As I walked down the alleys running parallel to chi chi Newberry St. in Boston, looking at layers of quick tags and throw-ups, I realized that I’m not the average tourist. While tourists in Boston hit the Freedom Trail, or drink at Cheers after shopping at Faneuil Hall, I scan years of graffiti for the elusive stencil piece. If you mapped my wanderings this past Tuesday, you’d see an odd path that revolved around one thing: photographing stencils. This history that I chart across the planet creates my psychogeographic story.
Wikipedia states that “psychogeography is ‘the study of specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals,’ according to Guy Debord’s Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography.” On another page says that “‘psychogeography includes just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape.'” Taking these ideas into account, a process has developed around my psychogeographical impulses – mainly stencil art, but also including movies, protests, pubs, diners, and friends.
Stencil art strongly determines my unpredictable path on this current stay in New England. In Portland, ME, my friends drove me to sites where stencils might live. I found at least two dozen thanks to them. In Cambridge, MA, my friend Alex gave me locations to check while his wife Whitney called an artist friend for Boston stencil leads. In Providence, RI, I shot a stencil in at Taqueria Pacifica. A few employees walked over and gave me directions to a few good ones in Olney Neighborhood. My main breakthrough creeped down the alleys off of Newberry Street, and I found those by chance alone.
While I walked down the fourth block of tagged alley, my actual thought was “I don’t really consume things when I’m on the road. Well, except for public transportation and a beer or two.” The message hit home as I crossed streets to enter the next block of alleyway. Everytime, I’d pass rich and poor people who didn’t know that a different world existed ten feet away from them. Even the restaurant staff that snuck smokes in the alleys didn’t seem to notice anything out of the ordinary. I still like to think that the topic of strange Boston locations comes up in conversation and the people that work along this art mention it.
Psychogeography hails from French Situationist thoughts of mental, urban mapping that is based upon how you travel through your city. Recently, artists have tried creating a 21st century perspective on the concept, specifically the Provflux group in Providence RI, (while I was there, Erminio Pinque of Big Nazo pointed out that the new Proflux show was about to go up), and by the artists in New York City who organized the Psy-Geo-conflux conference. In San Francisco, I have seen unique maps in shows at CELLspace, Yurba Buena, and in a group show in a SoMa gallery.
We all exist in an environment as a living testament to how we utilize our time and attention. These layer mentations, nuanced and enhanced, sometimes dropped or perfected, tell stories about who we are and how we cope with our intense urban living. Patterns form and give us clues about who we are as well. For me, the stencil is a dot that has connected my life for the last 11 years. Even the desserts of Moab, UT, a few stencils showed up on my travels there. In MA and RI this past week, I found 74 unique stencil/dots to mark my brief moments there.
They’ll be posted on StencilArchive.org, once I get all the Maine photographs up. Meanwhile, stencils go up in San Francisco and I am not there to soak the pattern, embed the mentation, and psychogeographicalize that environment. But in 9 days, I’ll be in New York City, ready for another stroll there via good tips from local friends….and the random stroll down promising alleys.