Showing posts with label Psychogeography. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Psychogeography. Show all posts

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Financial Psychogeography: Suitpossum joins forces with CurioCity London

It’s a pleasure to announce that I will be syndicating out blog-posts to the website of the great new London-focused magazine CurioCity. CurioCity was started by Matthew Lloyd and Henry Elliot in early 2010, originally as an informal handmade pamphlet to distribute to friends and family. Back then, a group of us wrote articles and put together the first issue in Henry’s lounge in Kennington. It’s come a long way since then, and the first professionally printed version is now being stocked in iconic London outlets such as Foyles and Rough Trade. The website has now been set up to provide a regular flow of high quality pieces centered on London, suggesting ideas for experiences that are fun, educational, and that encourage a deeper engagement with the city.

Urban adventures in financial landscapes
My main focus is going to be ‘Financial Psychogeography’. ‘Psychogeography’ is a word that means different things to different people, but I’m taking it to refer to:
  1. the exploration of cityscapes with the deliberate intent to break down oppressive or hegemonic ideas embodied in, or implied by, the physical space
  2. and in the process seeking to reinvent or replace those ideas with unorthodox visions and alternative viewpoints… or something like that
Psycho-geography is about trying to identify the subconscious mental programmes that get installed in us by our physical environment. It’s also about creativity. It’s about trying to hack those programmes and reconfiguring the codes of mental DNA that condition how you perceive something. A greater awareness of physical space allows one to take mental control of it, and to re-enchant the cityscape with new perceptions. So basically it's an excuse for me to wonder around financial landscapes and reflect on them, considering what they might teach me about the world, how they might affect the way I think, and then maybe how the dominant ideas they impart can be challenged. This might be an epic waste of time, but if nothing else, it should provide a couple of fun outings and opportunities to embarrass myself.

A brief history of psycho-geography

If you look up the Wikipedia article about psycho-geography, you get some background history which says that psycho-geography was something developed by the Lettrist International, who broke away from some other group (also called the Lettrists) in France. It was spearheaded by a guy called Guy Debord, coming out with classic quotes like ‘the most urgent exercise of liberty is the destruction of idols’. Guy later wrote ‘The Society of the Spectacle’, a classic piece of ‘fuck-you authorities’ literature. By all accounts he and his mates were something like the French equivalent of Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg, promoting a type of avant garde Marxism-meets-art sensibility, getting involved in the May 1968 wildcat strikes, and inspiring a generation of Gaulloises adverts and films like The Dreamers. Certainly, psycho-geography does bring to mind intense French students sitting around in cafes chain-smoking and fiercely debating the nature of the world. At its worst, it’s a load of pretentious bullshit, but if it’s done right with a bit of tongue in cheek, it can be a lot of fun. If it’s done really right, it can be transformational. Later generations of psycho-geographers like Iain Sinclair and Will Self have done a lot to bring to life the hidden codes of landscapes, and hopefully I can do the same in CurioCity.

Here is some footage of the launch party. I’m playing guitar in that.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Fun things to do in London's Financial Heartlands: Fusing Canary Wharf with the Real Economy

The financial sector is frequently contrasted to the ‘real economy’. The ‘real economy’ is seen to involve the production of goods and (non-financial) services, while the financial sector is seen to act as a facilitator of, and gatekeeper to, investment flows into those industries. Banks and funds are in the business of predicting which businesses to back, steering debt and equity based on future perceptions of the real economy. The financial sector runs ahead of, or parallel to, the real economy. In some conceptions, it isn't connected to the real economy at all.

The usefulness and accuracy of the traditional distinction can certainly be questioned, but if ever there was a place in the world where the distinction made visual sense at least, it would be London. London is one of the few cities where the financial sector can literally be seen from a distance, most notably in the stark concrete and glass of Canary Wharf. London is also home to many decaying remnants of the old manufacturing economy, with monuments such as the Battersea Power Station a testament to both abandonment by the financial sector, but also attempts to re-connect to financial flows through regeneration proposals.

Visual mediums often tell stories a lot more effectively than words and pundits do. That’s why I'm an enthusiastic supporter of financial visualisations and infographics. A walk along the South Bank of the Thames though, offers some interesting opportunities to experience the visual divide between the financial sector and real economy directly, especially as one approaches Canary Wharf. Arranging the views to tell a story, and then capturing those stories on camera is a worthwhile way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

The abandoned pub

Here’s a simple scene that I found quite poignant. The pub was abandoned and boarded up, with the towers of finance looming behind. I don’t know exactly what one would want to read into it, but to me it could highlight the stark divide between an old English working-class docklands culture, and a new international financial culture gradually pushing it out.

The construction yard

This was one of my favourities: A construction yard just past Greenwich on the Thames Path. If you find it on a Sunday you can climb over the broken fence and play in the rubble. Again, there are a number of stories to be told. The construction site could be seen as a product of the financial sector - only existing through the provision of capital - or as the real underlying activity that the financial sector relies on to survive. Perhaps this rubble is a future financial centre. I personally just liked the visual contrast.

The spontaneous garden

Here’s a fun one. If you pay attention along the way, you can find fresh wild tomatoes growing in the industrial zone approaching the O2 arena on the Thames Path. The interpretations are endless. The financial sector connection to the farming industry? Small scale organics vs. large scale synthetics? The ancient agricultural roots of society holding out like a renegade against the ultra-modern world of derivatives and virtual food speculation?

The barbed-wire fence

A visual arrangement need not be literal. This just looked really cool to me, but maybe it could be seen as a play on entry into the financial sector. Is the financial sector guarded by barbed wire and a giant river moat? Not if I have my way about it.

The reclaimed pier

This old pier has been transformed into a mini ecological sanctuary to be used by nesting river birds: We arrived here as the sun was setting, but I’d like to read into it a message of future sustainability in finance and  the creative use of the old to make a new dawn. Damn, I got to get out my notebook now and write poetry...

Just do it
It’s going to take a lot more than arranging images to build financial sustainability, but it’s an interesting exercise in the mean time, and a potentially thought-provoking one. There are hundreds of opportunities for this. How about starting at Stave Hill in the Rotherhithe Eco-Park, a great place to juxtapose the green with the blue-grey of global finance. I’m sure there’s a photographer out there who can do this a bit better than my HTC mobile phone camera can. Anyone want to collaborate? Please do send photos of your docklands journeys, along with possible interpretations, and I can put them up.

The Thames Path area between Deptford and North Greenwich and is also a hotbed for graffiti artists. It would be great to use the site for the development of financial graffiti - a living exhibition reflecting on the huge skyscrapers across the river. I’d personally like to stencil a QR code on one of the walls (p.s. these codes require a  smartphone barcode-scanner app to read). I kind of had this one in mind...


Sunday, 29 May 2011

Fun Outings to Crap Headquarters 1: Tesco

An hour or so out of London, in the commuter belt, is a place called Cheshunt. It is home to the world’s crappest corporate headquarters. They belong to Tesco and they're situated in a light industrial zone, next door to Monster Gym, the first American style warehouse gym in the UK (satellite image here and google street view here)

This photo was taken in 2009, and at the time I was trying to sell Tesco esoteric financial derivatives. I sat in a room with someone from the treasury and suggested she should consider entering into a large transaction which, at the time, I thought to be in both our interests. She didn’t dig the idea, but appreciated the attempt. Innovation, she said, was what Tesco was all about.

Looking back, I feel privileged to have walked the crap linoleum floor of the world’s crappest corporate headquarters, to have seen the crap canteen plonked in the entrance lobby, and the crap cramped desks of the employees that run one of the world’s largest retailers. If nothing else, I was impressed to see a company truly living its values.

I had a reason to be there, but why would you want to go there? I think it’s worth a visit because Tesco is a key node in the global trade in consumer goods, and it’s startling that such an enormous task gets done in such a mundane setting.

Retailers, much like banks, act as intermediaries, but where banks act as intermediaries in investment goods, retailers act as intermediaries for consumption goods. As such, they are key gatekeepers between the world’s producers and us. Globalisation of consumer items, as it were, gets mediated through them.

In particular, globalisation gets sorted out in this warehouse, across the road from the headquarters. It’s where producers bring goods that they want Tesco to stock, to see if they make the cut. My mate Charlie has been in there, once upon a time when he was trying to start a business reliant on the consumer market. He tells of the horrors of that experience, watching a team of four inspectors move along the aisles, looking at proposed products. One is a product specialist. One is a floor layout specialist. One is a lawyer. One is a health and safety professional. Charlie has an entertaining tale, but it ends in tears and personal bankruptcy, which is one reason he ended up alongside me, trying to sell derivatives to pay off his debt.

Tesco may not have bankrupted you, but everyone has their connection to it, from fruit farmers in South Africa to London junkies. So go see Tesco and pay your respects to the most utterly shite, yet perhaps most authentic, corporate headquarters in the world. Take a photo, and if you see Elma, tell her Suitpossum says hi.