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July Glowlounge to feature PIPS

Next week we'll meet with John J. McGurk and J. Gabriel Lloyd of PIPS (Providence Initiative for Psychogeographical Studies), an artistic collaborative pursuing links between art and everyday life. PIPS' latest project is the Nomadic Café, a participatory sculpture in the form of a minimalist cube that was recently presented at the Exit Art Reconstruction Biennial and Psy-Geo-Conflux. The Café becomes a service to the community by providing a place to gather and develop relationships with strangers in the heart of New York. Following is an article by David Allyn about The Nomadic Café which includes an interview with the artists.


Psychogeography and the Nomadic Café in New York City
David Allyn

An event as interesting and diverse as the city that contained it took place May 9-11th in 2003. 156 Rivington Street New York, New York, the location of ABC No Rio, by all accounts was the epicenter. A loose organization of artists, philosophers, architects, and genuine misfits from all over the world converged for the “Psy-Geo-Conflux”. Sponsored by Glowlab, a New York based arts collaborative, the Conflux was a forum for further investigation into the obscure field of psychogeography. Using Rosalind Krauss’ writings as a critical framework, the Providence Initiative for Psychogeographical Studies (PIPS) intends to further advance endeavors of psychogeographers worldwide.

Bryan Zimmerman of The Village Voice offers a simple definition for the term Psychogeography, in his article Public Notice ”Psychogeography is the study of the effects of the geographic environment on the emotions and behaviors of individuals.” Taken straight from the Situationist dictionary, if we understand this working model and use it to define the Psy-Geo-Conflux we miss out on the whole idea of the event. The Psy-Geo-Conflux inhabits that fine space on the fringe of what we perceive as real. Consequently what we perceive can vary as much as humanity itself. Those who understand Psychogeography the best believe they can define it the least. So what exactly happened on the days of May 9-11th in New York? A literal list of events includes a lecture on Kant by author Colette Meacher, an outdoor chess match powered by cell phones by Sharilyn Neidhardt, a “Nomadic Café” brought to the streets of New York by PIPS (Providence Initiative for Psychogeographical Studies), and a noise/junk parade organized by the Brooklyn-based collective Toyshop. These events draw a schizophrenic picture of the Psy-Geo-Conflux but do little in the way of defining it. Christina Ray, festival organizer, claims these events relate in the mere fact that “they’re all about the meaning of living in the city” . Individual perception is at the root of this festival. How we imagine the secondary spaces in our environment and there affect on our subconscious are the issues in this participant take-all festival. The Conflux hosted guided tours of loading docks and back ally ways to highlight the importance of these often forgotten spaces that encompass so much of our landscape. Interaction is a focal component in this pseudo-science study of the city. Walks are taken, photos exchanged, and strangers met.

Psychogeography may have officially spawned from walks or “Derives” taken by French post Freudian avant-garde movements like Surrealism and Lettrism. More formally the International Situationists under the direction of Guy Debord popularized the term psychogeography as a format for the reinvention of public space. For the Situationists the streets were the theater and life was the play. The same radical theory of subversive interaction with environment holds true for today’s psychogeographers, the distinction being the role of technology. PDA’s, laptops, cell-phones, GPS systems, and minidisks are all tools of today’s psychogeographers. These technologically advanced tools are utilized to better understand the role of technology and environment. The Surveillance Camera Players, a surveillance awareness group that stage plays for surveillance cameras, illustrate how today’s psychogeographers use and subvert technology. During the Psy-Geo-Conflux they gave tours of notable surveillance cameras in the city and staged performances. This technological shift embraced by modern psychogeographers has been the catalyst for the rebirth of philosophies seemingly lost to history.

“The Nomadic Café” is a work of particular interest for the complex nature of its existence. On loan for the Psy-Geo-Conflux from the Exit Art Biennial, The Nomadic Café serves up a pleasant quagmire for the viewer. One wonders if the work is performance, social satire, object art, or just really fantastic French toast. Brought to the streets of New York in the form of two perfect white Formica cubes on wheels (one 36” the other 26”), The Nomadic Café transforms itself into a fully functional self-contained kitchen, two tables, and seating for eight. Following this seemingly impossible transformation, the people of PIPS are happy to offer the viewer a selection from the limited but adequate menu. Undertones of passive politics can be inferred with French toast being the special for the duration of the Psy-Geo-Conflux. Other menu items include fresh sliced fruit, coffee, tea, and ice-cold water. The distinguishing factor that sets this café on wheels apart from the hotdog vendors is price. Everything is on the house, and as described by one PIPS member “when the food is gone, The Nomadic Café is too.” In a review of the Exit Art Biannual Roberta Smith described The Nomadic Cafe as “Intelligent and reminiscent of Andréa Zittel” .

The works complexity is reflected in the interactions with the viewer. Upon greeting the café a moment pause is notable, the viewer is in a brief state of bewilderment. It is just this pause that allows the people from PIPS to capitalize. “Hi, welcome to The Nomadic Café”, with these words the work begins to unfold for the viewer who is now a participant. Communication and interaction are core convictions of this piece. Faces burst with delight upon discovery of the works intention. Just as the cubes transform so does the viewer. This quintessential shift in subject, I feel, breaks down historic distinctions in contemporary art, therefore generating pure experience for both viewer and artist.

Interview with PIPS members John J. McGurk and J Gabriel Lloyd:

Could you explain the function of The Nomadic Café?
JJM: The fundamental goals of the Nomadic Café are directed towards the dual purposes of critique and construction. In other words, critique is important, but one should also recognize the possibilities for creative construction in every action. Certain barriers of alienation exist that limit human contact and isolate the individual. Nowhere is this more present than in New York, in the city, street conversation with strangers, unheard of. The great part about the café is to experience conversation in Hell’s kitchen one day and the Lower East Side the next.
JGL: I think it’s important to acknowledge that the function is not serving food or being a work of “art”. The cubes are objects that facilitate a dialogue about anything and everything between strangers in NYC. Having an object that is, by society’s terms, “functional” allows a hook for people to catch onto and create a conversation.

How do you see the role of utility differing from function?
JJM: The Nomadic Café’s utility doesn’t lie in the novelty of café on wheels but in its use in the community. It provides a context for conversation at the table; four strangers sit down at a table on the street and exchange numbers at the end of the encounter. I feel the work is trying to put force back into language. The media dissolves language, the language of revolution is currently splashed on every billboard and magazine ad, so language ends up not saying any thing, its contracted dialog and devalues communicating.
JGL: In NYC the language is always very loud. JohnJ and I often talk about how language is pushed upon everyone so much and all of the time in NYC. The café allows for a quiet rest from it all, and I think that is a huge thing in making the piece special. We don’t impress any viewpoints upon people and we are not like, “Look at ME!” We stand on the street and greet curious looks with “Welcome to the Nomadic Café.”

How does the Nomadic Café conform to the role of medium?
JJM: The whole point is not to conform. What I’m looking for are objects to contain movement, fluidity of experience through The Nomadic Café. The Exit Art Biennial illustrates this fluidity through the evolution of a story. Most objects in the show were constructed during the show and continue in a state of flux, denying the categorization of finished product or commodity. In the same vein I feel The Nomadic Café is one small experiment in the field of architecture or sculpture or neither or both.
JGL: Yeah, but I think that the café conforms to certain cues in order to make its point and have a sense of humor. White Formica to cover the cube is not exactly a walk in the park when we tried to put it on the cube. We could have just painted it, but it was important to acknowledge the use of that material in kitchens and make use of that material for our piece to establish a little link. JohnJ is very right when he says that we are not trying to conform, but I do think that we try to have certain things in the Nomadic Café that speak of specific medium.

How do you see psychogeography informing your project?
JJM: Permanent structure is stifling yet unavoidable. Psychogeography is an avenue to explore real life immediacy, unmediated. The Situationists coined “architecture of action”, that dealt with the fluidity of experience. The Nomadic Café through action strives to create its own story or myth. It allows people to step out of the realm of the norm much like random walks taken by psychogeographers.
JGL: And to help people simply be aware of the everyday. I would hope that it is an avenue for integration of art into life that the Russian constructivists began to talk about almost a hundred years ago now. Psychogeography has the benefit of technology to help it integrate further.

Rosalind Krauss’ “A Voyage on the North Sea”

Seemingly ripped directly from the pages of Krauss’ text is the experience of the Psy-Geo-Conflux and more specifically, The Nomadic Café. Differential specificity is the ideology behind the movement of the modern psychogeographer. Picking up where the Situationists left off, psychogeographers of today reinvent the urban experience while embracing the same technologies that attempt to dissolve our culture into meaningless images and empty experiences. The path is steep and treacherous but with every undirected stroll through the city the psychogeographers of today, aim to put meaning back into everyday life by rediscovering lost space and conversation in our modern urban environment.

It hardly seems fair to use Greenberg as a model for the idea of “medium” in context of modern psychogeography. Krauss does a fine job of expressing the link between the idea of Greenburgian “medium” and medium pertaining to modern topics including what she calls the “international fashion of installation ”. Psychogeography fails to assign itself any distinguishing characteristics pertaining to medium. Cartographers become philosophers, sculptures become street preachers, and ordinary people transform into artists.

Rosalind Krauss gives philosophical testimony in her text “A Voyage on the North Sea” on behalf of The Nomadic Café in the context of the Psy-Geo-Conflux. She states “autonomy and the notion that there was something proper or specific to a medium were already under attack – this gave a glittering theoretical pedigree to practices of rampant impurity – like Fluxus or Situationist detournement (subversive appropriation) – that had long since been underway .” Much of Krauss’ text supports ideas implemented during the Psy-Geo-Conflux.

The statement “architecture or sculpture or both or neither ” fits so comfortable with The Nomadic Café that it almost seems as Marcel Broodthaers himself could be imagined serving French toast in it at his “Museum of Modern Art”. Artwork that contains a contradiction in meaning or purpose is generally viewed as incomplete or unresolved. The Nomadic Café finds refuge in this contradiction with Krauss’s post-structural text. PIPS use of the outmoded minimalist cube as transformed by The Nomadic Cafe into a functional café is a tremendous contradiction of impact. Proudly if not spitefully PIPS smirks at the big white object in the gallery. Only out side the white wash gallery does the piece unveil its utility. So intentional is the contradiction at The Nomadic Café that the people of PIPS use satire to address the performative aspect of serving food. Tuxedoes and a full chefs outfit is the attire worn by the members of PIPS during the performance of the Café. This over the top costuming simply adds to the bewilderment had by all who encounter The Nomadic Café and enhances the total experience of the piece.

The Psy-Geo-Conflux demands a lot from those who participate. With The Nomadic Café hard work is rewarded with pure experience, something outside the realm of capital culture. Rosalind Krauss makes a strong case for fluidity as the future of art. In its existence, The Nomadic Café is physical proof that there is support for Krauss’s argument.


Krauss, Rosalind: “A Voyage on the North Sea” Thames and Hudson, New York, NY. 2000

Roberta Smith: New York Times, “A Space Reborn, With a Show That’s Never Finished”, Friday April 4rth, 2003

Debord, Guy: “Situation International”, edited by Tom McDonough, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA. 2002

Zimmerman, Bryan “Psychogeographers Navigate New York City’s Changing Landscape”, Village Voice, May 7-13, 2003

McGurk, John J. & J. Gabriel Lloyd interview by David Allyn May 19, 2003

12:36 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink


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