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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Playing with Power

Posted by Bradley L. Garrett on Sunday Jul 11, 2010 Under Freedom, Psychogeography, Situationism, Urban Exploration

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.

-Kahlil Gibran

We are not depressed; we’re on strike. For those who refuse to manage themselves, “depression” is not a state but a passage, a bowing out, a sidestep towards a political disaffiliation. From then on medication and the police are the only possible forms of conciliation. This is why the present society doesn’t hesitate to impose Ritalin on its over-active children, or to strap people into life-long dependence on pharmaceuticals, and why it claims to be able to detect “behavioural disorders” at age three. Because everywhere the hypothesis of the self is beginning to crack.

– The Invisible Committee

Prison

Exploration is the only medication my body subscribes to. My trembling fingertips reach for the sewer keys on my way out the door and my bowels twist in satisfaction. This addiction began as research, then I went native, then I lost my way. My love for ruins, my love for old stuff, slipped quietly into the present without even a little wink to let me know what was happening. A life spent looking for material traces of the past morphed into a series of events connected only by my churning belly that vaguely resembles art or a job in construction.

Please don’t expect me to say I found my way again because I didn’t. I was at Tate Britain the other day listening to Joseph Heathcott talk about digging through a photo archive. He said that as he dug, he became more and more confused, buried in images that he didn’t know how to contextualize. When he reached the bottom of the box of images, all he could see was himself.

We explore not to find places but to find meaning. Place hacking is only partly about architecture, history, dereliction or photography. It is about reminding ourselves what in life is worth experiencing. Our explorations embody a consistency between action and thought where what we dream becomes real. The addiction that comes along with that is the point at which your synapses start firing in new directions, making connections you didn’t know existed or that you lost somewhere along the way. It’s the point at which you realize you never want to work again, the instant at which you understand you never want to own a home, the moment when the revelation occurs that the terrorist threat is as non-existent now as it was in 1972 and 1023 and that most of the world, despite what the media would have you believe, is full of love and attachment, not hate and fear.

Thinking of you

I have lost my way. I hardly know the (a?) government exists. I have forgotten about commitments. I have widened my focus to the point that I can barely see anything not in front of me and yet eschew almost nothing, an optic of total stimulation. I spend all day with my friends. I am in love with every moment. I know my neighbourhood, my city, inside out. I just described childhood.

We have built up a shell around ourselves to defend our bodies and minds from the barrage of victimisations they are subjected to. We are left staring stupidly at what it is we are being asked to do, wondering again and again “is this it?” Joshua Ferris, in his novel And Then We Came to the End sums it up in this tidy moment seen through the eyes of Carl, a copywriter for an ad agency: “Directly to his right, something curious was going on. Two men in tan uniforms were hosing down the alleyway – a small dead-end loading dock between our building and the one next to it. Carl watched them at their work. White water shot from their hoses. They moved the spray around the asphalt. The pressure looked mighty, for the men gripped their slender black guns, the kind seen at a manual car wash, with both hands. They lifted the guns up and sprayed the dumpster and the brick walls as well. They spot cleaned, they moved refuse around with the stream. For all inert purposes, they were cleaning an alleyway. An alleyway! Cleaning it! Carl was mesmerized….good god, was work so meaningless? Was life so meaningless?”

We have become desensitized to the everyday. We have become part of the spectacle, ignoring emotional engagement with the world because we are so alienated by it. We formulate emotional shells that lock out beauty as well as pain and stop us from taking action. We are left in a state of perpetual isolation, mouths open, ready to pour in pills to fix what we lost. We are left inert, flaccid, empty. As Raoul Vaneigem once said, “people who talk about revolution and class struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love and what is positive in the refusal of constraints, such people have a corpse in their mouth.” Raoul’s thesis is outlined succinctly in the following diagram.

I suggest a different sort of medication to cure that corpse-filled mouth. Explore everything, shatter the shell and live free.

Dreamers

get vertical

Playfully

Move beyond your conceptions of exploration. Explore your mind, explore the dance floor, explore your broken family that your are ignoring while you read this drivel. Move into abandoned buildings, take locks off of doors, turn CCTV camera so they only see each other, light off fireworks randomly. Scream at people in the streets, talk to strangers, photograph police. Stop paying the state until they give something back other than the promise of a good pension if you join the military and avoid dying through war X. Take what’s in front of you and pour your heart into it. And if you have to quit your job to make that happen, then go. But do it in style – run out screaming into the sky to invoke your freedom. Even better, abseil out of your window and rappel to freedom.

Play is power. Freedom is power.

Photo by Marc Explo

We don't need 4th of July or 5th of November as an excuse to explode things in celebration (Marc Explo).

Our work ethic

__________

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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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