Dérive and Situationism

In 1956 Guy Debord put forward the “Theory of Dérive,” which he defined as an experimental mode of behaviour linked to the behaviour of urban society. It was a technique in which the individual in an unplanned journey through a landscape, often urban, and “let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.” The goal of a Dérive is to study the psychogeographical terrain of the landscape, leading to the potential creation of “Situations.”

Situations were to result in liberation from the pervasive alienation of modern life. In other words, it allowed the individual to experience their surroundings without being the impact of the psychological commercial veneer that often obscures our reality. Although the concepts were developed for political purposes, they were widely used in the art world. It also broadened the use of Flâneuring that artists had adapted like Virginia Woolf at the turn of the last century. It leads to interdisciplinary art events and “art happenings” around 1959, the forerunner of performance art. Performance art in the 1970s emerged in Vancouver, making photography and video arts key to making a record of these interdisciplinary performances done by one or a small number of people.

Funeral Procession for the Birks Building

The Birks Building Funeral is an example of performance art at this time. It was a collaboration between the group of Architectural and Fine Arts Students, among many others. It began with a funeral procession lead by Evelyn Roth’s Video creatures and followed by caskets carried by architecture students with black tears on their cheeks; it began at the Vancouver Art Gallery at Georgia and Thurlow. As the police escorted the group up Georgia Street, the funeral band played a sombre dirge.

When the group reached the building, which was now under demolition, Reverend Jake Kent began his officiating; as the wreaths were laid at the building, the band played. The video creatures began putting hexes on the new buildings across the building street. Angus McIntyre recorded the performance.

When you look at the experience of Martha Cooper, who turned down corporate work to follow street art and graffiti in a Dérive fashion, these Dérives lead to situationism where she became part of the street performances and artwork she was photographing. It became a lifelong passion that had a large influence on city cultures around the world.

The following is a trailer for a movie that tracks her history through her career, and how she followed her instincts which lead to her unusual career.

She like many other artist and photographers have used either consciously or unconsciously this method to make photographs, to develop their style and create shows. This is exactly how Fred Herzog created his canon of work, which like Cooper, allowed him to develop a unique style of photography.

Personally, the process is important, as it allows me to merge into my surroundings with the camera and leads me towards a subject matter I might not have considered or understood without this process. This process allows the interplay between an instinctive part of my mind to react to my psychogeographical surroundings and leads me toward new ideas and acts of creation.


Artist in Early 70’s at UBC and Western Front

UBC Fine Art Department 1970
UBC Fine Arts 1973

UBC Fine Arts 1974

Founding Members of the Western Front