I started by looking into the Situationist movement, which I had only really heard of in
relation to the May ‘68 protests. I was intrigued by a lot of the ideas they discussed but got disheartened when trying to read Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle¹. A common critique of the Situationists is that they would take concepts that were relatively easy to understand and present them in unnecessarily convoluted ways. I agree to some extent, as I found Debord's writing style extremely frustrating. I'm also not too sure as to how his idea of the spectacle differs from Marx's concept of commodity fetichism.
That being said, I found many standalone sentences from the book to be powerful slogans, so I understand why they played a big role in Paris's student riots. And despite my issues with Debord’s writing, I found the idea of the derive very interesting. I think I tend to practice a form of derive during most of my walks - this was especially the case during lockdown. I have also always found town centres to be quite distressing, in large part because of how they encourage consumerism (but also because of my anxiety). As such, I found the concept of the derive helpful in fighting that sense of alienation.
I also feel like this ties into Bergson's idea of lived time, which we've been studying in Philosophy. In the same way that derives free you from the spatial boundaries of society, they can also momentarily liberate you from the parameters of clock time. In the words of the late David Graeber, "Play is the ultimate expression of freedom for its own sake." As a form of play, the derive illustrates this quite well
On week 1, I went on three different derives. The idea I had was to set multiple timers and document whatever surrounded me when they went off, forcing me to be constantly seeking places of interest. My main forms of documentation were sketches, photography and small colour palettes, which I would like to use to make prints at some point. At first, I was expecting to be off for hours, but I kept being pulled towards the same places. I first tried pushing myself to keep going but ultimately I felt like this went against the idea of letting your interest guide you.
One place that particularly caught my attention was a small clearing within the dark group of trees I was drawing at the time. It also caught Jaeden's, who was on the derive with me. It was locked behind a gate, but someone had made a hole through it. We went through the opening and I immediately felt a sense of comfort. I wandered around for a bit before finding the spot I knew I wanted to paint. It retells how we got there, showing the hole in the gate and the road behind the trees. The graffiti on the wall also indicates that others have trespassed here before. I enjoy
how the gate contrasts with the trees without being an eyesore. This is also where my favourite of my small colour palettes came from! I took pictures and made a quick drawing featuring Jaeden. I then returned in the evening to work on how I would compose the piece and made a quick thumbnail painting.
On week 2, I started working on the painting. I first worked from images, but the colours
did not satisfy me. So I ended up doing a lot of the painting from life - the space lends
itself to that really well as it is relatively isolated. I had done quite a few landscapes
before, but never in oil. So I found parts of the process frustrating, as many of the skills I had learnt from watercolour did not apply. I struggled a lot with balancing tonal and colour accuracy. I also found it difficult to keep in mind the oil on lean rule, which made the painting look muddy.
Next week, I'd like to practice oil painting a lot more, to feel more comfortable with the medium. I see a lot of potential in it, but I find myself restricted by my skill level. I will try and find simple things to paint (or maybe go abstract) in order to try out different techniques. I might look at how Turner used oil, since I know he started as a watercolour artist. I also want to start making broader brush marks, so i will try out bigger canvases. As for reading I have picked up How to see the world by Nicholas Mirzoeff², which Kate recommended to me last year. I feel like it will be helpful in connecting my politics and my art, which continue to feel quite distinct (as shown in this writing). If I have time, I'd also like to like to make use of the colour palettes I mentioned to print out some of the pictures I took.
¹Debord, G., 1967. Society Of The Spectacle. Black & Red.
²Mirzoeff, N., 2015. How To See The World. Pelican Books.