Isidore Isou, Hypergraphie, polylogue, 1964
Maybe you collided with a lamppost or said goodbye to someone for the last time, or perhaps you fortuitously discovered a £50 note. Through the simple act of passing through a place, the memory instantly surfaces, whether welcome or not.
Sometimes the associations are so strong, as in the case of trauma, that the person will do everything in their power to avoid returning to the place where the event occurred, for fear of reliving their trauma.
As Rebecca Solnit writes in her book A Field Guide to Getting Lost (2005), places become enmeshed with our identity: “Perhaps it’s that you can’t go back in time, but you can return to the scenes of a love, of a crime, of happiness, and of fatal decision; the places are what remain, and are what you can possess, are what is immortal. They become the tangible landscape of memory, the places that made you and in some way you too become them.”
Stanley Brouwn, This Way Brouwn, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1963
Though we often think of our consciousness as being entirely within us, the mind also relies on structures outside the body to help us think. Let’s, if you will, imagine a spider:
Seemingly idle, she sits in the centre of her web. Like a labyrinth, concentric lines extend outwards from her static, suspended body. Yet beneath this passive exterior, she’s tugging and loosening strands of her silk net, actively manipulating it in subtle ways. In fact, according to new research, spiders don’t just use their webs to sense with, they use them to think.
Areas where the web is taut signal where exactly she’s focusing attention – and if the web is cut or broken, she immediately recalibrates. According to researcher Hilton Japyassú, it’s as if the already-built portions of the web are reminders, or parts of external memory. Cutting the web is equivalent to performing a spider lobotomy.
Andre Breton, Landscape, 1933
The reason for this spider detour is that this idea of extended cognition might partly be translated to humans and the way we navigate our own surroundings. Whether consciously or not, we’re constantly responding and reacting to our external environments.
The cities we inhabit are scribbled with the ultraviolet ink of our memories, desires and regrets only visible to us, just as they’re scored with the familiar paths that we tread. Imagine what your own internal map of your city or neighbourhood would look like. How often do you venture off the beaten track? How often do you walk purely for the sake of walking? How deep into the city does your curiosity take you?