A Misguide to Anywhere
Book: A Mis-Guide to Anywhere
Publisher: Wrights & Sites
ISBN 13: 978-0954613013
In Wanderlust: A History of Walking, Rebecca Solnit calls walking ‘the most obvious and the most obscure thing in the world’; and it is: at once quotidian and functional yet – and more so now than ever before - oddly subversive and hidden. Suburban and particularly urban life doesn’t encourage walking, or at least it doesn’t encourage a certain kind of walking – any beyond the purely functional; we’re funnelled, corralled, caged by streets and architecture, driven by lines of force between our cattle trucks and our homes, dissuaded from nomadic revelries and haphazard acts of discovery. We don’t map, recreate, these spaces, they map, create us. So that’s why the alternative radical history of walking, that which is still coming into being, is one that relies on metaphors of disappearance and misplacement, alchemy and dream states – ancient methods of (re)discovery transposed into the most modern of settings. Learning to get lost so that you might find your, or another, way
The Wrights & Sites collective are a group of artists and pranksters based in Exeter who formed in 1997 and whose core remit is to produce multi-media site-specific explorations of space and place. They (they being Stephen Hodge, Simon Persighetti, Phil Smith and Cathy Turner) began by focusing much of their attention on their home town of Exeter, going as far as to produce a mutated guidebook to the city that suggested ‘a series of walks and points of observation and contemplation’ – a Mis-Guide, a distorted method of exploring the familiar. But this site-specificity had obvious limitations and the group wondered ‘towards the end of 2003…whether they might make a ‘Mis-Guide’ that deliberately set out to provide transferable ideas… in this case, the work will be completed by the walker and will become specific to its location only in the walking (we intend ‘walk’ to be interpreted as journey, hop, skip, jump, negotiate on wheels etc. as appropriate to circumstances and mood)’. Essentially what the group intended was a portable Mis-Guide with enough broad thematic content to enable it to be adapted to any city, town or suburb anywhere in the world.
The artefact they have produced (I’m loathe to call it a book because it longs to be separated from itself, torn apart and left in underpasses and dank stairwells) is firmly based in this alternative tradition of walking and travel. This Mis-Guide to Anywhere can be ‘used’ ‘anywhere you can walk slowly down the street without being shot by Western contractors. Anywhere you can reorganise buildings without permission. Anywhere you can stand still without being questioned. Anywhere you find abandoned beds. Anywhere the movie you always wanted to see is playing. Anywhere you legged it’ and as such is a portable manifesto for ‘disrupted walking’ is a ‘utopian project for the recasting of a bitter world’. The artefact itself is thin, ring bound; the polished pages adorned with soft-focus photographs, the familiar rendered unfamiliar, radical discontinuities; each of the 115 pages offers a different disruptive method of walking (Follow your shadow. Repeat at different times of the year, and at different distances from the equator) or a statement of fact (I walked for three hours in London between the Strand and Monument and I did not see one child). It seeks to make and return the cities and blank suburbs we inhabit into the labyrinths and playgrounds they are; and by enabling you to get lost in them to rediscover what you might not have known or simply what you might have forgotten. It’s a reclamation of a space that is already ours.
In terms of influence it is the Situationists who loom largest. Guy Debord had seen a map in a book called Paris et l’agglomeration parisienne in which the movements of a 16 year old girl had been mapped. Her life fell between the three points of a triangle – her home, her school and the home of her piano teacher – and there was little deviation outside this strict geometric cage. Debord was horrified and outraged ‘at the fact that anyone’s life could be so pathetically limited’. Thus the idea of the derive was developed a ‘technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances’ in which ‘one or more persons during a certain period’ is to ‘drop their relations, their work and all other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there’. In other words practice a freedom of movement otherwise discouraged by everyday living, and in doing so achieve a certain kind of mental state – a state that was at once exploratory and political but also playful and childlike, (indeed Debord compared it to the method of free association in psychoanalysis )- which could open up new areas of possibility.
The Situationist literature and mythology, saturated with metaphors of mixture, of recombination, involves the using of a kind of thaumaturgy of travel to rearrange place, subtle methods of navigation unlocking new possibilities and new layers of meaning – all modes of separating and splitting the horror of totality, an aspect of capitalist society that Debord abhorred. The Mis-Guide is very much part of this transcendent urge, using, in Jean-Cristophe Bailly’s memorable phrase, ‘the generative grammar of the legs’ to subvert this totality and to create narratives on the hoof.
City as dressing up box
The question that has to be asked of this artefact is: what do we do with it? In some respects it is hard to ascertain what level it is pitched at. Is this a manifesto, a subversive document designed to politicise and aggravate; or is it a pamphlet conceived with play in mind, gentle groups ambling across the cities of the world pointing out hitherto unexplored objects, monuments? Does it matter? I’m not so sure about its political aims, at least not on a macro level – there aren’t riots trapped between these glossy pages; but on a micro level there is a sense of a minor personal politics at work, concerned with what Michel de Certeau called ‘The Practice of Everyday Life’, the instilling of a rigorous sense of discovery that penetrates to the core of the seemingly most banal and obvious aspects of day to day life. There is, in a sense, a liberatory knowledge in simply paying attention to what you do most often, and this slim volume provides myriad ways of doing just that. What intrigues me - and it’s what it doesn’t tell me – is what to do next
Some Radical Walking Resources
Wright's & Sites 'A Manifesto for a New Walking Culture: Dealing with the City'
Guy Debord's 'Theory of the Derive'
Debord's 'Introduction to A Critique of Urban Geography'
Ivan Chtcheglov's 'Formulary for a New Urbanism'
Henry David Thoreau's 'Walking'
An excerpt from Sadie Plant's 'The most radical gesture: The Situationist International in a postmodern age'
Mary Zourzani's 'Walking with the Surrealists'
Donna Landry 'Radical Walking'
The Arcades Project Project