Brian Holmes, “Drifting through the Grid: Psychogeography and Imperial Infrastructure”

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Brian Holmes’s “Drifting Through the Grid” is a manifesto for disobedience and spontaneity in an age of digital predictability. Updating the Situationist concept of “psychogeography,” Holmes adapts the idea of “drifting” around urban environments to “drifting through the grid” of contemporary media environments. “What would it really take to lose yourself in the abstract spaces of global circulation?” Holmes asks (18).

Holmes’ main rhetorical strategy is to polarize the “hyper-rationalist grid of Imperial infrastructure” with the Situationist practices of “unitary urbanism” and especially the “dérive,” a spontaneous journey through an urban landscape with the aim of producing a new aesthetic experience. Just as the Situationists “aimed to subvert the functionalist grids of modernist urban planning” (17), Holmes aims to subvert “Imperial infrastructures,” such as the Internet and the global positioning system, or “GPS” (21). With the term “Imperial infrastructures,” Holmes draws our attention to the expansion of these technologies from the military sector to the public sphere: “they are systems with strictly military origins, but which have been rapidly liberalized, so that broad sectors of civil society are integrated into their basic architecture. Everything depends on the liberalization” (ibid.). Basically, most people subject themselves to this grid as a form of security: you “target yourself for safety” (22).

For a way to combat these “Imperial infrastructures,” Holmes turns—as do many contemporary European media theorists—to alternative hacker projects and avant-garde artworks that exploit these infrastructures, including:

Ultimately, these projects and artworks represent a form of subverting the dominant ideology of “Imperial infrastructures.” In framing his critique of these infrastructure in terms of ideology, Holmes suggests a clear line of resistance. In spite of his insistence that the questions of social subversion and psychic deconditioning are wide open, unanswered, seemingly lost to our minds” (23), such a programmatic turn to the historical avant-garde might end up comprising the aims of playfulness and spontaneous discovery.


Holmes, Brian. “Drifting Through the Grid: Psychogeography and Imperial Infrastructure.” In Dataesthetics Reader: How to Do Things with Data, edited by Stephen Wright, 17-23. Zagreb: Grafički zavod Hrvatske, 2006.


As an aside, Holmes makes a surprising observation about the operations of synchronization that GPS depends on: “Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this satellite infrastructure is that in order for one’s location to be pinpointed, the clock in each personal receiver has to be exactly synchronized with the atomic clocks in orbit” (22).

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