Mapping the Flaneur

I know it is a long time until spring break, but the story I have to tell is more about being new to the city and feeling lonely and having a project to do (which I had no idea how to actually do).  What I usually do in situations like these is walk.  Walking, for me, is essential for thinking.  It keeps things fresh, a change from all that stagnant, go-nowhere indoor thinking.  In the case of my spring break of 2008 predicament (new to the city, lonely, stressed) that’s exactly what I did.

After stewing for a good long while inside, I decided to get busy killing three birds with one stone.  For my Advanced Geo-Information Systems class I was supposed to come up with and implement a project on social aspects of geospatial technologies.  I came up with the idea of using Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to explore art in the city of Montreal.  I got the impetus from a book called Information Arts (MIT Press, 2002) by Stephen Wilson.

This multiple-methods project would ‘display’ an owl painting by Riopelle (possibly Quebec’s most prolific and wonderful artist: go to the Musee des Beaux Arts on Sherbrooke west of McGill or the Musee d’Art Contemporain at the Place Des Art metro station to see his work) on the city, using Google Earth to enable the overlay.  I would then trace the brush strokes of the painting by literally walking on them, documenting my journey using a camera and notebook.  (The visual results can be viewed here under the set “Derives One to Seven”.  Most of my other visual work is there as well).

At the same time, my methodology required me to find an image (one for each of seven days of walking) from the poem ‘Les Hibuox’ by Charles Baudelaire (which I also translated, see the results here):

Sous les ifs noirs qui les abritent,

Les hiboux se tiennent rangés,

Ainsi que des dieux étrangers,

Dardant leur oeil rouge.  Ils méditent.

Sans remuer ils se tiendront

Jusqu’à l’heure mélancolique

Où, poussant le soleil oblique,

Les ténèbres s’établiront.

Leur attitude au sage enseigne

Qu’il faut en ce monde qu’il craigne

Le tumulte et le movement;

L’homme ivre d’une ombre qui passe

Porte toujours le châtiment

D’avoir voulu changer de place

The project was a bit manic, but it did manage to kill those three little birdies that were bugging me.  And I did the project so methodically, writing it up rigorously, backed up by good sources and evidence, that I got a good grade as well.  The risk I took by juggling so many things at once paid off.  (See the paper here).

I also met a lot of people along the way, talked to them (sometimes in French), and went to new neighbourhoods I never would’ve visited before (systematic wandering or ‘psychogeography’ – see the Dictionary of Human Geography for a definition).

The point of all this is not that you should go out and buy a GPS, camera and Moleskine (though I would highly recommend these purchases – I use a Garmin CS60 model:


The point is that ideas and imagination are what matter.  The spark of a new idea in chill (saving on heat) student digs was just what I needed to start a new psychogeographic journey.

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