On Placeness

In the 1960s the Situationist International identified a quality of sociocultural alienation which they dubbed "the spectacle", a self-referencing fiction that reduces the vibrant richness of existence to a lifeless image presented as "reality". The spectacle serves to represent experience as a disconnected assemblage of discrete and unrelated but consumable objects. To combat the spectacle, the Situationist International encouraged the practice of the dérive, which involves aimless drifting through the urban landscape, led solely by subjective stimuli. This practice supposedly allows one to break free from the imposed structures of urban planning and re-territorialize the city into representations that harmonize the inner and outer senses of place.

In many of my video performances I used the dérive to invite "place" itself to become the main protagonist as experienced through my subjective lens. I would spend hours wandering through different environments without any objective but capturing on camera whatever caught my attention. It was not only an exciting way to get to know a new place but on many occasions I had the experience that the audience really enjoyed and appreciated my outsider's view on their natural habitat. People found it refreshing and unbiased, allowing them to perceive their surroundings from a new and different perspective.

Although the SI saw capitalism as the culprit at the core of this alienation I argue that the spectacle lies in fact on a deeper level: the alienation of inner felt sense and outer embodied reality. Our modern enlightened conception of the world is that of a purely external, mechanical place of quantities that is completely separated from an assumed inner private and individual space of psychological qualities. This complete detachment from our surroundings has led to the emergence of a reductionist view of reality. While the sciences treat reality as dead and soul-less mechanical matter also many of the spiritualities have abandoned matter altogether and focus on non-material energies and disincarnate beings.

The dérive has a profound effect not only because of the aimlessness of the activity freeing us from the distractions of the spectacle but also because we actually pay attention to being embodied in a place. It makes sense that our human consciousness and rationality are fundamentally tied to our physical senses of orientations and interactions in space. We have to also realize that sense of "placeness" is in fact a transformation of our state of awareness through our surroundings. Our subjectivity and the content of our thoughts and feelings are very dependent on the place and places within which we live and act. So the significance of place should not be viewed as a contingent feature of human psychology or biology, but instead as rooted in the very structure that makes possible the human experience.

For many cultures throughout history, places are imbued with a kind of spirit or energy that is specific to that location - the Genius Loci. This "spirit of place" is not only shaped by but also has an impact on the history, culture, and natural surroundings of a particular location. It is the soul of the place itself. The idea of a Genius Loci highlights the ways in which "placeness" is not simply a physical or metaphysical concept, but rather an embodied and lived experience.

After having explored the psychogeography of many places using the technique of the dérive for mere artistic purposes I have begun to see places as entities with their own agency. The deeper I delve into the complexities of placeness the more impossible it becomes to shy away from what is nowadays called animism as a universal way to experience the world.