I meet Morag at the central station of Manchester. Referred to me by an Internet stranger, all I really know of Morag is that she is involved in the world of psychogeography, a loosely defined type of practice that challenges the interaction of the mind with physical space.

She is short, cheerful and colourful, both in personality and appearance, with a flurry of brightly coloured clothes and various badges. Her hair is a bright, vibrant purple.

Morag Loitering With Intent

We’re going to go to a place called Cornerhouse, she tells me, and we set off. In a few hours, her friend who works here will finish up and they’ll go together to a talk by Ian Sinclair, an author and psychogeographer (though recently he’s retired the term in relation to his own work).

Morag tells stories of Manchester while we walk. She’s fascinated by the city under the surface, all the stories of the battles for equality and justice that have played out on these streets. Her psychogeography serves a great many purposes, but one of those is to connect locals to the lesser known histories of the area. In particular, she has a keen eye for social justice and holds anarchist associations.

Her interest in psychogeography came before she was even familiar with the term. A man who took her out for a date introduced her to it.

“We never even snogged and didn’t stay in touch, but I guess I did find this much more important thing,” she says.

Morag walks slowly. It’s clear that she has some difficulty in walking, something she alludes to later. A homeless man calls out to us as we pass by, asking for change. Morag doesn’t give any, but she doesn’t ignore him either. She looks him in the eye, smiles warmly and greets him as we pass.

When we sit she opens her bag. She has a number of small gifts for me.

One is a postcard. The front features an image of a heart drawn over the top of a map.

‘Draw a heart on a map’, it suggests. ‘Follow the line, try to stay true. How do you feel as you walk? What can you see? Who is missing? Can the city touch you? Will you fall in love on the streets?’

I flip the card. The back holds a description of Morag’s group.

‘The LRM (Loiterers Resistance Movement) is a Manchester-based collective of artists and activists interested in psychogeography, public space and the hidden stories of the city.

‘We can’t agree on what psychogeography means but we all like plants growing out the side of buildings, looking at things from new angles, radical history, drinking tea and getting lost; having fun and feeling like a tourist in your home town.’

The collective consists of Morag and “whoever turns up on the day”.

“Some months it’s just me and some months we get 80 people; that’s rare, that’s only happened once. The average is between 15 and 30.”

She describes the LRM as a free floating community. People don’t tend to show up every month like clockwork, but it’s also rare to only see a face once.

Morag gives me another piece, this time of glossy cardboard, labelled ‘CCTV bingo’. It’s a game she’s been playing for a while to explore ideas of surveillance. You find a camera, then and you follow its gaze until you find another.

“It basically makes everyone paranoid for about an hour afterwards, so no-one’s actually finished the thing.”

The back page is a bingo themed variation of the game. ‘Pretty Looking Camera’, says one space. ‘Privately Owned Camera’, ‘Camera That Looks like a Spaceship or Alien Technology’, ‘Shiny Camera with Spikes on’, ‘Subverted Camera’, ‘Camera with a Bird Sat on it (Bonus if it is an Eagle)’.

She passes a booklet towards me. “This is a bit manky actually. It’s been in my bag a long time!” she says. The booklet is called Manchester’s Modern Heroines. The Loiterers Resistance Movement is listed as a contributor.

“I have two articles in it. The one about Marie Stopes kind of sums up one of the reasons I do what I do, because I like to confuse and confound people. Everyone thinks she’s great, but actually she’s a bit of a Nazi.”

Stopes is revered for her role in pioneering the promotion of and the right for access to information on birth control for women, with many modern family planning organisations bearing her name. Underneath this is her lesser-known promotion of eugenics and support of the Nazi regime. For Morag, whose work serves to dig beneath the façade of the city to the hidden histories buried within, there is a clear appeal to taking on such a subject.

Along with documentary maker Olive Shapley, sculptor Mitzi Cunliffe, pilot Winifred Brown and others, the booklet tells the little-known stories of Manchester women. Morag contributed another article in the book about one of her idols, professor of geography Doreen Massey, whose ideas of space have influenced her own practice of psychogeography.

Massey explores space in detail, challenging ideas of space as static and fixed. Instead she sees space as dynamic, multifaceted and understood through human trajectory.

“And it’s about this idea that we’ve almost over-privileged history in a way when we think about space,” Morag adds. “Time is really important, but space is important as well, and they kind of intersect to make where we are.”

Morag had the chance to meet Massey, an experience she likened to if she’d met Boy George as a 12-year-old.

“Interestingly, she hates psychogeography,” Morag says. “Which makes me pleased in a way, because I don’t just follow. I don’t like the idea of idols and not questioning your heroes, so I really like the fact that her work has really influenced me, but the thing that I do the most, she really doesn’t like.”

LRM postcard

As stated on the first postcard, the Loiterers Resistance Movement go for a wander on the first Sunday of each month. These take various forms. Often they go for a dérive, an ‘aimless wander’ popularised by early French groups such as the Situationist Internationale. For a group of university art students, Morag dressed up as a hungover interpretation of the Greek goddess of discord, Eris.

“We started the walk by casting a circle of strong lager around us for protection. Then leaving a trail behind so we could find our way back to where we started. We just talked a lot about chaos and random stuff, and the spaces between worlds and how we relate to deities or not, how you choose your religion and reality, linking it into sexuality and deviance and how we traverse life.”

Other walks could be guided by other means, such as dice or toy animals being thrown and followed. One ‘resistance’ theme’s wander was enhanced with musical accompaniment.

“It is about that synergy, that chaos and trying to see the city differently, because there are so many layers to what makes it a city. I’m interested in how we transform space, even if only really temporarily, because it can get quite boring and I want to be thinking about the other stories and the way we can make it [Manchester] a kind of place of wonder and enchantment.”

***

“To me, psychogeography is this place where art and politics and serendipity and life kind of intersect, and it’s sort of in the middle, but it’s also nowhere, because you can do whatever you want with it,” Morag says. It’s an inspiring sentiment that has echoes in the way stories have influenced her current path. Because of her difficulty walking, it was her stories and humour that she used to make friends.

“I was like, ‘Oh, there’s ghosts in that house’. I made this whole story up about these children being buried under that tree. And everyone knew I lived on that street.”

The story spread like wildfire. It had ‘gone viral’ before going viral was part of the lexicon. A school assembly was held to address the number of kids refusing to walk to school via the ‘haunted’ house. Morag sat at the assembly, with a suspicion she was to blame, but at the same time indulging the sense that just maybe it was real after all.

Then severe weather hit, and the neighbourhood came out to help the new residents, whose stuff had blown away. It turned out they were “the loveliest old couple” who had fled persecution in Burma and were struggling to make friends. Feeling guilty, Morag confessed to her stories, thinking she’d be in trouble. Instead, the man, a journalist, thought it was hilarious and encouraged Morag to begin writing.

“My mum died about three months later and they really took me in and used to make me supper. They were lovely. But I remember that power of stories. It’s probably still my greatest achievement. I haven’t been back for years, but I really think, maybe in my fantasy world, there were still children scared of that house.”

We continue to talk on the way to Ian Sinclair’s presentation. Morag’s current storytelling is in the drier format of academic writing. She tries to cut past the academia to remember what it’s all about: “wandering around and seeing stuff and feeling stuff.”

After Sinclair’s talk, Morag walks me back to my station. It’s not quite a dérive but it’s nice. We walk back through the darkened streets, under big concrete walls coloured with rich and vibrant graffiti, past an open door revealing a room full of dive gear, where cars echo in the distance and small plants rebel against the cracked concrete below. The end of this trail is my train station, and the journey continues.

The LRM meet on the first Sunday of every month. This year they are curating an exhibition at the People’s History Museum, exploring psychogeography, public space and walking.

nowhere-fest.blogspot.co.uk
Facebook: search ‘
The Loiterers Resistance Movement
@thelrm

Brenton Clutterbuck