Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.
-Mel Brooks

Peel

At the wheel

Recently, our buddy Paul Dobraszczyk, author of the book Into the Belly of the Beast: Exploring London’s Victorian Sewers was interviewed by Resonance FM for their series Tunnel Vision where the producers took people on an legally-questionable journey into a London sewer for an interview. I met Paul soon after at the subterranean London Illumini exhibit in Shoreditch. Just about the same time, Silent Motion was making a fuss about how we neglect South London on our explorations.

When Paul told me about his experience in the Effra River, given it runs only a mile from my house, we thought we may as well have a look. So last night, Silent Motion, Statler and I went down with a backpack sound system, a video camera and an abundance of energy to explore my own backyard. What we found amazed and surprised us.

It’s good to know this little wonder is just a short walk from my house. It was a night well spent exploring another of London’s hidden rivers.

Zarathustra

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I am a law only for my kind, I am no law for all.
-Nietzsche

Urban explorers are notorious for taking themselves too seriously, with our posed people shots and braggadocio over daring feats. I am probably more guilty of this than most. To be fair, that mentality is usually a reaction to “authorities” and the media treating the practice with little levity. When we do encounter authorities, we all know that getting them involved by showing them photos and talking about why what we are doing is harmless, and, in a best case scenario, getting them to laugh about it, is our best defence. Despite our appearance of machismo, most explorers are always game for a good laugh.

That is why I love the UE Kingz. You can’t watch this video and not crack a smile, despite the fact that they talk about taking bolt cutters to locks and tag up a drain in the video, blatantly breaching the UE “code of ethics”. And despite the antics depicted, the primary message of the video – the power of choice is, I think, an important one. While social and cultural constraints do exist, it is largely up to us to make life what we want it to be and the UE Kingz encourage us to take responsibility for that decison.  See, I told you I take this to seriously!

Cheers to the UE Kingz for bringing UrbEx a bit of festivity – we can all learn from them. Now get out there and go mad with a bolt cutter!

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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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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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Urban Verticality

Posted by Bradley L. Garrett on Saturday Aug 14, 2010 Under Archaeology, Cultural Geography, Freedom, Psychogeography, Situationism, Urban Exploration

“To get back up to the shining world from there my guide and I went into that hidden tunnel, and following its path, we took no care to rest, but climbed: he first, then I – so far, through a round aperture I saw appear some of the beautiful things that Heaven bears, where we came forth, and once more saw the stars.” -Dante, Inferno, Canto XXXIV

Sloping

The blood bubble

It was a night to remember, wandering around in a team of 5 dressed as construction workers. Even at 2am, the yellow vest and hard hat that signifies us part of an invisible working class, rendering accessible the cavernous depths and dizzying heights of the city never ceases to amaze. I find it fascinating how many people in London ignore these hidden verticalities of the city – not just in a physical but in a social sense. People don’t touch spaces above and below because that is not where their class belongs. The middle class, true to its name, moves horizontally.

Tonight was a drift tonight tinged with a particularity lovely glow, plans of sewers flooded by rain landed us underground where trains sped by as we ran down the tunnel laughing. Our desires for a complete and situated urban verticality led us from low to high in search for adventure, insatiable in our lust to escape a capitalist suicide by instalment plan, spontaneously mapping sites of urban tenderness one after another.

Tender

That night, we once again forsook the pact the modernism asked us to make, seeing it as yet another impotent utopia, and found our own phantasms, cultivated during chemical visions in the sands of the Black Rock Desert, the swirling concrete flow  and smooth-waxed rails of skateboard parks, in the melted organic mental materialities of peyote festivals.

We weren’t really resisting anything because the resistance would eventually “turn to irony, irony to realism, realism to pragmatism, and pragmatism to solace in spectacular visions, consumerist monsters, development triumphs, and nostalgic dreams.” Perhaps, Vidler tells us, in his article Air War and Architecture, “such anxieties, brought once again to the surface, will stimulate new resistances, desperately needed right now – resistances that will not take the critical understanding of the past as mere pessimism or wrongful authority, but as salutary instruments against a globalising development frenzy that insists on burying history” (Viddler 2010 :39). All true, yet that as we rise and rise again to meet this city in all of its grandeur, in all of our might, these histories can’t be buried because we are building them one exploration at a time, a history of hidden dreams, of decay and of class and capital in all of its tropes and treats. And that is a geography of love.

Tropes

Treats

With love, ever-renewable

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