Nearly two years since the start of production, I am happy to announce that my video article Urban Explorers, Quests for Myth, Mystery and Meaning has just been released in the journal Geography Compass (Volume 4, Issue 10, pages 1448–1461, October 2010). Below is the video article followed by an annotated script and short piece written to support the film. I welcome any feedback you might have on either.

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The desire for alternative options starts with disappointment and anxiety.
–Alan Rapp

We live a free life. Very few people can say that.
–Marc Explo

Stretching

Following from Rapp, where does disappointment start? Why did we have expectations to that lead to anxiety to begin with? Are disappointment and anxiety internally or externally imposed conditions? Finally, what is the organic link between urban exploration and infiltration?

In the course of the following visual spectacle, I present two important case studies: an exploration of a derelict London Tube station paired with a live infiltration of a number of Paris Metro stations sprinkled with a sugar coated topping of French cathedral brachiation. The link between these seemingly disperate case studies in time-wastery, I will suggest, is desire.

Fragments

Of Time

Less interesting

Our desire to seek ruins is as obvious as the motivations behind the expeditions. We seek them to find pieces of what was, was is, what could have been. The failure of planning, execution and participation found in this empty station is comical and sad but not necessarily disappointing. We assure ourselves that the only thing that could make the situation more amusing would be if a train were suddenly to pass though, disrupting our notions of what we thought we barely understood. By the time we leave, we are pretty sure something happened. We can see it on our skin, taste it in our teeth, wash it out of our clothes but the experience remains so ephemeral that to speak about it is almost blasphemy. The satisfaction that comes with that feeling is almost as wonderful as the peals of laughter that ring out from our throats as we leap from the back of the speeding train into the dark tunnels, drunk on the screams of platform perambulators who are sure that we are the demons they heard about on the 10 o’clock news.

The multiplication of the third rail

The eminent anthropologist Marc Augé is disappointed with our play space. Throughout his entire book on ‘non-places’, poor Augé is a victim of one postmodern monstrosity after another, striking out at remnants of what remains with a panicked grab, decrying the end of history, implying that there is no place for us in a world of machines, of mobility, of ‘urban concentrations, movements of population, and the multiplication of what we call “non-places”, in opposition to the sociological notion of place…”. But as Alastair Bonnett writes, this ‘sociological’ notion of place is was a false consciousness imposed by bureaucratic minds ‘colonized by the language of academia’ be begin with.

Your illusion

I contend that place is what you make it and the responsibility to make space viable, vibrant and interesting, the responsibility to create places of desire is only limited by our individual and collective capacities for love and the level of our energies devoted to giving a shit. As Sartre has taught us, since we all share in the same situation, we must embrace our awesome freedoms, deliberately rejecting any (false) promise of authoritative moral determination. Freedom is not given, it is obtained. I hear Marc Explo teaches a seminar on the rooftops of Paris with beer in hand on this very topic.

7.5%

My comments are not intended to be solely derogatory. I am not suggesting that a vision of life which is guided by another person’s ideals is inauthentic. Indeed we are all, to some degree or another, remixing, reusing, embracing, contesting and disputing all that has come before. Individuals that I quote, in speech and text, have quoted others before me, a lineage stretching back as far as communicative origins. This continuum of thought and energy should be celebrated with toasts to the heavens for the graces of wisdom. We have inherited more knowledge, more beauty, more potential, than any human beings who have come before. To suggest that that knowledge and the possibilities that cause fragmentation of self awareness are disappointing is in itself disappointing. Join the party Augé, I have a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau waiting. Make no mistake, it will be messy, it will be confusing, it will be the ruin and the construction site, Battersea Power Station and Heathrow Terminal 5. It will be the informal state of constant becoming but ‘to embrace the chaos is not to slide toward entropy but to emerge into an energy like the stars’.

Forming

Spontanous combustion

While we can all clearly see that within a capitalist system, the invitation to co-produce place often has a price or that the output of that production is expected to become commodified, we may choose to operate outside of that system. Maybe that operation requires giving up watching East Enders tonight. Maybe it requires operating at a loss. Maybe it means writing a shitty Ph.D. because you were in a sewer instead of resting up for the next wrestling match with Microsoft Word. Fuck it, people begin participating in informal modes of cultural production because they want human bonds and community to take precedence over outcome. People want becoming over being. People want the freedom of the present! ‘On the other hand, anyone trapped in the anemic and atomized everyday routine of our residential deserts might doubt that such determination could be found out there anymore. Reconnecting with such gestures, buried under years of normalized life, is the only practical means of not sinking down with the world, while we dream of an age that is equal to our passions.

Marinetti

As the Invisible Committee reminds us, the primary component of that freedom is not just enthusiasm but passion. And the passion for joy, for bonding, for shared experience and community goes beyond the specifics of the practice (read: UrbEx). The one thing ALL explorers of space share is a passion for life, ‘an exuberant and playful negation of the alienation and exclusion provoked through axiomatic consumeristic machinations.’ And here, we begin to see the contemporary critique of traditional notions of exploration in the rejection of the idea that only some can be involved or that a passion for adventure can only be satiated through grand international expeditions. Urban exploration teaches us that those stories, those adventures, are found in our backyards also – if you choose to chase them.

The Rabbit Hole

Follows no cardinals

If this sounds polemic, that’s because it is. I am tired of disappointment, resentment and critique being the only accepted modes of critical academic engagement. We do what we do because we love it. It produces nothing. It hurts no one. It endangers our lives. That is our choice and no one else’s. And in expectation of the showering critique, the next person who tells me that my happiness is subject to an economic audit can keep chewing on that corpse because my fingers are in my ears.

There's no such thing as ghosts!

Barthes writes that pleasure is continually disappointed, reduced and defeated, in favour of strong, noble values: Truth, Death, Progress, Struggle, etc. It seems that our society refuses (and ends up ignoring) bliss to such a point that it can produce only epistemologies of the law. Well if that’s the case then fuck the law. I never consented to it’s construction in the first place and I am pretty sure that democracy isn’t supposed to resemble a Mafia extortion scheme. But don’t take that as a threat, it is rather a populist invitation to playfully reinterpret what the state holds so sacred, it’s an invitation to critically and playfully engage with the humiliating notions of ‘morality’ and ‘progress’ that dehumanize, commodify and deterritorialize our places of occupation to create what Guy Debord called “an impotent utopia of pretensions and complicities.” We intend to end the humiliation of a sham democracy by resituating ‘strategic sites of power beyond the depersonalized representation of an impotent democracy and back into the multitude.’ Following Laurie Weeks’ Theory of Total Humiliation: “we don’t erect monolithic reified barriers against the humiliation; rather we welcome it, embrace it; then everyone wants to fuck us, for mysterious reasons.”

Fuck us

So that we come full circle here, what does an exploration of a derelict London Tube station paired wimh a live infiltration of a number of Paris Metro stations and some rogue climbing of outdated religious architecture have in common? The answer is desire. We desire, and take, opportunities to ‘slip into a paradoxical position between the “real “and “not-real” in that it incorporates “real” words, gestures, hopes and intentions, that are framed as “unreal” through playful context.’

_________________________

We play out of desire

Desire sprouts love

Love is like oxygen

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You give a man his daily bread so that he can be creative and he just goes to sleep; victorious a conqueror grows soft, a magnanimous man turns miser as he gains in wealth.    -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Are we at the top of the ladder or at the bottom of a new ladder?    -Silent Motion

Saddle up for

On our recent ProHobo trip into Europe, lovingly (if in the end somewhat flippantly) referred to as 3.0: ProhoBohemia, we pulled back from the infrastructural infiltrations that have become our daily grind here in London and went looking for ruins again. Coming back to ruins was like returning to a pleasant dream.

Magical realism

In our hired car, which we intended to push 3300 miles into Poland, our most ambitious trip to date, we cut through the corner of France as we have twice before and headed into Belgium. After a brief climb up a notable public building in a major capital city, we crept into an old train yard to spend the night. As you do.

Industrial nights

We woke up early full of enthusiasm and over the next week, we moved through Europe like a storm with an efficiency built over the course of three trips to the continent over the past year. We knew the sites we wanted to hit, we knew how to avoid security where necessary, we knew what to pack and, more importantly, what not to. We had, in fact, taken being temporary nomadic vagabonds to a whole new level. During the trip, we read passages from Tim Cresswell’s book The Tramp in America where he discusses the work of homeless-turned-Chicago-School-sociologist Ben Anderson. As we came to the realization that we could all likely keep this nomadic lifestyle going for a very long time (if not forever) I couldn’t help but think that we were working the other way around – there was a real possibility, is a real possibility that we could in fact drop it all and live like this indefinitely.

Probo

Looking for

Pure living

But the further East we went, the heavier our bourgeois baggage became. As we crossed the border into Poland, the car was filled with excited cheers quickly followed by confused murmurs. While the landscape here offered what we have come to expect from Europe – endless ruins – we found ourselves confronted with a place in which the relationship to derelict space was entirely different.

Secular

Imaginaries

Remembered

Here ruins were spaces not of bounded exclusion but of potential utilization. After driving for hours through a forest hunting for a soviet base called Keszwca Lesla, we arrived at 10pm to find rows of buildings, clearly Soviet-built, surrounding an undecipherable war memorial that looked like our standard fare with the addition of satellite dishes hanging off the sides of buildings. It seemed the local population here had turned this place into a summer holiday encampment after the collapse of the USSR and the abandonment of the base. Gangs of teenagers roamed the streets late at night in track suits and mullets, running in and out of the derelict buildings and bunkers. Inhabited buildings looked derelict, folding them right into the fabric of a lived landscape. There were no fences or security to be found, no rules, boundaries or exclusionary practices in evidence. It should have been paradise for us. Except that things felt different here.

Clearly

Something else

To be found

As we moved on from this site, we became more brazen, braving the sullen stares of thick-necked Polish men who could clearly throw us across a room to run in Soviet concrete blocks, shutters snapping. But what we captured in these places looked less like the western notions of the aesthetic sublime than we were accustomed to encountering and more like the war-ravaged Chechnyan ruins depicted in The 3 Rooms of Melancholia.

USSR

Afloat

No more

Site after site, I kept feeling that something was different here, something was missing here, but I couldn’t pinpoint it. It was something missing beyond a buoyant economy and door frames.

And then it hit me. It was nostalgia. As David Lowenthal writes, ‘nostalgia is memory with the pain removed.’ There wasn’t a hint of nostalgia to be found here. No one cared about stripping soviet blocks of all they were worth because they were still in pain here. It was probably, rather, a delicious catharsis to smash out those windows and excavate the rusting hunks of artillery from the ground.In the same way that we, in London, feel a need to write our own stories of places and to define our own boundaries for space, the Polish people who lived under communist control probably felt a need to assert their rights to newly reclaimed space by destroying the remnants of control that the Soviet Union has exerted over them for so many years. Like Scipio Africanis at the end of the 3rd Punic war, the only thing that would satisfy the pain of generations of struggle is to do everything possible to erase the memory of that pain, razing the buildings and sewing the Earth with salt.

The heritage manager in me is terrified by these ideas but the anthropologist and geographer in me tells me I have no right to dictate how others should interpret and interact with their places. We can’t know their memories; we can’t know their pain.

Pain

Lived

There a was a particular guilt that came with exploring Poland.  I think that guilt came from the clashing of different value systems in regards to derelict space. Perhaps it is an indication of a larger clash between capitalism and communism. Where east meets west, desire meets utility, nostalgia meets future promise and mobility meets placemaking. We all knew we brought the West with us and we all knew, deep down, that the social conditioning that resides in those templates can never be erased.

While we didn’t necessary find the ruins we were looking for in Poland, we did find a meeting point on that shifting frontier of Western values that is pushing its way inexorably East, met not with open arms but with suspicious stares. After what Poland has been through over the last 100 years, who can blame them?

Easterly

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Cavendish Crematorium

Posted by Bradley L. Garrett on Wednesday Jun 16, 2010 Under Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Geography, Psychogeography, Urban Exploration

The Silken Hotel wasn’t open yet. We were standing there at the hoarding, Silent Motion and I, with that jelly of a man in his yellow vest pointing his finger accusingly, shaking with rage in a kind of mild convulsion, the orbed camera behind him spinning around and zooming in on our faces, like an eyeball rolling back in a head, making the convulsion a complete yet disembodied visceral experience for this lamentably flabby being.

The sergeant arrived, blue lights painting the walls, tires screeching. He almost rolled out of his car “UrbEx huh? Yeah, we get your kind around here sometimes. Tell you what, see that boarded up building across the street there? Let’s see if you can get into that one!” We meekly accepted the challenge as they frantically tried to fix the zip ties on the Heras fencing we had snapped off in our aborted miniature vertical scramble.

Challenge Issued

Across the street, we found that this building, Cavendish House it was called, was boarded up exceptionally well, stone gargoyles on patrol in moody up-lighting, three stone Furies screaming insults at us as we hung from ledges over the road, tugging on widows.

Stoney stares

Furies

With a pop, a seal on one gave and Silent Motion swung it parallel to the floor. We dove through headfirst and when the window closed with a sharp bang, we were surrounded by silence. I crawled to the dirty pane on the other side of the room and peeked across the road. The sergeant was there, his belly still threatening to rip his utility vest in two. He was smiling, staring at the building and smiling. Creepy fuck.

Popped

Marauder

The exploration proceeded as we opened doors and windows for the next team of rogue adventurers, torches moving around like little bugs on walls looking for a hole to hide in. Silent motion found a generator running and hooked up to a small TV. He powered it up and we spent an hour watching an old Bollywood classic, a brief respite from the endless stairs. Room after room of blue and orange light comforted us behind the boarded up first floor. Unlikely to see, impossible to catch, invincibility ensued. Down or up? Up.

Dance music invoked

Creepy

The top of the first building (indeed we now realized there were three of these concrete monoliths, these plywooded Thatcherite government lumps of cement) had a roof that sat level with some office blocks. I peeked in the clean windows across, imaging the illicit affairs in office chairs that took place during our work hours, suits humping secretaries and capitalism. A blue church to our left looked like a plastic Disneyland air-filled jump house, replete with nostalgia for the abbey it was until Henry VIII seized it and ravaged it like a conquered Irish queen in the 16th Century.

Little things

Pink

The millennium eye approached us on the other side, that little monument we all love and love to say we hate. “Ride on that thing? Never!” Its millennium glow bounced off of the Thames, offering no apologies for its slow creep our direction. We did handstands, climbed radio antennae, pulled ourselves around in monkeyed feats of post-adolescent strength. We lost track of time. We didn’t care. Damn the horror of the night buses, we’ll ride ‘em!

The Furies descent

Eye

The lustful runs across the roof deteriorated eventually into a pink sky, and we knew that the time for morning coffee and a long walk to Elephant and Castle would soon be upon us. Time to go down. And down. And down. The building suddenly became distinctly subterranean.

Nuances of texture

It was wet here. It stunk like old dog, soaked in a summer-time sprinkler and shaking all over the children who uniquely appreciated the horrible musky shower, full of love. The empty corridors offered room for thought and made my stomach tense up, knot and twist, crying foul at the late (early?) hour. One turn revealed a large room with a safe, a thick door with twisty dials and an unsettling echo. We spun the lock, robbing the history from the place.

Sort of safe

The watery passage continued until we could stand it no longer, blistering feet soaking in the liquid filth. We went for the ProEx shot to cap off the night, twisted and intoxicated, drunk on our own success at pissing on every wall in this building. Lighting was essential, we decided, draining camera batteries and making film strips roll back on themselves in our multiple attempts to get it right.

Pr0 Shadows

Suddenly, the sharp slap of metal on tarmac stopped us cold. Voices. A quick retreat. How could it be, this UrbEx fortress infiltrated? The retreat continued into a side room where we sat, a gentle humming behind us. Suddenly, Silent Motion sprung up, hitting the hum with his torch and there is was – a meat grinder, working with no electricity to speak of, begging for fodder. I screamed a little, quickly covering my mouth to stifle the alarm, pride on the floor. The voices were closer now, finally clear enough to make out the distinct sound of someone saying “they’re over here.” I knew that voice.

Ground

We fled down the hallway once more, trying to keep the drips and splashes from reverberating, a considering how long the water ripples that announced our direction of departure would continue their hideous radial momentum. The smells of the place began to change as we moved. It smelled… like burning. When we found out why, it was already too late. The swollen bellied sergeant and the jelly-man sidekick were on either side of us, laughing as we both stared in horror at the door to what looked to be a huge furnace.

Burned

“Welcome to Cavendish Crematorium!” The sergeant yelled, spit streaming from his plump pink lips. “The last stop for nosy UrbExers!” Next to me, Silent Motion sighed, staring into the murky water.

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Ride of the vagueries (conquest of Paris)

Posted by Bradley L. Garrett on Saturday Mar 6, 2010 Under Cultural Geography, Uncategorized, Urban Exploration

“They rolled down the Champs de Lise in these armored vehicles. They were dressed in black, carrying tripods and camera gear, saying the would explore every inch of the city. It was terrifying.” – Constant Conscious, Baker

“One of them said he had been under the Musee du Louvre bowling with skulls and I was like ‘what the fuck is happening here?'” – Achille Chevalier, Town Watchman

War games

Leave no one alive

Marc called us from Paris where he remains in exile after murdering that poor Gurkha security guard at Pyestock. The Parisian populace was getting downright menacing he said, throwing instead of blowing kisses at President Sarkozy. The wet smooches were slapping him in the face with soppy smacks, knocking him down on every street corner, leaving him sapped of mojo. And a flaccid emperor can’t run this city, as Napoleon III learned 300 years ago, despite his glorious mustache.

Tashe

Turns out, Marc had been rummaging around (as he does) the other week and had located a fleet of abandoned military vehicles, perfect for quelling French proletariat rebellions. He imagined us piloting them down the wide toward the city centre, just as Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann built it to be used, setting all right once again.

Under the cover of darkness, we crept in, leaving behind two operatives to secure the vegetable supplies in a adjacent quarry. I hopped into a small Humvee and ordered the doors battered down. Can’t believe they left the keys in this puppy.

Charge!

We rolled into central Paris in our new acquisitions bumping Del The Funkee Homosapien and drinking blue Chimay, throwing baguettes at hopeless romantics, police and cataphiles alike in a transparent attempt to capture hearts and minds. Implementing an age old audacious tactical maneuver passed down through the Statler family for 40 generations, we climbed every tall building in the city to survey the scene.

Seizure

Just then, Silent Motion cried out, pointing to the horizon, an almost inarticulable gasp pouring out of the side of his mouth. In the distance there was what appeared to be a rift opening in the sky.

Holy smokes!

We took decisive action, speeding over the the rift only to find that it was a reincarnation of Zuul, back from Ghostbusters I to invade Paris the same night as us. Damnation!

This party's over!

With a stroke of luck, LutEx arrived, fresh off the Eurostar, answering our Craigslist ad for reinforcements. Right then and there, he pulled out this horrendous map of some underground city where he claimed previous failed revolutionaries had gone into hiding. Clearly drunk at this point, we decided he was the man to follow.

And then the revolution died

The dejected revolutionaries crawled into the underground maze through a manhole at rush hour, dragging the bodies of their dead comrades, pussing fang marks and all, hopes and dreams tied up in little canvas sacks, squirming and wiggling, screaming for acknowledgment.

Shouldn't have crossed the Rubicon

]

Lest our hopes get the best of us, we left them in the bags and trampled them while we danced to our failures, praying that Zuul had been lenient with the people after her extraterrestrial takeover. And that’s how Marc’s dream of a new Parisian republic died, in a bout of inebriated dirty dancing, headtorches waving in little battery powered gestures, light painting the the walls of the cave we all knew we would never be able to leave.

Here's to failure!

_____________________________________________________

This post is dedicated to that little Swedish boy that died exploring in Stockholm last week. I celebrate you for not sitting inside playing video games like your friends kid.

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