Amsterdam / Mapping the city / City Art Museum


A series of posts relating to the exhibition Mapping the city in the City Art Museum in Amsterdam

Part #2: the dérive. (click here for part #1: the exhibition)

One of my favourite subjects the exhibition takes up is the dérive. In short, an instruction for a city-stroll in which the itinerary is determined by the participants’ intuitive response to the terrain.
What interests me from an artistic point of view is the double meaning of the dérive. In the situationistic sense it means ‘to wander off‘, however, it could also be understood as a ‘thing that leads to another’ (as in English, to derive out off…). Thus, when combined, the dérive could be interpreted as a method that leads to sudden or unexpected insights, by means of wandering off.

It reminds me of the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, who defined knowledge not as given facts, but rather as an ongoing process of “becoming’. To study this process, Deleuze says, we shouldn’t ask the question ‘What?’, but instead questions such as ‘Where?’, ‘Who?’, ‘When?’ and ‘How?’. Which brings me back to the dérive, a method that allows you to directly respond to the terrain and put these questions into practice.

“When you are walking, you are aware or awake to everything that happens in your peripheral vision, the little incidents, smells, images, sounds…”
– Francis Alÿs

In the exhibition we see some works of Francis Alÿs who applies these Deleuzean methods in his work. Mexico City has been the setting for several walking performances, one of which is shown in the exhibition. Alÿs pushed a huge melting ice cube through the streets of the city, walked around with magnatic shoes that gather all metal garbage, drags a drumstick along the surface of city fences and walks around with a gun in his hand until he gets arrested. All these works explore the urban terrain, trigger events and encounters and ultimately reveal the dynamics and diversity of Mexico City.

More on Francis Alÿs here and here.

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