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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, December 17, 2009
    'Mythogeography: A Guide to Walking Sideways' by Phil Smith
     
    Good to know that Phil Smith's Mythogeography: A Guide to Walking Sideways is just emerging from the printers:
    My name is not on the book, though I wrote it. It takes the form of a documentary-fictional collection of the internal documents, diary fragments, letters, emails, narratives, notebooks and handbooks of a loose coalition of artists, performers, 'alternative' walkers and pedestrian geographers. All illustrated in full colour by Tony Weaver, who designed the Wrights & Sites' Mis-Guide books.

    It is an attempt to celebrate the practices of artists, activists, performers and walkers who have shaped a new walking culture since the collapse of the 1990s Psychogeographical Associations.

    The fragmentary and slippery format recognises the disparate, loosely interwoven and rapidly evolving uses of walking today: as performance, as exploration, as urban resistance, as activism, as an ambulatory practice of geography, as meditation, as post-tourism, as dissident mapping, as subversion of and rejoicing in the everyday. 'Mythogeography' celebrates that interweaving, its contradictions and complementarities, and is an attempt at a handbook for those who want to be part of it.
    And there's a website too, 'which pushes it all a little bit further', Phil says. I'd say quite a lot further. It's packed with goodies, provocations and resources: check out the booklist for a lifetime's worth of ambulatory elucidation. I feature in the site as a contributor of photographs (on the page devoted to Manchester, Mythogeography and Mobile Machinoeki) and in a list of Mythogeographic Characters ('Concepts not costumes, these ‘characters’ are dissolute identities': Pilgrim, Crab, the Nomad, the Doctor, “Guy Debord”, Toby the Marxist Tramp, the Small Vicar, Comus, Pontiflunk, Cecile Oak).

    Phil is a performer who spends some of his time carrying out ‘subversions’ of the ‘standard’ guided tour. ‘Deploy[ing] the ideas of mythogeography, placing the fictional, mistaken and personal on equal terms with factual, heritage and municipal histories’, he takes his walking companions on alternative journeys in tourist sites in South West England. So National Trust houses and Exeter's tourist hives become 'place[s] of performance, space[s] of multiple layers, including ambience and psychogeographical effects, geological, archaeological and historiographical data, myths, rumours and lies, unrealised architectures and collectively expressed desires, autobiographical associations, incongruities and accidental hybrids.'

    Finding the 'hidden Real' in places is one of Phil's intentions. The Mythogeographer suggests that having fun - walking sideways - is one of the best ways of achieving this.