Earlier in 2015 the photographer Darrant Hinisco was browsing in a secondhand bookshop when his interest was piqued by STEPZ, a recently published zine devoted to psychogeography and urban aesthetics. Somehow this copy had found its way in very short order from Yorkshire, where Tina Richardson, the publisher of STEPZ, resides, to this obscure Portugese emporium. Hinisco contacted her with a view to creating an edition of his photographs, wishing to re-imagine them as psychogeographical praxis. Well, we are living in the era of globalisation, so this may not seem so curious.
What is perhaps a little more curious is this. I know Tina via social media and an interest in psychogeography and architecture, and contributed a piece to STEPZ, but I did not know she had published a new text under her Urban Gerbil imprint. That text is Darrant Hinisco’s Twentysix Psychogeography Stations.
I was browsing in Orbis Books, an antiquarian bookshop in a little-visited Southampton sidestreet. Among the stark shadows, surprising angles and dusty grey light that make the shop’s interior resemble a German Expressionist film set I noticed Hinisco’s little artist’s book. Being a longtime admirer of Ed Ruscha, the pop artist after whose groundbreaking Twentysix Gasoline Stations Hinisco’s work is patterned, I picked it up from Mr. Orbis’s desk. He peered at me and told me he had perused Twentysix Psychogeography Stations. ‘It has something of the hauntological about its images,’ he said in a cracked and ancient voice. He looked at me meaningfully over the rims of his half-moon spectacles. ‘It appeals to me as a believer in the importance of synchronicity in human affairs.’ I had heard Mr Orbis’s gnomic pronouncements on many an occasion, being a regular customer of his peculiar little shop, and therefore expected something weird. I opened the book to find that my friend Tina had produced it. I must have given away my surprise, for Mr Orbis chuckled and said, ‘Perhaps there is even something magical about it.’ Coincidence or a visitation from the weird? Either way, you couldn’t make it up.
In 1963 the pop artist Ed Ruscha created Twentysix Gasoline Stations, a pioneering artist’s book documenting his journey across the United States from Los Angeles to Oklahoma City. During the trip he photographed 26 service stations, beginning in L.A. and finishing in Groom, Texas. Each monochrome image is captioned with its location and brand; there is no other text.
Twentysix Gasoline Stations, Ed Ruscha
Twentysix Psychogeography Stations is a playfully complicated reincarnation of Ruscha’s piece. Where his images are a desolate yet romantic record of a single journey, a drift of the automotive rather than ambulatory kind, simultaneously a literal and toneless reproduction of mass culture imagery and a downbeat celebration of Americana, Hinisco’s collection of images spans several decades and two continents, and problematises artistic representation.
Twentysix Psychogeography Stations is not clearly autobiographical. Indeed the author of the photographs seems to be absent, non-existent. The camera’s eye is detached from the physical, bereft of exterior context. Defamiliarisation is sharpened by the manipulation of photographic effects. Each station is captured within the lens’s paradigm, a percept floating between being and becoming, finally set adrift in a stream of conceptual possibilities within each observer’s imagination. The photographer is not there; only the eye of the beholder’s mind has an ontological status, however numinous.
Yet interpretation is possible. Each station has a caption: not a bald label of surface description but a suggestion, a joke here, a pointed comment there. Brownfield, Somewhere Near You 2015 implies a politics and economy tied up with the problems of new builds, environmental complications, homelessness, property bubbles. The Lack, Leeds 2012 is a fragment of a deconstructed brick archway through which a scrubby bit of heath is visible; but who can say what this represents? There is no metaphysics of presence, simply an unanchored set of signs divorced from any diachronic or synchronic context. Next to it is The Supplement, Leeds 2012. Again the image, a bit of broken wall encircling a pipe outlet, is adrift, but the caption invites comparison with The Lack, functioning as a trace in a possible binary of ‘anywhere/here’. Some images are labelled simply as ‘the North’, making a joke about regional stereotyping recognisable to anybody steeped in British culture, invoking clichés of whippets, rickets and trouble at t’mill. Two lomographically inspired photographs, The Tourist’s Gaze 1, Halifax 2014 and The Tourist’s Gaze 2, Istanbul 2013 mirror each other in ironic commentary on the psychogeographical critique of tourism and heritage. Fun and games with signs and wonders.
There is another significant difference – or rather I should say différance – between the two books. Gasoline Stations constructs a syntagm of images that support each other in the production of meaning. The observer feels that these pictures are representations of a physical reality out there somewhere, even though the photographs are clearly arranged for artistic purposes – indeed because they are arranged. Meaning is presented as more or less stable. Psychogeography Stations is the supplement to it, upsetting its ontological stability, usurping its ‘reality’ by functioning as its binary in a representation/simulacrum opposition. Psychogeography Stations, by destabilising interpretation, presents a simulacrum of its predecessor (this is reinforced by the identical cover design), making uncertain the concept of journey by reflecting the underlying form of Gasoline Stations, and subverts its own representation of ‘reality’ via the precession of signs. Meaning is thus deferred endlessly through the mutual simulacricity of the two books as they reciprocally unmake-remake themselves through indissoluable deconstructions. Twentysix Psychogeography Stations is a representation of a simulacrum, a travel in hyper-hyperreality, as real and unreal as anything in the postmodern hall of infinitely reflecting mirrors.
Twentysix Gasoline Stations – original cover design
Humour and seriousness play off against each other in this manner throughout the book. Are we supposed to read these images in particular ways? Should we or should we not take the captions seriously? Is this art or polemic? Is it consciously presented as an undecidable, inviting us to deconstruct our interpretations, or is it just a random collocation of interesting photographs? Maybe Twentysix Psychogeography Stations is all of these things.
Is any of this real? Is it all just a joke? Don’t ask me.
In the tradition of Dieter Roth, Fluxus, the Russian Formalists and the Futurists, Twentysix Psychogeography Stations extends the codex form, creating an artefact beyond literature and photography, by introducing further material in the form of a short explanatory note by Hinisco on the publisher’s blog. I must say, though, that why this was done is a puzzle.
So this is a postmodern take on a central form of modernist cultural intervention, possibly a ludibrium, possibly a serious exposition of Derridean and Deleuzean theoretical tropes, possibly an interrogation of simulacricity or possibly a confusing and amusing play of absence and presence and jumbled graphemes.
Oh, and the pictures are nice too.
Twentysix Psychogeography Stations is published by Urban Gerbil: