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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Au Revoire to Marc: The Dragon of Clapham

Posted by Bradley L. Garrett on Saturday Nov 7, 2009 Under Archaeology, Cultural Geography, Psychogeography, Urban Exploration

So we’ll go no more a-roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart still be as loving,
And the moon still be as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul outwears the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we’ll go no more a-roving
By the light of the moon.

—   Lord Byron

By the light of the moon, Marc and Hydra walked through the common, stopping every once and a while to blow something up. It was a quiet wintry night, a night for explorations of the soul before landscape, a post-phenomenological spectacle of Autumn ritual thought adornment. And then, the unthinkable happened. One explosion, set off by the Marc in a hysterical frenzy over his departure from the land of the mystics, shook the ground with a terrible rumble.

The grass of the common began separating, the earth seizing and shaking like a new born baby addicted to crack; trees capsized into an emerging crevice that revealed a hidden underground storage facility, untouched for 42.75 years, filled with the records of the lost souls dragged down to Dante’s 7th circle of hell.

Unexpected

An exposed vein

Where does this go?

Something new

Boxed memories?

Records of the Lotus War

A decision was made to explore this emerging subterranean wonder. Hydra, designated lead explorer on this spontaneously scurrilous expedition, entered the metal-lined den with trepidation; there was evidence of habitation, or at least adaptive reuse. The mole people had been here, burrowing into the earth, connecting the tunnel with another inhabited by a perpetually sleeping dragon that shook the tunnel with his deep exhalations.

The mole people were encountered soon after, mining away at the sidewalls of the tunnel, inviting collapse, but also inquiry, undertaken carefully by Marc who spoke conversational Molish. LutEx, master and commander of the underground, resided there with his Queen it seemed. They join the expedition for the promise of chocolate éclairs. Earlier that night, he tells Marc later, he mined a Jewel, and Diamond from the depths. The Diamond, as she then became known, joined the expedition on the promise of existential freedom.

As they move through the tunnels, LutEx explains that there was indeed a sleeping Dragon at the end of the tunnel, and that the mole people has constructed a wall between them and the beast to keep it’s steaming slumbering sighs from singing their eyebrows. It turned out they were not trying to dig to the Dragon, but to avoid it while working their way through the 7th circle. As Hydra commented on the quality of the construction, suddenly, running steps are heard.

Hazard?

Experiental barrier

The Goblinmerchant, vendor of the mystical, last seen at the Pyestock Stargate, emerges from the depths at breakneck speed, smashing through the wall in a brave but foolish attempt to challenge the Dragon. Little did he know, the Dragon had a guard. The Goblimerchant is caught in a time-space compression web, cast by a magical troll hidden in a subterranean enclave, forcing him back into the 7th circle, restoring the barrier the mole people had constructed, a barrier, which, it seems, the Dragon allowed to exist.

For his transgressions, the group sees the Goblinmerchant subjected to endless torture, first by having his hair pulled from the follicles by a diabolical goblin-engineered torture machine, and then tied by his feet and hung from the roof of the bunker, on show until the end of time for other daring explorers, an example of the dangers of crossing the Great Dragon of Clapham.

Caught

Torture and Punish

Born and died

Sisyphustic dilemma

With the expedition now complete, with lessons learned, The Diamond is indeed given her freedom, teleported back to the surface by a goblin transporter restored by the mole people to beam in food supplies and port.

And beaming

Beamed

As for Hydra and Marc… Last was heard they had joined LutEx and his Queen in the underworld, digging into the 8th circle of hell.

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Overt Camouflage

Posted by Bradley L. Garrett on Friday Mar 13, 2009 Under Urban Exploration, Visual Ethnography

Yesterday, I was invited by LutEx and Hydra to explore some World War II air raid shelters near London. The experience of being in shelters invoked a lot of new feelings for me, being American and never knowing what it would feel like to have your city bombed. Although we have many cold war shelters throughout the United States, these shelters were a precautionary measure, likely never to be used.

The shelters we went to yesterday, on the other hand, were inhabited by people who had left simple, isolated artifacts in these generally empty shelters, small reminders of the hidden history of this spectacularized city. A can of something evaporated, stone benches lining the walls, a few pots and pans, now surrounded by newly forming stalactites and stalagmites of minerals dripping in from the rainy city above.

Most interesting for me was Lutex’s technique for entering the shelters though manholes in the middle of the street, which he called overt camouflage. The idea basically is that is you look like you belong there, people will assume you do. I have seen similar techniques used by street artists that a fellow student at Royal Holloway, Luke Dickens, has been studying.

Lutex mystified me with his calm, organized and rational approach to the concept. He pulled his car up to the curb, coned off the area, adorned himself with a high visibility vest and proceeded to tape of the cones to keep pedestrians out and give the site the look of a public project. He then produced two keys which we fit into the manhole, lifted it up and voila! 60 years of history is ours to experience.

I am interested in other ways overt camouflage could be used but also had another thought about this idea. Basically, this only works if you have the appearance of someone who ‘belongs’ there. This means that people with body jewellery, tattoos, even dreadlocks would become more suspect immediately.

Which leads me to suggest that the real revolutionaries may not be the kids with purple mohawks, but the people who look quite normal but work to resist the complacency of modernity in their thoughts, word and actions in very subtle ways.

Here is the video from the explore (a little present for LutEx and Hydra):

http://www.vimeo.com/4337442

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