Proteoscope » migration The Blog of Proteus Gowanus Thu, 12 Nov 2015 16:51:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 From the Bureau of Unknown Destinations: How to Unknow Sat, 17 Mar 2012 20:21:01 +0000 It’s ideal to start from a central station or one that has as many lines as possible. Your goal is to assign yourself a destination in a way that keeps it a surprise.  Here are a few ways you might go about doing that. adjust, remix, & invent as you desire.

All of these techniques work best when you take the results seriously. What if your destination is a place you’ve been before? Sometimes the familiar is the most unknown. What if you’re afraid it will be a boring place? Unbore it. Let it unbore you. What if you’d rather go to the next stop on the line, or the last, or someplace you have a yen for? You can go on an ordinary excursion at any time—this is your chance to unknow.

Yes, it’s a kind of game. So play hard.

1) Shuffle up

If your station offers free printed timetables (as those in new york do), gather them all up, shuffle, and pick one randomly.  Decide in advance how to choose among the destinations on the timetable (go all the way to the end of the line, or halfway there, or roll a die for the number of stops you’ll go). With some extra preparation time, you can gather the names of all the destinations that take one to three hours of travel time and write them onto index cards (or the blank cards in this kit).  You and your friends can use these cards for virtually endless adventures.

2) Timing the Timetables

Choose an exact time you want to arrive at your destination. Search all the available timetables for the destination which most precisely matches your arrival time.  Alternately, choose an exact length of travel, and match your destination to that (this requires a bit more figuring).

3) The Right Hand Doesn’t Know what the Left Hand is Doing

Unfold a transportation map, or walk up to one in the station. Avert your eyes and let your left hand sweep across the map until it finds a spot.  Write down the destination nearest to your left index finger.  This, of course, is a classic.

4) The Easy Unknown

If you’re not all that familiar with the city you’re in, almost any destination will be unknown.  Go to the station and choose by whimsical criteria. Choose a place by its evocative name (Valhalla, or Babylon, for instance, if you happen to be starting from New York), or take the first train that’s leaving and decide how long you’ll stay aboard, or follow a passenger with an interesting hat.

5) The Budget Unknown

If train travel is beyond your means at the moment, ordinary bus and subway trips offer plenty of unknown.  Add ferries into the mix if you have them. Simply pick the destination you know least about or adapt one of the other methods above. Or set out on foot using psychogeographical systems: navigate one city using a map from another, draw a diagram or picture on a map and try to walk it, follow a particular color, going from red to red to red all afternoon (see appendix 3).

6) A Little Help from Your Friends

Go to the station with one or more friends, agreeing to travel to separate destinations.  Have each person choose a destination they know nothing about, then trade destinations with each other, creating a double layer of the unknown. Or make a chain with your friends, paying forward: buy a ticket for one friend who will then buy a ticket for another, and so on.

7) Destination Party

Gather a list of all the destinations the right distance away.  Gather timetables for all those destinations (as many copies of the timetables as you have destinations). Gather blank notebooks, or materials to make them from recycled paper. Gather cards for the names of destinations. Gather big envelopes. Get together with friends over pizza or mexican food and fill an envelope for each destination. Include a card with the destination, a timetable, a notebook.  Seal the envelopes and distribute however you like.  Feel free to adapt this according to your own ideas and desires.

–Sal Randolph, Artist-In-Residence

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Unknown Destination Kits Are Here Sat, 17 Mar 2012 19:07:12 +0000 The Bureau of Unknown Destinations’ “Psychogeographic Destination Kits” are ready at last. Having given away over a hundred rail trips to the adventurous, The Bureau now expands operations by giving travelers the means to unknow their own destinations. Everyone is invited to download a kit and test it out.

The Psychogeographic Destination Kit is offered as a provocation to potential voyagers, an invitation to take a day, get on a train, and go someplace you know nothing about. The kit offers a variety of methods of unknowing, some thoughts about why unknow, and a handy foldable mini-notebook to use in recording your experience. For those departing from the Bureau’s base in New York, there’s a pre-printed set of destination cards to play with. For others, a blank set to fill in and work from.

Unknowing your destination is an art form that anyone can practice. You are the author, the architect, the composer of your experience.

The kit is made available in the form of a downloadable pdf and creative commons licensed. Anyone using the kit is invited to copy, share, and adapt it freely, and to send their findings back to the Bureau to contribute to the ongoing documentation of the project.

Download at

— Sal Randolph, Artist-In-Residence

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The Wayfarers: Films on Solitary Migration Mon, 12 Mar 2012 15:10:24 +0000 On Tuesday evening, Proteus Gowanus featured three filmmakers in our screening, “The Wayfarers: Films on Solitary Migration“, part of the ongoing series based on Proteus’ year-long theme of Migration. All three films documented the diverse American landscape in their own way while revealing the directors’ intentions for embarking on their trips.

Kevin Gallagher’s piece about his hike through the Appalachian Trail evoked the idyllic, and at times hypnotic, feeling of traveling through the natural world on foot. While more of a structural film than the others, Kevin’s piece achieved a lot without saying much.

Bill Brown journeyed north from the Carolinas to present “The Other Side” on 16mm film,  which documented his trip along the U.S. border with Mexico. Vanessa Renwick’s film “Crowdog” recounted a barefoot hitchhike she took around the States, at one point stopping to visit a Native American reservation in North Dakota. Both films pondered what means to be an outsider looking in on such distinct regions. Both filmmakers meditated on their experiences through narration, and both visited American landscapes where borders are part of an intense political and cultural environment.

During the post-screening discussion, “The Other Side” sparked a conversation about first-person cinema with a political viewpoint, and whether the filmmaker has a responsibility to be conscious of his or her own presence. In the end, Bill’s film had many layers of migratory imagery, including borderlines, meandering rivers, tracker trailers,and ultimately illegal immigrants. There was a lot to dissect, but surely not enough time to do it in one discussion.

Proteus would like to thank the filmmakers for submitting their work, and Bill Brown for appearing in person with his film.

The next screening in the series will be on Tuesday, April 3rd.

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Borderland Crossings & Liminal Zones with Duke Riley Tue, 13 Dec 2011 19:33:37 +0000 On November 14, Proteus Gowanus hosted a talk by artist Duke Riley. This Migration event was held in conjunction with Portland State University’s Art and Social Practice program. For these two groups of interest, Duke chose to speak in depth about the research and process of two of recent works, “Reclaiming the Lost Kingdom of Laird” and “An Invitation to Lubberland”. Each takes a look at a migratory/marginalized community and involved the artist in personally transgressing property boundaries.

Duke Riley at Proteus Gowanus

Duke recounted that while surveying the Delaware River for an upcoming project in Philadelphia, he became interested in a tiny piece of land known as Petty’s Island. Subsequent research into its history formed the basis for his work on “Reclaiming the Lost Kingdom of Laird”. The back-story goes something like this: Petty’s island was once in fact the tiny dominion of its own self-proclaimed king: an Irish immigrant and pig farmer named Ralston Laird. Laird, his offspring, and a number of other immigrants he had welcomed to the island were forced out in the early part of the 20th century to make room for a shipbuilding yard. Years later the island was obtained by the Venezuelan oil giant Citgo for use as a storage facility. Duke’s artistic activities (later displayed at the Philadelphia Historical Society) centered on preserving the legacy of Laird’s territory and included illegal kayak based crossings to retrieve artifacts and the creation of a large mural on top of one of the Citgo containers. He also researched the lineage of King Ralston, contacted surviving parties, and made a series of commemorative plates representing them. Finally he drafted an open letter to Hugo Chavez to demand a monument to the king and educational programming for the city’s deaf (four of Laird’s daughters were deaf) on the island.

Plates commemorating Laird's descendants

For “Invitation to Lubberland”, Duke examined the lives of Cleveland’s historical itinerant population, using John McCook “hobo census” conducted at the end of the 19th century as a starting point. In an effort to connect the vestiges of this culture back to the present day he hopped freight trains and kayaked the underground path of a river long since subsumed by the expanding city’s sewage system. The museum show that came out of these activities included art related to hobo crafts and anti-government demonstrations of the era. It even included a cigarette tree mosaic (made from real cigarettes) inspired by Harry McClintock’s classic American bum lifestyle song “Big Rock Candy Mountain”. This tune– being based on an old sea chanty– also became a way to connect the landlocked study to Riley’s love for the nautical experience.

Listen to Harry McClintock’s Big Rock Candy Mountain

The historical claims to personal sovereignty by the socially liminal are at the center of both of these works. “Reclaiming the Lost Kingdom of Laird” begins with the individual’s story. The island form has the clearest of borders. And a small island, that resists the formation of internal boundary lines, is perhaps the most conceptually bite-sized of parcels. It is “individual”, and it can be equated with the individual person (“no man is an island” but we are all “islands in the stream”). The small piece of land and its unfortunate exiled king raise questions then about how land rights are conceived, how they are enforced through eminent domain and ultimately how they are pictured within the context of human rights in general. Even the small and dirty Petty’s Island is framed as a contest and nexus of private, state, city, and national interest.

The cultural nomads of “Lubberland” extend these concerns and point to a way of never becoming attached to the land. During the Great Depression of the ‘30s a full 30% of the population were itinerant and more hobos than ever gathered in niches of Cleveland. This portrait is not tied to a miscellaneous case of errantry or squatting, but an entirely alternative approach to the land-ownership-based social system. The Rock Candy Mountain portrayed in McClintock’s song presents an array of shared signs framed as lucky circumstances (a couple of free soft boiled eggs, a lack of snow…). It is ironic in that the mountain is a static goal, but what it promises is an easy way to keep going!

Duke refers to himself as a patriot, and this may be related to his statement at the gathering that– by making a practice of illegal crossings– he attempts to put pressure on the existing rules and codes (perhaps even to expand a concept of democracy). If nomads can be posed as complementary to the sedentary (the bringers of ideas, exchange, organic communications) one wonders what the next social nomad movement of the American landscape could look like…

-Dillon de Give, artist and Proteus collaborator

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The Opening Reception Was Jammed Tue, 20 Sep 2011 18:28:51 +0000 Last weekend’s Migration year opening reception – and end-of-summer opening of Reanimation Library – was jammed.  Wall-to-wall people made it hard to view the work of our 15 contributors, as well as the many migration-related books and artifacts. So we hope you’ll return during regular gallery hours for a quiet study of what’s on hand.

Lado Pochkhua, Artist-In-Residence, opened the doors to his onsite project, The Anatomy of Georgian Melancholy, about his ten years in a settlement of Georgian refugees from Abkhazia. Many guests brought their own stories of refugee and immigrant life. Ami Yamasaki’s Voices-Feather Composition, after two weeks of ceaseless cutting and pasting, was complete and she inaugurated it with a brief sonic performance, starting with the sound of feathers and layering sound on top of it for a mesmerizing experience. She’ll give a full performance at Proteus on September 29. Very beautiful.

There were some last minute additions to the Migration show: Eymund Diegel created a new installation for the Hall of the Gowanus, glass cubes filled with unearthed local garbage. Trash maps tracing the migrations of our leavings will follow soon along with an event exploring the Gowanus neighborhood’s number one industry: garbage. Proteus project-in-residence The Museum of Matches contributed a declassified CIA document describing the construction of a tunnel from West to East Berlin during the Cold War. And Nene Humphrey lent us several of her embroideries of drawings of brain tissue, an ongoing project exploring the brain mechanisms underlying our most intense emotions.

We’ll have more to say in Proteoscope about the many artists and books on display as the weeks and months unfold. Your own thoughts and comments are welcome.

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