Autoren Archiv

Drop Pills Not Bombs!

8. 10. 2013 // // Kategorie Randnotizen 2013


Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City by Bradley L. Garrett (Verso)

7. 10. 2013 // // Kategorie Randnotizen 2013


Bradley Garrett’s book is about how the author (an American post-graduate student) got involved with a bunch of people into so-called ‘urban exploration’ (UE) and committed trespass to visit sites not necessarily open to the public in London and elsewhere. Bradley has all the typical methodological hang-ups of an academic and this really gets in the way at the beginning and end of the book (not that I’m against methodology per se – but I do have issues with academic methodology). Leaving aside the prologue and introductory first chapter, the book kicks off with some tedious accounts of visits to abandoned buildings that are mixed up with tiresome academic soul searching. Explore Everything picks up when the cops start putting the heat on the group Bradley is involved with (London Consolidation Crew) for going into the tube after it has closed at night to visit ghost stations (among other things). When pressure from the authorities transforms ‘participant observation’ into simple participation, the prose is less congealed and at its best started to remind me of the privately circulated reports of the Workshop for a Non-Linear Architecture (WNLA) of the 1990s. The 70 odd pages that make up the chapter ‘Grails Of The Underground’ is entertaining and informative, most of the rest of the book isn’t.

Much of what Bradley describes self–identifying ‘urban explorers’ as doing has been going on for years but without the UE label attached to it (and seemingly without Bradley having heard about it, since he doesn’t mention any of the activities in this area that most interest me). In the mid-1990s the Glasgow drifts of the WNLA (including uncovering and penetrating buried streets and breaking into the city’s ruins) were mostly thought of as psychogeography. I’m not aware of anyone applying the term urban exploration to WNLA activities at the time but their activities were a perfect fit for this later label. I guess at most they handed out their privately circulated reports to a few dozen people – but word of what they were doing got around. Likewise, there are activities now described as ‘urban exploration’ that in the past were just something people did without wanting to put a name to their city play. For example, in the early nineties I noticed that the door to the tower of St. Brides Church just off Fleet Street was often left unlocked and took to going up to enjoy the view – I believe at the time it was also possible to pay to be guided up the tower but I preferred to go on my own and for free. One day I mentioned that I’d been accessing the St Brides tower to Iain Sinclair and he decided that he and Chris Petit should film me and a few others going up there for a TV special they were making entitled The Falconer. Sinclair and Petit’s on-the-fly filming (we didn’t ask permission) must have alerted the church authorities to my ongoing but unauthorised use of their tower, and rather than being left open as it had been before, when I tried to access it in the later nineties I found it locked.

I also used to (and sometimes still do) use what Bradley calls infiltration tactics just because I wanted to see inside a building but I didn’t consider what I was doing UE or anything else, I just saw myself as having a laugh. For example, in early 1995 I was in San Francisco and happened to find myself walking past the city’s Masonic HQ. I walked inside and told the guy on the desk I’d come all the way from London and wanted to see the building. He asked me a few questions and having got the impression I was a mason (I wasn’t), gave me a tour. This was spontaneous and unplanned but it was the sort of thing I did (and my friends did) pretty frequently.

Back in the day I’d also do what Bradley calls ‘edgework’ but this didn’t necessarily involve trespass, which seems so essential to the self-defined UE scene. For example, in April 1985 I went to Belfast and walked from there to Dundalk in the Republic of Ireland. I left Belfast in the afternoon and arrived at a border control post manned by British soldiers on the far side of Newry around 4am in the morning. This was at the height of The Troubles and as I approached them the squaddies at the checkpoint pointed their rifles at me and told me to stop. They demanded to know what I was doing and when I told them in my London accent I was walking to the Republic they freaked. “You can’t go there,” one of the soldiers screeched as he pointed at the twelve or so miles between his border checkpoint and the Republic, “that’s bandit country! You’re English, you’ll be killed.” By this time the squaddies had lowered their rifles, so I just walked past them while saying: “Don’t worry mate, I’m not running around waving a gun about or dressed in combat gear, so no one is gonna be bothered by me.” I just walked calmly into ‘bandit country’ and on to Dundalk, from where I hitched a lift to Dublin. I did know there was a risk of being tortured or shot crossing the UK/Eire border in the way I did in 1985 (since all sides would be suspicious of me), but it was worth it to see the look on the squaddies’ faces when I went through their checkpoint.

I’m not sure if it is the fault of Bradley as an academic ‘researcher’ or a reflection of a more general flaw in whole self-defined UE scene, but despite the title Explore Everything, this book actually represents a narrowing down and flattening out of urban experiences and play. If Bradley is to be taken at face value then too much in UE is about reportage (often of a visual nature in the form of film and photography) – whereas I just used to (and still sometimes do) engage in similar activities but without bothering to record them at all. Also because both those I hung with and still hang with attach no particular labels to their walking and climbing and trespassing activities (aside from in the past perhaps ‘psychogeography’ – but that’s also a label many who used to use it would now reject because of its absorption into British literary culture), these were and are far broader in range than what Bradley describes as UE. Despite my many reservations about Explore Everything, the seventy odd pages that make up the ‘Grails of the Underground’ section are worth reading because – among other things – within them the author begins to break free of the academic mind blocks that so fog both his thinking and ability to fully experience the city as he flails hopelessly with various issues elsewhere in the book.

I ❤ Stupidity!

6. 10. 2013 // // Kategorie Randnotizen 2013


What Is Art? Part 2

5. 10. 2013 // // Kategorie Randnotizen 2013


Roger L. Taylor in his 1978 book Art, An Enemy of the People came up with an excellent answer to the question: ‘what is art?’ Taylor argued that art was whatever those in positions of cultural power said was art. In 2004 I did an interview with Taylor about how his positions on art have evolved since 1979. You can read that here! Taylor’s book is way more effective at questioning ‘the meaning and legitimacy of every form of art production’ than the 1978 video piece by Rasa Todosijevic from which the current show at the Kunstlerhaus in Graz takes its title! While Todosijevic is interpreted by the Kunstlerhaus curators as making the case ‘for artists to take an even more active role in art discourse’, Taylor demonstrates the necessity of going beyond art discourse altogether so that we can actually understand what art is and what it might become if freed from cultural elitism!


UK and Brazilian (translated into Portuguese) editions of Roger Taylor’s book Art, An Enemy of the People. A very cheap English language Kindle edition of the book is available from Amazon here.