maandag 30 mei 2011

Forage Psychogeography is Here

Everybody who writes knows the sensation of being lost in your own words, of having said already a great deal but knowing that there is great deal left unsaid. In the struggle to get the unsaid into words many texts are abandoned or silenced before seeing the light of day. A writer like Coleridge could never cope with the fact that all writing is incomplete and never wrote a proper book as a result. This is why I use the strategy of publishing drafts: it allows for feedback, it brings the focus of an immediate audience but is also provides the space to push doubt, uncertainty and better arguments into the future for later remission.

My 'What is forage psychogeography?' attempts to tell in full the implicit story that this blog develops as links, quotes and half-assed observations accumulate. This is the fifth draft and it marks an substantial advance on the previous four. I found myself writing down things that I first tried to formulate when I started my 'career' in psychogeography ten years ago. It is not finished but it is there. I am not saying it is any good,  just that I worked very hard on it.

Occult Architecture in Utrecht

The search for (invisible) (occult) patterns in the landscape that somehow control our mind is a standard form of enlightened paranoia in peasant psychogeographical writing about urban space: Iain Sinclair and his Hawksmoor churches, the London Psychogeographical Association and the alignment of Canary Wharf with a ley line...

The medieval part of Utrecht had its own occult artefact: five churches (of which three are still standing) forming a cross.  Of course so-called historians (read: Illuminati double-agents) have sought to discredit the idea by claiming the shape to be a coincidence. It does explain why this city is such a hotbed for cartographic revolt.

woensdag 25 mei 2011

Expedition in Hogweed Forest

As part of the Spatula & Barcode cyclo-relational art in Utrecht event I was invited to host a visit to the Hogweed Forest covered earlier. The event brought together a mixture of local and global people for an alternative cycling tour through the city. As a result I found myself criss-crossing the city through mostly unknown territory: eating soup at an initiative similar to Jamie Oliver's 17 restaurant, an artist-initiated woman's painting class in a derelict part of town and loads (and I mean loads) of places covered with weeds that I am slowly with my amateur foraging superpowers are recognizing as edible. And all that in pleasant company leading up to an opportunity could to show off my cryptoforest jewel in the assumption that everybody loves ploughing through nettles reaching nipple-height as much as I do. So thank you for that Spat & Bar! 

The Hogweeds that give this forest its name.

Oh, halfway we needed to return because of other appointments.

We left behind a deep desire trench.

As a short-cut we jumped a tiny irrigation channel so we could walk back without obstruction.

vrijdag 20 mei 2011

Blowdrying Weeds

In September 2010 I spotted these guys burning the shit out of street weeds. The city has now upgraded it's act by acquiring the services of hot air devices. This is both for environmental and financial reasons: the old methods released unwanted pesticides and they were eroding the roads too much.

Out pubic hair exhales delicate fragrances.

Final phase of initiation.
A chanted dialogue between shaman and novice; the shaman is guiding the hekura into the chest of the novice, the novice is accepting them, the process takes weeks and loads of psychedelic substances are consumed for the duration. Taken from Jacques Lizot's 'Tales of the Yanomami'. Earlier: Jivaro chant, Marubo chant.
Tiri, tiri, tiri! They are advancing towards you.
- The hekura are going to merge into me.
Here are the cannibal spirits: the Moon Spirit, the Night Spirit!
The sides of the mountain are peopled with macaws.
 - The sides of the mountain are peopled with macaws.
We are dancing for you, our earlobes wear jaguar eyelashes.
We are the wind: listen to it blowing against your chest.
- I hear the wind knocking against my chest.
The blue-tinted water of fall topples into emptiness and its roar is deafening.
Out pubic hair exhales delicate fragrances.
The Toucan Woman Spirit is dancing toward you with a rustling of palm leaves.
- The Toucan Woman Spirit advances towards me.
They are bringing for you all the magic objects.
Diadems of purple feathers are waving on their legs.
The bluebird takes its flight.
The rocks sparkle with unknown lights.
Garlands of crimson beads hang from our pierced lips.
I see the Jaguar Spirit readying itself for you.
The Macaw Spirit is near.
- But I am overcome with dizziness, my mind is failing.
- The hekura are carrying me, and I see on their backs the slender tongues of toucans that they have tied one to the other.
My son, do not stay prone on the ground, unmoving and silent before them!

donderdag 19 mei 2011

The Sentient City [locative media again & again & again...]

On request of Dutch architecture website Archined I wrote a little review of the book launch of Mark Shepard's recent 'Sentient City: Ubiquitous Computing, Architecture, and the Future of Urban Space' (MIT Press) at the V2. I was intending to travel to Rotterdam but as there was a live-stream I stayed at home to watch it on screen. The subject used to be close to my heart but right now I would never attend anything having remotely to do with such things: I have had enough of them. After the rise and fall of the imaginary locative media lab (2003-05) and my own equally fascinating and exciting but equally doomed Crystalpunk Workshop for Soft Architecture (2007) and a few other events and projects in between the entire internet-of-things/augmented reality/locative media range of ideas and projects smell like short-sighted techno-fetish careerism and arty fartsy surveillance chic in ludic preparation for the aggregating police state. The people I met in association with the above projects were almost always terribly gifted and the tech implementations can be great in a grass-roots professional way but to my mind it all remains so bloody dull conceptually: putting a chip here and a GPS device there, tagging this, mapping that... I want to experience the city as an Eskimo experiences the Arctic not as a programmer experiences buggy code. But the set of issues addressed are important and pertinent to almost everybody's lives and so I welcomed the opportunity to step outside my own micro-niche bubble for a few hours and revisit these ideas.

Calling a city sentient is an easy thing to do but impervious to a precious definition. The term 'sentient city' overstates its case I think and when Shepard writes that "the city is sentient in the sense that it has a communicative potential" you know this to be true. Sentience is about the awareness of pain (and joy) not about communication. The KIller of Kirkwall showed compassion in the sense that he didn't beat his poorly old mother every day. Putting pedantry (my special gift) aside, I did enjoy the evening's focus on the correlation between locative media and the public sphere. This came out best in the talk by Martijn de Waal who used the classic social democratic rhetoric on public space as a stabilizing and creative force in the open society to offer his take on 'sentient technology'. His approach to locative media was to regard them as a new medium for investigative journalism, as partisan research that, when down properly, goes beyond mapping and reporting and becomes public property as it fires discussion and engages people into actors rather than consumers. It is not an earth shattering observation but it was well rehearsed and somehow it warmed me to the possibilities. 

Watching a conference stream turned out to be a great exercise in voyeurism. The audience shots I thought especially fascinating with people rolling their eyes and pulling long faces.  Between the face shots you find some of the notes I typed down during De Waal's talk. I do apologize to the three speakers (De Waal, Mark Shepard and Michiel de Lange): it must be terrible to watch yourself in such pics, they do nobody justice. 

How is the sentient city changing the way we deal with the city?

Sentient technology: as a match between city (public space) and virtual space ( the other public space)

The youtube documentation is more important than the real event : international pillow fight day but also Syria and Egypt

Trash Track as an example of what the public space of the city of the future might look like

Urban public sphere: Jane Jacobs: great cities are not like towns but larger. 

The basic condition of the city is that we don’t know most people.

At times we need to relate to them and deal with them.

This is what urban space is doing.

Because of urban spaces we can live together.

Public sphere = public performance.

So far these places have been physical: bringing people in physical contact.

Quoting Habermas: the public sphere is a product of the industrial revolution with the newspaper as the central mode of communication.

Public sphere was invented in London coffee houses.

How can sensing and aggregating technologies be used to organized publics.

Bringing back issues to the public (waste, pollution, etc)

How do you from mapping to engaging public (interface)?

How to create something you can interact with.

Question: I think the public sphere is created through social action: are you not manipulating the sphere rather than making it?

Answer: architecture has always done this: like Jane Jacobsen arguing for small blocks in grids to enlarge the possibility of random encounters.

Is an architect creating volumes of space or a creating social interactions?

Q: Are you not overstating the function of the architect?

The evening then moved into a longish debate about the role of the architect the profession's equivalent to the question how many angels fit on the point of a needle and I opened a beer.

dinsdag 17 mei 2011

This is how I feel

These are pictures of a long stretch (500m?) of paving cobbles in the nearby busy Griftpark and the first thing that struck me is that the species diversity is pretty rich. What struck me even more after it had sunk in is that this patch is a perfect metaphor: an empty space providing an unappreciated service of emptiness but one that is also, in the sanction of its obscurity, mildly productive. 

zaterdag 14 mei 2011

3 Spells by the pseudo Marubo Shaman-Goth

Song 1

I am the first one
That part of me which is blue
Tells of blue snakes
It is speaking of certain truths
& of my dick
I speak
I am the first one
We descend from shamans
We are the children of jaguar-people
We are twigs of jaguar-tree
The place of blood
Creates the demon-child
The blood of bird-person
The place of blood
& to teach is to create
When the last word is spoken
This is what I think
This is what I say
I am dead
I am dead
But I will come back in better shape
Ahhhhhh! This is what I had to say! Ahhhhh!

Song 12.

My body has changed
My head is fly-demon
My teeth are jaguar-demons
My teeth are beyond my control
My body is crooked
And my sisters
Use the foam
Of demon-herbs
To paint my back
& I go dancing
Along sun-paths
Along downward paths
Downwards I walk

Song 15.

I am the first one
I will become the açaí-demon
Above us are clouds
Racing through the sky
This is as it has always been

The shape of demon-keeper
The leaves of tree-demons
Those leaves rustle
They remind me of a swarm of bird-demons
Countless of them are moving
They are the same
While I am singing
I suck from my lips
The juice of tobacco
Ahhhhhh! I say! Ahhhhhhh!
I am the first one
Whom with fresh leafs
Has his chest
Adorned with images
The geometry-demons
Geometry is the teacher
The images on my chest
They control the demons
I am the demon of demons


The above three songs are approximate translations of Marubo shamanic songs. They are are taken from Pedro N. Cesarino's ethnopoetic study 'ONISKA: A poética da morte e do mundo entre os Marubo da Amazônia ocidental', (a brilliant overview of the oratory tradition of the Marubo. I haven't actually read it (I still use my finger when reading a book in my native language) but it certainly looks like a well executed study that came recommended by Brazilian indigestina friends. The songs, or maybe spells, are created with a the help of online dictionaries, a bit of fantasy and my personal need for shamanic-goth texts. Ahhhhhhh!

I enjoyed making them and felt only a little bit redundant when looking at them again after two years. They were initially published at the excellent ZSWound blog for dysfunctional text.

woensdag 11 mei 2011

Living in the field, finding evidence of fun (first draft)

Lady Elizabeth Barnaby is a forgotten explorer who abandoned her husband and six children under the age of 13 to live with ‘the Indians’ of South-America. She encountered several isolated village as she wandered through the Xingu with a hired guide, looking for a suitable place to settle. From her guide we know that she eventually found her new home with a nomadic people of uncertain Tupi extraction calling themselves The People. Lady Barnaby had always dreamt of becoming a writer, Conrad was her great inspiration, and she must have tried to keep a journal, keeping an eye out for future publications. There remains no trace of her: maybe she got sick and died, maybe the people she lived with had enough and got rid of her. This happened in a time cannibalism was more common than it is today. Lord Barnaby travelled after his wife hoping to take her back but he never caught sight of her. He did leave behind him a small network of informants who would keep him updated about any news about his wife that might make its way out of the forest. It is through this channel that after 25 years a badly tattered fragment of notebook was delivered by mail at the Barnaby family home in Causton, Midsomer. The handwriting was unmistakably, indecipherably, hers. Most of the writing that could be made out was devoted to a game simply called: The Game. The game board is shown above, the rules and circumstances of the game as documented by Lady Barnaby are as follows:
“Chieftain Sabino the Third taught me to play The Game today, after much hesitation and muttering. The reason of his earlier refusal seems to have been for reasons of protocol and problems of translation. Our earlier conversation that day in which I told him about the stars in the English sky also seemed to have warmed him to me. He sang the Song of the Game with long drawn out sighs and puffs while drawing the patterns of the board in the mud on the floor: a fixed but intricate design described as Milky Way Anus, but my sorry grasp of the language may be at my detriment here. Sabino showed the movements allowed to each of the pieces with finger dancing grace. As counters we used glass beads in three colours that are exchanged with the sedentary villages along the river for the bark they need for fishing. 

- The first player moves a piece representing the jaguar, the second player moves the remaining 14 pieces; which are dogs.
- The first and second player are opponents but they need to deal with a third player who moves a piece representing the Acua, spirit of anteater, overlord of the bestiary.
- The drive is like a game of checkers, turning the houses.
- The Jaguar eats the other dogs and the dogs must immobilize the jaguar by collaring it.
- The Acua eats all and attempts to clear the board.
- The Jaguar player wins when s/he lives at the end.
- The Dogs wins when the Jaguar has been immobilized and the game stops.
- The Acua player wins when all the other pieces have been devoured.”
The fragments ends unreadable but the words, ‘shamanic’, ‘kinship’, ‘pain’, ‘fun’ and ‘depraved’ can be made out.  

(Post dedicated to the Maloka Elektra, Oi-Indigenista who enjoyed the readers of their blog with a fascinating snippet about a (possibly) unique Amazonian Indian board game. Read Here. This story (first draft) was inspired by their post.)

maandag 9 mei 2011

Sloterdijk Pacman Foraging

1) Yesterday's Sloterdijk forage expedition (8 May 2011, Amsterdam) brought together nine people ready to get their hands dirty in the Middle Kingdom of Weeds. Spreading out as two groups we hoped to find, harvest and log edible wild plants in a relatively randomly selected part of Amsterdam. The directions from walking were produced on route by a .walk script generating a wandering path of alternating sequences of 'chase' and 'scatter' based on the mechanism that guide the movements of the ghosts in Pacman, a game that essentially deals with the problems of food foraging in an inhospitable world. The two groups agreed beforehand to meet again at the starting point after 75 minutes.

2) The theme we wanted to explore with this expedition was the caloric content of city greens. Without any claims to scientific precision the final harvest was sorted and weighted and should give us an indication about the balance between the energy invested and gained when urban foraging (see one half of the results). In the end we foraged for diversity, collecting samples of as many different edible food stuffs we could find rather than take all that was usable. We could easily have spend an hour digging up the roots of the thistles we found at the centre of a roundabout, but as we were not prepared to use all of it this would have been bad practise. The momentum for the consideration that a globalized food industry is probably a bad idea is growing and foraging is considered as one possible alternative source of local food. From this perspective any well informed guess on the number of people a city can feed is a strategic piece of information. Our expedition will not answer this question but I certainly felt that resources are not scarce, especially when taken in consideration that through a different regime of maintenance (read: weeding) the overall quantity of edibles could easily be enlarged in a short amount of time.   

3) The concern for caloric value and energy efficiency is a peasant concern. The forager is not a Homo Economicus and uninterested in finding optimal paths between the statistical correlations that map output maximization and input minimization. Diversity is not a luxury but a biological necessity on which calories should unhesitatingly be wasted. In the words of William Burroughs: "It is not necessary to live, it is necessary to travel." The use of game algorithms was a jokish way of criticizing any attempt to discredit foraging on peasantry terms.   

4) As the start of our walk I found myself at a junction with indeterminate exits. With the Sloterdijk station in my back, a three lane bus ramp in front of me, tower blocks to the right and large scale infrastructural works crossing the horizon on the left, our position offered a uninviting perspective with limited views. Where to go? As a group we started scanning the surroundings for patches of green that we might want to take as our target, looking at the code to see what we should do because we couldn't see any. We selected a direction towards an invisible diagonal point ahead of us 500 meters in the distance. After only ten meters we made our first edible weed catch of the day. Growing between ornamental violets in a huge flowerpot, this plant, the name of which now escapes me. This would prove to be the first instance of a pattern that would direct our ghost-steps for the entire duration of the walk: aiming to move ahead, towards an unknown point beyond were we could see, interrupted by the visible reality of omnipresent weeds in the corner.

5) The implicit idea behind the way the .walk code was structured is that a walk always travels between points, between places of use separated by something else. After 75 minutes we had walked only a short distance but we had visited five areas containing specific communities of plants (a flowerpot, a grassy field, the inside of a roundabout, the line of trees hiding the Telegraaf office from the road, an overgrown strip of land between the road and the blind wall of a warehouse). That is at least how I would afterwards order our walk into discrete units of place, but I don't actually recall us moving from target to target at the time. We weren't moving from one location to the next, we were moving though a landscape that was offering something everywhere all the time. The fact that we had to cross several busy roads did not diminish this sensation.

6) The one foraging location that did make a definite impact was a small segment on the inside of an enormous roundabout. Most of it was mowed but a small area was carved with ditches and adorned with little hills of dirt and here the plants could grow without obstruction. On one side the ground had been disturbed more recently and here we found different plants than on the other side that hosted thistles, cow parsley and a few other edibles whose name I don't recall (I am a novice with a terrible memory for such things). In the recent ditch we found several large strands of wild rocket which, we theorized, will mean that it is good at colonizing freshly disturbed soils. Based on this simple observation one can start to predict where one specific plant may be found and how you can bring it closer to you: think of a small observation like this as the beginning of a framework that will make hospitable even the most forlorn outposts of the Middle Kingdom. We spend some time harvesting the roots of milk thistle, a plant that according to my 'Food for Free' guidebook was brought to Northern Europe as an extremely useful pot herb from the Mediterranean. Intellectually I get it. To us novices the wild rocket is a better plant to really get the issues of urban foraging in focus. It looks exactly like the normal rocket an Italian restaurant puts on your pizza but it has a far richer, dare I say wilder, taste than its domesticated supermarket form. Bland products really are the price we pay for industrialization. While we were standing there, chatting, exploring and exchanging bits of information, guide books at the ready, we were laughed at loudly and mockingly from behind open car windows waiting for the traffic light to go green. The Mike-the-Situations of this world are clearly not yet ready to join our shores.

7) Afterwards we sampled a bit of Comfrey (smeerwortel) root: it was the foulest thing I have ever tasted. It was fed to us for this purpose.
ps) This report will be added to as fellow foragers will publish their reports and as I rewrite my own. A report by Michelle Kasprzak is already available. 
Our first find, notice that yellow hand.

Caloric table.

The first of two sheets of .walk code.

At the roundabout.

Harvesting Thistle roots.

Found several plants mentioned in Food for Free.

The harvest sorted.

The fabled wild rocket.