. This is part of what makes the process interesting and it was in these choices that much of the psychogeography lays. It confirms the idea that two people with the same algorithm starting from the same point would take a different route – we passed a few alleys and slip roads that other people may have taken. When we do the Grand Derive on Saturday we should ask people to note down these moments of indecision and the reason they take the street they do.

I think we can say that our first experiment in algorithmic psychogeography was a success. Alan certainly seemed to find " the unknown facets of the known, astonishment on the terrain of boredom, innocence in the face of experience", as Greil Marcus identifies as the point of the Derive.

A fuller report of this Lunch-Time Derive along with the photos and map of Alan’s walk will be exhibited in January.


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