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On DisplacementActivities

The more commonly known psychological and animal behavioural aspects of ‘displacement activities’ (seemingly inappropriate forms of behaviour arising when two or more conflicting imperatives occur) are of interest, and necessarily implicated in DisplacementActivities methodology, but they impose no strict limitations on my research and practice. The original Freudian conception of Verschiebung (displacement) is pertinent though since it arises out of an experience of censorship, which resonates strongly with the originary context of my own formulation.

Ultimately, I am reluctant to define DisplacementActivities too closely, preferring to leave it open-ended and exploratory. In short, DisplacementActivities unearth and pursue any and all possible forms of displacement that may present themselves in a given situation. Surprises and seemingly inappropriate responses are welcome since DisplacementActivities are inherently transgressive. The following provisional and incomplete list will hopefully elucidate the approach, but there is no substitute for participating in the practice yourself to see what it might be capable of:

DisplacementActivities focus on all aspects of displacement using walking, sound recording, oral history and deep mapping as primary research tools.

DisplacementActivities manifest primarily as ambulatory performance pieces that combine the work of multiple artists within site-specific events.

DisplacementActivities encourage translocational engagement and critical participation across social, cultural, institutional, disciplinary, and historical boundaries.

DisplacementActivities pierce topological and chronological separations, folding places into one another by a process of embodied hypertextual mapping.

DisplacementActivities are drawn to edges that may be felt between individuals, communities, art forms, academic disciplines, and larger territories.

DisplacementActivities are generative, reflexive, and scalable.

DisplacementActivities form part of an open-ended strategy of structured and semi-structured improvisation that resists static definition, tending to point to something other…

Many of the above observations could be collapsed into a general acknowledgement that all boundaries, edges and lines act as attractors for DisplacementActivities. One immediate consequence of drawing a line is division. Two sides of the line spring into existence immediately indicating a previous zone that may have been considered homogenous. Maps rely on creating such zones, they rely on dividing given spaces with a view to a specific purpose. Division can be useful and  productive, but also the opposite. The line at the edge of a train platform is useful in giving an indication of where a danger zone resides. An arbitrary line on the Earth dividing two nation states may become the source of bitter contention. Crossing these lines literally becomes a matter of life or death.

Less tangible divisions, but no less potent, exist between ideologies. For instance, lethal distinctions along the line of Left and Right were illustrated in Charlottesville last year. Wherever these lines exist, for good or ill, they act as attractors to DisplacementActivities. Hence the practice is often drawn towards volatile areas of conflict or contestation. Disruption reveals edges.

Displacement occurs at all levels: traversing geopolitical, ideological, and commercial as well as bioregional, geological and biological boundaries. It operates within, without and through human agency. The simple example of eating brings this into focus. Whenever we eat we fully engage with the planet and our solar system. What we take in includes the living, the dead, the organic and the inorganic. We recombine this material and eject new assemblages back into the world. The whole process of eating is constitutive not only of our biological being but necessarily forms the core of our economic system. Because of our engagement with food we are constantly displacing material and objects as well as ideas and practices—as I am doing here. By trading food outside our own bioregions, for example, we can displace much of our sensitivity to the relationship between food and environment; shifting responsibility from the local in favour of global ideals allows us to exploit certain areas on the planet beyond sustainable levels without having to pay attention to the (remote) damage we reek. In turn, this form of geopolitical exploitation lies at the heart of the creation of (remote) poverty and famine resulting in mass migration. Although war is a primary cause of the current refugee and migration crisis affecting Europe, its roots refer inexorably back to earlier forms of geopolitical exploitation and colonialism as undeniable parts of the process. (more to come on this)

The relationship between DisplacementActivities and psychogeography is complex and still unfolding. It will be the subject of a forthcoming conference paper along the lines of ‘Displacement of the Real in Realpolitik: Psychogeography and the Re-wiring of Truth’… or something like that (in the ongoing spirit of bricolage that is intrinsic to the construction of this site, open ends abound…).

I sort of backed into the term ‘psychogeography’ after many years of practising what I subsequently came to realise were its main concerns. A combination of fun, experimentation and subversive political intent guides my understanding of psychogeography epitomised in the dérive, or drift, which provides a wonderful way of coming across surprising conjunctions and reinvigorating all our senses while walking. The use and mis-use of maps is central to DisplacementActivities methodology, and I was intrigued to find that the tactic of commandeering maps to psychogeographical purposes originated as part of an attempt to reclaim urban space in the face of De Gaulle’s ‘internal colonisation’ policies that had resulted in displacing many of the poor in central Paris. Debord and Asger Jorn’s famous ‘Naked City’ (1957) map was far from random in its selections, it focused on sites of political conflict, including the predoninantly North African neighbourhood of La Huchette, where the Situationist International had its HQ (Libero Andreotti, 2000). It is this raw, transgressive and volatile context of the birth of psychogeography that is  cauterised by dubious corporate ‘team-building’ pranks on the one hand, and opaque academic pomposity on the other. Attempting to pilot a course between those extremes, DisplacementActivities keeps its feet firmly on the ground and its potential for disruption in clear focus. Maintaining a quizzical smile in the face of the impossible.

When taking the form of guided walks, DisplacementActivities may extrapolate, combine and distribute key elements of starting points and destinations along journeys that experiment with several lines of displacement through a process of ‘extrusion’. These lines are revealed through a variety of traces that, for me, include: recording oral history testimony; displacing past and present through site-specific recordings/playback; tracing geological lines such as water courses, coal seams, fault lines; highlighting demographic and municipal boundary shifts, and plotting multiple layers of architecture and archaeology. In practice, any line of investigation unearthed through a form of  ‘deep mapping’ (Pearson & Shanks, 2001) can become material for DisplacementActivities. My own specialities are oral, mobile audio and static sound pieces, but previous displacements have also involved combinations of soundwalks, touchwalks, urban theatrical interventions and rituals, together with light projections, dance, group performances, land art and superimposed cartographies. To date, the wider the range of practices, the greater the embodied sense of displacement appears achievable. Hence a feeling of open-endedness and uncertainty pervades DisplacementActivities methodology—which is why I am always on the lookout for possible new configurations and collaborations. All collaborating artists maintain full control of their own material, and the overarching events operate as a series of mini-dialectics between us as semi-autonomous agents.

One of the key motivations of DisplacementActivities is to explore displacement itself as it is revealed in everyday life and through constant artistic practice. The process is therefore inherently reflexive. An important dimension of this motivation is forming new relationships with people and place—and drawing attention to something other, beyond the physical site itself.

In sum, DisplacementActivities are open-ended, reiterative, reflexive, scaleable methodologies that encourage new forms of site-specific engagement, they are centred on walking as a practice that liberates through transgression.

What is the background?

I developed DisplacementActivities during my doctoral research (AHRC-funded PhD, University of Huddersfield, completed in 2016)* when I was experimenting with ways of experiencing place-based memories drawn from oral history interviews in the regeneration zone of Holbeck, Leeds. The idea then was to produce what I termed an ‘archaeology of the voice’: an archive of spoken memories accessible via emergent mobile GPS-technology. After conducting a wide range of interviews in and around Holbeck, I found that walking-based multi-disciplinary events provided an excellent way of drawing attention to the ongoing work and offered accessible and creative pathways into the material.

The World Premiere of Displacement Activities (Leeds Light Night, 2011) set out from Project Space Leeds (PSL) and guided a group of around 25 through various mobile audio, sonic and theatrical interventions into the heart of Holbeck where the walkers met with members and representatives of the community in a group performance outside St Matthews Church which featured light projections of archive images and a sound installation (a pdf report will be linked).

Building on the success of the Light Night 2011 event, I was invited to Florence by Associazione Culturale Fabricca Europa where I developed the Florentine Displacement (2012) which involved superimposing the Holbeck route onto Florence using the Giotto Tower as its point of origin (replica in Holbeck). The Florence event involved a whole new set of recordings based on trans-European experiences of displacement and new site-specific recordings which were combined with some of the Holbeck material (a pdf report will be linked).

The most recent DisplacementActivities event (here) followed a post-doctoral hiatus (as I re-gathered my energies).


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