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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Pure

Posted by Bradley L. Garrett on Saturday Aug 28, 2010 Under Archaeology, Cultural Geography, Freedom, Infrastructure, Psychogeography, Situationism, Urban Exploration

The expanding subterranean metropolitan world consumes a growing portion of urban capital to be engineered and sunk deep into the earth. It links city dwellers into giant lattices and webs of flow which curiously are rarely studied and usually taken for granted. – Graham 2000

Vision

3am. Antwerp. Pissing down rain. Lovingly cared for yet hopelessly abandoned, the Antwerp metro never came to be. Halfway down the 30 meter drop into the network, my hands burning down the slick rope, stomach twisted in knots, fear welled up in my throat with my held breath, I already know that I am in love. It’s that feeling that you have known each other for ages, finishing each other’s sentences, laughing until we cry about the absurdity of it all. That’s the moment that I knew you and I were destined for this encounter.

Lemon

Drop

The love affair with places begins as a tumultuous panicked grab, pinned against the wall in a desperate attempt to hold on to something we both know is sacred. The problem with smooth, clean glass, polished metal and concrete that there is nothing to hold on to, fingernails scratching in a desperate attempt to make a mark.

Here I find chunks of concrete delicately separated by little tendrils of green vines which grab at my legs as I repel down the wall, terrified that the rope hanging over the edge above is fraying against the sharp concrete edge of the drop zone. But she wouldn’t let that happen to me, she is already too curious to let this pass.

When I my feet touch the ground again, wet and smiling, I look to either side and realise that we have entered a new world, a world all our own. That is how I begin this love affair, with a tacit acknowledgement that neither I, or this beautiful unfinished beauty, will ever tell anyone about this love affair.

Conjunction

Junction

And yet those pictures in the scrapbook of our memories are just too much. All those photos of us laughing and playing together, falling in love for the first time. It was all so new, so pure. Not only do I need to experience that again, I need to share it. I need to scream out loud to the world that someday, somewhere, I found something sacred. So listen up planet earth: she was modern and stoic, sleek and brutal but knew sadness and tribulation just like us. I love her dearly and fear, above all else, that this was a one night stand.

Looking

For Love

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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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Sewers are perhaps the most enigmatic of urban infrastructures. Most citizens of modern cities are aware of their existence, yet few could accurately describe their layout or appearance.
–Matthew Gandy

Clearly not accurate

Above me, the heavy round metal doors into this underworld shake with a pinging metallic scream that reverbs down these watery tunnels, slowly fading into a seemingly endless succession of dull thuds that migrate down the street above us, some racing black cab speeding a jilted lover home from the pub after the last trains have stopped running. This overworld scenario interests me far more interpreted from below the undercarraige of the cab, little bits of shit-sticky mud dislodging themselves  from the freshly-pried manhole cover edges, plopping onto my bald head. Cue a shuddering shake, aural spell broken.

Water races around my feet faster than the cab, pinning my waders in a strange plastic comfort to my legs, little bits of used toilet paper and raw sewage which we lovingly call “the fresh” blocked by my PVC barrier, pushing around me angrily in an effort to make it down this old river and into the Thames like salmon swimming not toward their spawning ground but the river Styx where the boat will sink halfway across and they will float lazily to the bottom, never to move again. As drainers, we learn to love the waste just as we learn to love the trash left behind in the streets of London at 4am on a Friday night. It is the detritus of passion passion for life that staves off our impending deaths, as Michael Dibdin writes in Cosi Fan Tutti:

This place reeks of mortality.
I thought it reeked of rancid oil and bad drains.
It comes to the same thing in the end.

At some point in London’s Victorian Age, the separation between “river” and “sewer” became blurred. Technically, I am standing in the River Westbourne which no one but sewer workers and daring drainers have seen for a hundred and fifty years. Despite the fact that no one has drank the water from this river since the 1400s, it remains a vital waterway of this city, a throbbing vein of live humanness, rushing underneath our unknowing feet as we run to work on the pavement above. Seeing it is a reminder that, as Gay Hawkins writes, “our rituals of cleansing and disposal are enfolded with this landscape, our personal secrets are implicated in the public secret of sanitation.” This misadventure into the bureau of public secrets is the newest in our chain of London infiltrations, our most recent attempts to make sure that this city is documented from every possible angle through experience, fear and love. Just as I wouldn’t wipe the ass of somebody else’s baby, only London’s sewers interest me.

We view the stigma of what is flushes on these journeys both literally and socially. Our preferred mode of access to these hidden waterways is hiding in plain sight and the classism of London society works in our favour, with both police and the public ignoring everyone dressed in high-vis and a hard hat, benign foreign workers who make their living in places where no “respectable” Londoner would ever step foot. Our team of 4 digs into their toolbelts of large screwdriver, t-shaped keys and crowbars to break the seals into underdiscovered territory, finding what the city forgot existed, our brazen crew seemingly as hidden as this river when we actually look like we work for a living.

Cracked

Pull this bird

The addiction to infiltration does not lay in the adrenaline rush of the experience. Infiltration creates unwieldy complications, difficult mental junctions and moments of crises that confuse, inspire and complicate our existence. My second identity as the underclass, the role that I play to gain access to urban secrets, is slowly becoming my primary identity. My clothing, my language, my social class, all now defined by my behaviour “on the job.” Leaving this tunnel late on this night (early the next morning?), we were greeted by “real” workers at a tube station who tossed slight nods our direction, eyeing us with confused interest, suspicion, respect and likely some revulsion given we were covered in underground wetness that smelled even worse than the rank pub toilet across the street.

We have been systematically exploring London’s subterranean features for the last few months, cracking every stormdrain, abandoned railway, cable tunnel and sewer we can find in the city – elements of this urban environment that Steven Smith, in his book Underground London, calls “London’s best kept secrets.” We know why. Not only are they some of the most beautiful and surreal places in the city, they are also the most foul.

Pour your heart out

The sewer is a place for alterier cartography, a place where no one may reside but where one can pass through, cameras capturing endless angles of the oldly new, remapping our mental conceptions of where the verticality of the city begins and ends. Our embodied experiences move like the stinking water, shifting from one chamber to the next, chalk marks on walls marking our way home, level after level of underground run-off continually sinking into what we imagine to be an endless succession of metal grates covered in dried up cakes of unknown substances, unidentifiable pieces of fabric and scraps of food. Matthew Gandy, in his article The Paris sewers and the rationalization of urban space contends that “by tracing the history of water in urban space, we can begin to develop a fuller understanding of changing relations between the body and urban form under the impetus of capitalist urbanization.” Pretty sure he wrote that line from the Paris sewers.

Alterier chamber

We trace these cultural lines and flows, finding here that nature and culture drift at the same rate in an interdependent foulness. London’s legendary sewer rats are in full effect tonight, running from us in a terrified scamper, climbing the round slippery walls of the tunnel in inexplicable ways and disappearing into holes we can’t even see into. I want to explore what they can see. At one point, some sort of nest is disturbed and they came at our lights, their little claws feet screeching all around us. Staying in the middle of the slimy sticky mud, shit and runoff where the rats won’t swim was clearly our best option.

We spent 4 hours sliding around these chambers, building up our immune system with aching stomachs upon exit and mouth sores to come. As we emerged I felt, as I often have, that tonight was another attempt to document my own disappearance in the course of making the city reappear in alternative iterations. As I sink deeper into my PhD, I sink deeper in this city, still so in love that there isn’t even room for another human being. I can only hope that either I or the thesis emerges at the end of this torrid love affair, unsure I will survive the potential breakup. Until then.

Own the night.
Cherish these secrets.
Wield this power.
Love this life.

Explored

Beneath your pub crawl

More playful than righteous

________________________________________

This author’s endeavour should be to make the Past, the sense of all the dead Londons that have gone to the producing this child of all the ages, like a constant ground-bass beneath the higher notes of the Present.

-Ford Madox Ford, The Soul of London

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In place/out of place

Posted by Bradley L. Garrett on Sunday Apr 25, 2010 Under Archaeology, Cultural Geography, Psychogeography, Uncategorized, Urban Exploration

Only in and through the struggle do the internalized limits become boundaries, barriers that have to be moved. And indeed, the system of classificatory schemes is constituted as an objectified, institutionalized system of classification only when it has ceased to function as a sense of limits so that the guardians of the established order must enunciate, systematize and codify the principles of production in that order, both real and represented, so as to defend them against heresy; in short, they must constitute doxa as orthodoxy.

-Pierre Bordieu, Outline of a theory of practice

Getting somewhere

One of the defining characteristic of my hometown was always the Air Force base. Military bases in general do a lot to change the character of a place.  They are places of both order and recklessness, classic (though maybe he would say too literal) depictions of Tim Cresswell‘s in place/out of place scenario where what is inside the barbed wire, tall lights and fences is in, is ordered, is surveilled, is financially injected. What is out is disordered, suspect, not be to let in. The boundaries of militarized space are, we are told, above all others, are not porous.

And yet, in both California and Hawai’i where I have lived, the in slips out in the form of drunken sailors and belligerent army thugs in Jeeps with pockets full of roofies, going out for some R&R, maybe a little tussle with the locals. They are like little political terror camps, making sure the locals know the government is that close. Then they escape to their little military islands where they are supposedly untouchable.

Trevor Paglen, a fellow geographer stateside, has been taking people on trips to photograph “secret” military installations for many years. His dissertation work photographing these locations was a huge inspiration to my PhD. Trevor was the first the start visually penetrating these spaces and looking at his photographs, I thought “what would happen if we escalated the virtual infiltration into a physical one?” If the in can go out, the boundary is porous, despite all claims to the contrary and that means the out can go in as well. So we did. And what we found was shocking.

Four stories of fun

These photos are from an abandoned hospital on March Joint Air Reserve Base, a location with no address somewhere between Riverside and Moreno Valley, California. It used to be a full Air Force Base for 78 years until 1996 when Clinton cut the operations budget and a quarter of the 6-square mile base went derelict almost overnight.

Where the fuck is that janitor?

How classified?

Not very

The empty corridors seemed endless, piles of desks and chairs the only things to be seen turn after turn. But as we moved into more discrete levels of the hospital, we began to find rooms full of artefacts, including some very expensive equipment.

I believe you have my stapler?

Bad news

Dangling

We were never modern

Heart trouble

We were all enjoying the opportunity the play with expensive medical equipment. We were also enjoying the fact that everything was so well preserved in the building. Likely an effect, I assume, of being located on a military base. I mean, who would be stupid enough to go in there right? The lingering question in all of our minds though was this – why would the military leave all of this behind? We received part of the answer in the next room.

Somebody help me

The building was apparently being used for urban warfare training. The idea is to create places that emulate different urban environments to train for hostile situations in those environments. Some places, like this room above, clearly had staged scenes with fake blood. In other places, it was not as clear whether the scene was “staged”.

Is that normal?

Sometime after returning home, I was astounded to find an article in the local paper, the Press Enterprize (PE), which detailed plans to build an $80 million medical facility on the base called March LifeCare. I wonder if taxpayers are aware of what happened to the last medical investment on this base? I wonder if taxpayers know that while “Donald Ecker, managing partner of March Healthcare Development, is said to want ‘to move on a breakneck speed’ on the project” (by the way he stands to make 2.2 million on the deal according to PE) there is a derelict hospital across the street being used for wargames? I wonder if any of the patients of this “old” hospital know that their x-rays are laying around in there?

Clearly I was not the only thing out of place here.

Paint bullets

A goner for sure

March Air Reserve Base is a minimum security base in a rather decrepit state. Still, with an abandoned military prison now explored as well as a partially active base, it makes me wonder – how porous are these boundaries? And more importantly, what the fuck are they doing with our money in there? I call for the in to be outed!

Wash up

Up Top

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