A Bicyclist's View of Los Angeles: Remapping the city using Situationist theories of dérive
Mentor:Mary Beth Heffernan, Associate Professor of Art History and the Visual Arts, Occidental College
In the 1950s and 1960s, radical Parisian artistic-political group the Situationists envisioned an urban utopia where work is inseparable from play, and its inhabitants are constantly rediscovering their surroundings. Headed by Guy Debord (The Society of the Spectacle), they invented the dérive—a period of time set aside to “be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there,” with the goal of reinventing a direct and personal experience of their surroundings. This practice involved the field of psychogeography, the study of the effect of geography on human psychology—natural, built, and psychic terrain.
I applied these ideas to bicycling in Los Angeles, which provided an atypical perspective on the city that is usually a part of an individual or cultural “map” of L.A. Through hours of dérives by bicycle, following random routes, I allowed the city to affect my physical locomotion and thus my understanding of what it means to both to transport oneself and to live as an inhabitant of L.A. I created a hand-drawn map to represent this visually. Maps are a rich medium to reflect cultural or personal subjectivity. My map uses illustrations and text, emphasizing the layering and interconnection of images, memories, and emotions that arise through interaction with a space.
This process of cycling, observing, and mapping confirmed for me the idea that biking in Los Angeles offers an experience that is rich and unique. It requires more out of the cyclist--braving vehicles, heat, potholes, and tough neighborhoods--but reveals interesting places and people (for example, discovering the beauty of the LA River Path and going on nighttime group rides). An individual’s relationship to the city can be thrown wide open to change and growth by altering something as simple as the means of travel.