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The walker at street level moves in ways that are tactical - click opera
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Thu, Apr. 5th, 2007 12:12 am
The walker at street level moves in ways that are tactical

FIle this under "things I learned by researching passing references in Pingmag". The last entry with the tag would've referenced the brilliant interview they did with Atelier Bow Wow which had a paragraph about Henri Lefebvre. Okay, they spelled his name wrong, but still -- who else out there is talking about Lefebvre's concept of "the production of space", and his distinction between the space of representation and the representation of space? I snapped it up for my Wired article on junk mail immediately.



This time, in an interesting piece about Liverpool artist Leo Fitzmaurice, Pingmag is relating his "temporary art interventions" to the ideas of Michel de Certeau, whose book "The Practice of Everyday Life" I'd vaguely heard of, and related to Situationism. (He died rather young in the 80s, like Debord.)

But, googling about, I found that some people think that, just as Marx found Hegel standing "on his head" and turned him the right way up (replacing his dialectical idealism with dialectical materialism), so some consider Certeau to have stood Debord the right way up. Debord, you see, thought that there were precise laws of the geographical environment which had "specific effects, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals". Certeau, on the other hand, saw unpurposeful walking in the city as "a symbolic order of the unconscious". He thus inverts Debord's geographical determinism. Think of Debord as a rather cynical, pessimistic ad man (after all, Malcolm McLaren managed to turn his ideas into a marketing campaign for the Sex Pistols). Think of Certeau as more of an activist. Or look at his picture and think of him as John Major unveiling the Citizens' Charter if you want a cheap laugh. Go on, then.

In his Pingmag interview (conducted in Berlin), Leo Fitzmaurice (whose work is a bit like Tony Cragg's plastic trash sculpture, but with flyers and handouts and catalogues instead of Sqeezy bottles) says "I realized after reading Michel de Certeau’s Practice of Everyday Life that one thing I am doing (and we all do in some way) is to consume public space and by consuming it in some way we make it our own thus privatizing it to some extent. But instead we spend our time consuming other stuff…"

The title of the piece ("temporary art interventions") makes me think of the article I wrote about designer Alex Rich for ID magazine ("Gentle Interventions", that was called, after one of Alex's shows). The theme of turning (or détourning) commercial material into something beautiful and personal also reminds me of what Candice Breitz does with Hollywood movies, when she re-enacts scenes from them, "privatizing" their most melodramatic moments and turning them into something personal. (I happened to have a meeting with Candice on Monday night, and she kindly gave me a book about her work. Oh, and speaking of books, the illustration shows a new book about Certeau that's just come out, and its author, Ben Highmore. I am adding it to my Amazon Wish List -- sorry, my Borders "Shoplifters Welcome Today" list.)



It seems like this stuff is in the air. Some call it "Social Practices". California College of the Arts launched a new course with that title in the fall of 2005. "Social practices incorporates art practice as diverse as urban interventions, utopian proposals, guerrilla architecture, "new genre" public art, social sculpture, project-based community practice, web-based interactivity, service dispersals, and street performance," says the blurb. "These varied forms of public strategy are linked critically by theories of relational art, social aesthetics, pluralism, and democracy. Artists working within this genre choose to co-create their work with a specific audience or propose critical interventions within existing social systems that inspire debate or catalyze social exchange. Theoretical background for the concentration will be drawn from a variety of contemporary critical sources, including writings by Pierre Bourdieu, Nicolas Bourriaud, Michel de Certeau, Guy Debord, Okui Enwezor, Andrea Fraser, Miwon Kwon, Lars Bang Larson, and Henri Lefebvre, among others."

Bang! There it is. They've even got Andrea Fraser as their Visiting Artist. (Andrea did a Whitney Biennial piece quite similar to my Unreliable Tour Guide in 1992. Back then, though, it was called "Institutional Critique", not "Social Practices".)

Wikipedia (listen, mate, I never went to art school, all right? I have to pick this stuff up where I can!) spells out one of De Certeau's most interesting ideas: the distinction between the strategic and the tactical.

A strategy is basically a powerful but rather stolid institution, business or operation. It has an HQ, and it produces laws, language, ritual, goods, words, art, technology, discourse. It has overheads and resources. It doesn't change quickly, it's rather inflexible. Its goal is to perpetuate itself through the things it makes. It mass produces and seeks to homogenize its audience, since "maximum efficiency means being able to sell the narrowest array of products to the widest possible market". Strategy creates not just products, but the needs for them. Uniformity helps it do this. Strategy thus imposes order, systematizes. Its contact with the world is rather distant -- it learns about others via polls, focus groups and case studies, and tries to influence them via advertising and PR.

A tactic is haphazard and makeshift. All it has is time, and a certain fuzzy cunning. It seeks to infiltrate, but not take over. It's not a terrorist, in case you're thinking of Bin Laden. It doesn't directly challenge strategy, but maintains a sly passive aggressive subversion behind a shield of outward conformity. A tactic works with the basic conditions imposed by strategy. It takes lowest common denominator rubbish (think of Leo's junk mail) and works to make something of it, something it can call its own. It takes space unfit for habitation and makes it habitable. It's got a folksy way of taking something over by merely changing a couple of details (and here we think of the 10% twist thing, the stuff I was talking about in my microproperty piece on Sunday) -- giving a story a new twist in the telling, changing a recipe while making food. The tactic is all about processes, not end results. It could be just one person, or a flash mob, a temporary grouping that melts away before you can label it. And there is something a bit Al Qaeda-ish about it: "Unlike the strategy, it lacks the centralised structure and permanence that would enable it to set itself up as a competitor to some other entity." In the tactic's slipperiness, said Certeau, lies its power. The authorities can't catch up, because by the time they've mapped it, it's moved on.



The art world has been all about this stuff recently. And you can see the application it could have to everything from skateboarding to trendy interventionsim, artists' initiatives, temporary spaces, and so on. Why, Roger McDonald in Tokyo has even named his operation Tactical! My Whitney performance last year showed that the idea might even have come full circle -- my tactical interventions were at the invitation of the strategy, the institution, the museum itself. It can all get a bit recursive:

1. Producers are considered good, consumers bad.
2. But what if we say that consumers are good, producers bad?
3. Because, if you look at what they're doing with stuff, the twist they're giving it, consumers are really producers.
4. And that's good because consumers are bad, producers good. Full circle! Oh no!

Certeau gets just one mention in Nicolas Bourriaud's Relational Aesthetics: "The artist dwells in the circumstances the present offers him," Bourriaud writes, "so as to turn the setting of his life (his links with the physical and conceptual world) into a lasting world. He catches the world on the move: he is a tenant of culture, to borrow Michel de Certeau's expression." I like that -- the artist rents rather than buying.

Wikipedia's biographical entry on Certeau sums it up like this:

"In The Practice of Everyday Life he combined his disparate scholarly interests to develop a theory of the productive and consumptive activity inherent in everyday life. According to Certeau, everyday life is distinctive from other practices of daily existence because it is repetitive and unconscious. In this context, Certeau’s study of everyday life is neither the study of “popular culture,” nor is it necessarily the study of everyday resistances to regimes of power. Instead, Certeau attempts to outline the way individuals unconsciously navigate everything from city streets to literary texts." (I'm going to insert the video Groovisions did for Halfby's "Rodeo Machine" here, but please imagine Air's People in the City playing instead.)



"In the influential chapter "Walking in the City," Certeau describes "the city" as a "concept," generated by the strategic maneuvering of governments, corporations, and other institutional bodies who produce things like maps that describe the city as a unified whole, as it might be experienced by someone looking down from high above. By contrast, the walker at street level moves in ways that are tactical and never fully determined by the plans of organizing bodies, taking shortcuts or meandering aimlessly in spite of the utilitarian layout of the grid of streets. This concretely illustrates Certeau's assertion that everyday life works by a process of poaching on the territory of others, recombining the rules and products that already exist in culture in a way that is influenced, but never wholly determined, by those rules and products."

And if this stuff, like Situationism, ends up as marketing? At least it'll be slightly more flattering marketing. And, you know, the junk mail will have to have nice edges, because they'll have to assume we're stacking it up and turning it edge-outwards, or something equally devious. In fact, I doubt they'll ever catch up with us as we stride through their city.

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niddrie_edge
niddrie_edge
raymond
Wed, Apr. 4th, 2007 11:23 pm (UTC)

I am so glad you are writing about De Certeau at last.

Interesting man, a Jesuit I believe. He wrote a book on the Possessions at Loudon and also an analysis of Christian mysticism during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries The Mystic Fable.

I instinctively admired him from the start even though some of his ideas I have to go over a few times. I may have fed the Perruque trope into some of my comments from time to time.

Standing Debord on his head. I like that.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 5th, 2007 06:23 am (UTC)

Have you heard about the Pope's new book? He's apparently been reading Marx, with a lot of sympathy.

"Describing humanity's alienation, Marx had "provided a clear image of the man who has fallen victim to brigands". But the Pope said he had failed to get to the nub of the issue "because he only developed his thoughts in the material sphere".

http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,,2050255,00.html

So Benedikt stands the bit of Hegel Marx stood on its feet... back on its head!


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kse_ni_a
kse_ni_a
kse_ni_a
Thu, Apr. 5th, 2007 03:32 am (UTC)

super video!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 5th, 2007 05:45 am (UTC)

If you load People in the City in another window, set it playing, then pull down the volume on the Groovisions video you can repurpose it as a video for Air. Sly fuzzy cunning subversion in action!


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 5th, 2007 03:49 am (UTC)
Revolution of everyday life

Have you read much of Vaneigem's "Revolution" book? I was really surprised how much more readable and different his views were from Debord's. It is the type of book( similar to Erich Fromm's writing style) that hits you several times per page with positive information and ideas. It's like you are at once amazed by how fantastic his ideas are, yet can't believe how simple not simplistic) they come across. It continues to be one of my favorite reads. It is also excerpted on the SI website, but does not really convey the book well.
-David H.
Formerly, Instant_c


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 5th, 2007 05:53 am (UTC)
Re: Revolution of everyday life

Haven't read any Vaneigem, but if it's like a Situationism Erich Fromm it sounds good! Will check what's available on the SI site... Okay:

Basic Banalities 1
Basic Banalities 2
Some Theoretical Topics That Need to be Dealt With
Aiming for Practical Truth
Notice to the Civilized Concerning Generalized Self-Management
Theses on the Paris Commune

There's a ton of stuff...


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grzeg
grzeg
grzeg
Thu, Apr. 5th, 2007 06:23 am (UTC)

Interesting! Here at Click Opera we just trip over roots and trace them back to the trees...

Arborescent versus rhizomatic!

It is important to remember that none of these aligned concepts of rhizomatic or arborescent diagrams are inherently liberating or “good.” They can be used by the good guys and the bad guys, for better and for worse, depending on your goals and values. As DeLanda and Deleuze & Guattari make a point of reminding us, these processes never exist in their pure states, and are always accompanied by or connected to specific diagrams and hierarchical or arborescent structures. There is no “pure” strategy, nor “pure” tactic. Which, again, are not inherently good, only different.

Knowing that you know of these philosophers (Habermas, Debord, de Certeau, Benjamin, Lefebvre, Foucault, Deleuze & Guattari), and that this all nicely complements the contemporary spin of urbanism in the Information Age (Sterling, Greenfield, Okabe and Ito), AND following the recent theme of "ownership's infinite regress", I would look at this course, Locative Media and the City (which still has the course readings up!).


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 5th, 2007 08:11 am (UTC)

According to that wikipedia article, De Certeau didn't think we had much hope of mapping tactical activity. I think the internet (helped by other related and unrelated technologies) has turned that upside down.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 5th, 2007 08:21 am (UTC)

Well, all you'd really need would be a map of France, and you'd have the ringleaders right there. Because this is mostly French theory. And, although each time a Derrida or a Baudrillard dies the Anglo world salutes him as "the last of the great French philosophers", new ones come along sooner or later. Even new dead ones -- the translation lag tends to be between 10 and 20 years, which is pretty bloody shocking. Still, our Anglo deafness does mean that we're eternally making these people new and fresh, soixante-huitard though they may be.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 5th, 2007 08:36 am (UTC)
small correction

Debord didn't die in the eighties, but in the mid-nineties. And he wasn't that young either, he was in his sixties.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 5th, 2007 09:14 am (UTC)
Re: small correction

You're right, I was going to correct the ambiguity in that sentence and stress that I just meant the "young" part to apply to him. And I suppose I think of 62 as a premature death because it was suicide. It's not that old!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 5th, 2007 08:57 am (UTC)

It's always interesting to see what people on the internet are choosing to quote from a philosopher. A google search on "Certeau said" turns up these statements:

1. The end of the world would be a "white eschatology" that no secret would remain, and no shadow.

2. Our own era is a sort of epic of the eye.

3. Space is practiced place (or vice versa).

4. Literature is the "theoretical discourse of the historical process."

5. Ethics "defines a distance between what is and what ought to be."

6. "At some point we're all minorities."

7. "It's always good to remember that people need not be considered idiotic."

8. The analogy for traditional historiography is the documentary film.

9. “My purpose is to make explicit the systems of operational combination which also compose a "culture," and to bring to light the models of action characteristic of users whose status as the dominated element in society is concealed by the euphemistic term "consumers." Everyday life invents itself by poaching in countless ways on the property of others”.

10. “In the technocratically constructed, written, and functionalized space in which the consumers move about, their trajectories form into unforeseeable sentences, partly unreadable paths across a space…. the trajectories trace out the ruses of the other interests and desires that are neither determined nor captured by the systems."

11. Stories and legends are required in any urban landscape; they are what make a place ‘haunted’, and therefore inhabitable: “There is no place that is not haunted by many different spirits hidden there in silence, spirits one can ‘invoke’ or not. Haunted places are the only ones people can live in.”

12. According to de Certeau strategy belongs to the powerful and tactics belongs to the weak. Strategy stands in relation to tactics as grammar stands to enunciation.

13. Walking is an example of tactics within the city.

14. Strategy is to tactics as tactics is to time.

15. "Travel (like walking) is a substitute for legends."

16. "By going on your daily movement, you change the urban surrounding.”

17. "I relate it to what Michel de Certeau says about people obeying rules yet making them thier own - giving them new meanings - plus a whole lot of other stuff de Certeau said about the way people use things - and that being a whole lot more interesting and telling than what is usually tallied (by social scientists) which is WHAT people use."


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 5th, 2007 09:03 am (UTC)

(That last one suggests that Certeau heralds a shift from nouns to adverbs. Not what people use, but how. Which brings etiquette and the interstitial into the foreground.)


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 5th, 2007 12:29 pm (UTC)

Momus, you cover a lot of cultural ground on your blog, but I've noticed you never talk about literature, bar the occasional reference to Kafka. Did doing literature at college make you fall out of love with it? Didn't you once harbour literary ambitions? Are there any contemporary authors you rate? What's the last novel you read all the way through? Did you enjoy it?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Apr. 5th, 2007 10:17 pm (UTC)

I seem to have become post-literary.


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st_ranger
st_ranger
Palimpsests of a Secret Whistler
Thu, Apr. 5th, 2007 12:53 pm (UTC)

Imposition of order = escalation of chaos.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 5th, 2007 03:40 pm (UTC)
Ben Highmore

Dear Momus,

Enjoy your daily observations... simply just to say would recommend Ben Highmore highly...

Include on that wishlist...'Cityscapes' and the previous 'Everyday Life and Cultural Theory'...has lead to this latest offering on de Certeau whom he references in both above...Highmore writes in a way that is insightful, informative, and ultimately evocative...

Mark


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 5th, 2007 07:50 pm (UTC)
marketing does catch up

in my experience, i have found both de certeau and lefebvre to be favorites of the world of performance studies.

just coincidentally i wanted to add that they are ideologically similar to william h. whyte, the sociologist urban planner responsible for the The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces.

Its a small book with great vintage 80s photographs which argues in a nutshell that we should be planning our urban public spaces to meet the needs of how people in actuality use them. As, say in NYC, the Seagram Building's street level plaza - a stark statement of empty modernist minimalism - is in practice a free-form picnic spot for lunchtime officeworkers fleeing their cubicles. Here in America Whyte was responsible for getting city agencies to believe in things like pocket parks and putting out lawn chairs for people to use.

Anyways, I once went on a job interview at a marketing firm where the interviewer claimed his CEO had gone to school with Whyte and decided to apply his urban space ideas to the world of shopping. Resulting in such great applications as the lurid product displays on the ends of supermarket aisles. And the concept of secretly filming and experimenting on mall shoppers to see what kind of store floorplans work best for funneling shoppers into the high price areas.

I was horrified. I didn't get the job.

- K


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Apr. 5th, 2007 08:31 pm (UTC)

"Think of Debord as a rather cynical, pessimistic ad man"

http://www.notbored.org/commentaires.html


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Apr. 6th, 2007 02:28 am (UTC)

The art world is all about maximizing profits these days, like investment banking ... so, anything you find advocated there is definitely suspect. Man, the art and literary worlds have become so ridiculously tarnished over the past decade or so, it's crazy.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Apr. 6th, 2007 03:27 am (UTC)

"The [sports / music / food / adhesives / logistics ] world is all about maximizing profits these days, so anything you find advocated there is definitely suspect."

Price / profit is just one aspect of anything, a necessary aspect. (Although personally, in the art world, I'm an artist without prices. My Whitney performance, my Zach Feuer show with Mai Ueda, these were not for sale.) But to say that because something has a price, money is its sole content is a huge mistake. It's easy to spend a day in Chelsea looking at the art in hundreds of galleries without paying anything, or being aware of the prices of anything. The work can speak to you entirely in formal terms, or intellectual terms. Colour, shape, references to other art, non-art, narrative ideas, sensual presence, smell... none of this is any less real because the work has a price.


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