We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot
I recently attended a workshop given by Dr. Rebecca Duclos, titled Bibliodérive: Uncovering Non-linear and Radical Forms of Research organized by The Foreman Art Gallery. Rebecca’s experience as an artist, art historian and curator informed her research lovingly titled The Compulsive Browse. Her work delves into “what library scientists call the ‘information-seeking behaviors’ of artists.”
As student and artist, I was intrigued and then delighted to discover a new vocabulary for the type of research I am currently steeped in. My work in creativity and spirituality is influenced by pilgrimage this semester – how an intentional art practice can allow us to listen more intuitively and see with the “eyes of the heart” and how pilgrimage to the soul can bring us to that spot. The dérive is a special kind of journey into a known territory, with an allowance for and expectation of a, as yet unknown connection. The discovery of the dérive serendipitously offers a new perspective and possibly a rich layer to my work.
A Little History
ONE OF THE BASIC situationist practices is the dérive [literally: “drifting”], a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll….
One can dérive alone, but all indications are that the most fruitful numerical arrangement consists of several small groups of two or three people who have reached the same level of awareness, since cross-checking these different groups’ impressions makes it possible to arrive at more objective conclusions. It is preferable for the composition of these groups to change from one dérive to another….
The average duration of a dérive is one day, considered as the time between two periods of sleep….
But more importantly, a dérive often takes place within a deliberately limited period of a few hours, or even fortuitously during fairly brief moments; or it may last for several days without interruption. In spite of the cessations imposed by the need for sleep, certain dérives of a sufficient intensity have been sustained for three or four days, or even longer….
Nine of us gather in the Old Library of Bishop’s University. This beautiful room, with a wood-paneled, vaulted ceiling is home to the university’s archives and special collections. Because the goal of the workshop is to offer “an alternative, library- and archive-based investigatory strategy designed specifically to unhinge participants from reaching expected research outcomes,” the Old Library delivers a wealth of possibility.
In a dérive, participants drift through a city, “those centers of possibilities and meanings” according to Dubord. Rebecca illustrates how maps of cities and floor plans of libraries share grid-like similarity. We all have our favourite city neighbourhoods and hangouts and for the student and researcher, sections of a library can engender that same sense of familiarity. For a Bibliodérive, which “emphasizes creative practice as a form of research and is meant to generate spontaneous curiosity and encourage random connection-making,” our group of nine begins by choosing a common start-point – any spiral bound book. We all rise and drift through the library in search of the spiral bound book that will begin our own 30-minute bibliodérive. Each person wanders through the stacks picking up maps and books, old newspapers and literary journals, whatever calls their attention, to reflect upon them and intuit towards the next connection and the next.
In my life, most often in a bookstore, but also libraries, I have arrived with purpose to find a specific book only to be drawn to another unanticipated discovery that spontaneously comes into view and then informs or influences my original quest. Artists’ way of influencing their artistic practice or knowledge of a period of art, a specific artist or a method of art production or musical arrangement, is naturally inclined toward sources other than books. Librarians love the challenge artists can bring to research, says Rebecca, “like only wanting to see maps with red writing.” I have made use of documentary and mainstream film, the internet, radio interviews, workshops and gallery and museum exhibits for my study.
After 30 minutes, we reassemble to share our discoveries. The original spiral-bound book I found was on teaching and schoolhouses in the early 1900s. My grandmother was a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse until she married. The next book I moved to was a small paper real estate brochure, from the same period, listing farm parcels for sale and encouraging Montreal city-dwellers (men) to buy a piece of the rural countryside for their well-being and self-sufficiency. The sticker in the front of the brochure tells me that it had been donated to the library by my grandfather, P.H. Scowen, as part of a larger collection of historical books he bequeathed. Next up, a bound copy of the university newspapers from 1950s which had advertisements from businesses that were still in operation today as well as names of family and friends from my past – so my bibliodérive, turned out to be personal. All the other participants found little jewels for themselves and the evening was a glimpse into a new way of research and thinking.
In the future I wonder how I can incorporate the dérive into my life more often. What unexpected nuggets can be unearthed as I go along my regular daily path with new eyes? What are the similarities of a pilgrimage and a derive? What are the differences? How can a dérive practice influence an art practice beyond research?