A New Way of Walking

Artist-explorers called psychogeographers are changing the way we experience the city

In May, a few dozen conventioneers descended upon New York City for the second annual Psy.Geo.Conflux. But they didn't trade business cards over Salisbury steak at a Holiday Inn -- the city itself served as their conference room. Psy.Geo.Conflux gathered artists, writers, urban adventurers, and others from around the world who are interested in "psychogeography," a slightly stuffy term that's been applied to a whole toy box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities. Psychogeography includes just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape.

A duo of artists from Copenhagen led participants on a tour of the city -- using a map of Copenhagen instead of New York. D. Jean Hester from Los Angeles hung posters and magic markers in public places soliciting answers to questions like "What smell reminds you of home?" and "Where were you the last time you cried?" Another conferee asked his fellows to perform "reverse shoplifting" by placing subtly redesigned products on the shelves of area grocery stores.

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