With a cast of thousands – George Haydock’s film in homage to wasteland at Pomona Island

I’ve never been backed by a string quartet before – and George Haydock’s meditative short film below is probably the only time in my life that it’s going to happen.

It’s always disconcerting watching yourself. And there’s a moment in this where I suddenly realised where my sentence was going to take me and couldn’t resist a smile (it’s the point about Salford docks exporting itself until only emptiness was left). Hopefully it doesn’t look smug (it’s borderline I think). I developed a new-found respect for TV presenters that day – that art of keeping on talking, and thinking – with just the right buffer between the two.

So, there I was – an overgrown pixie – sitting on a rock for an hour and half trying to constantly think of something more to say about this overgrown and unregenerated wasteland portion of Salford docks.  I’d also been speaking earlier that day at a National Water Safety Forum symposium at The Lowry (in the now rather scuffed looking – regenerated – portion of the docks) on drownings in inland waterways, so my head was already in a strange place (and my body in a suit). Earlier that day I’d travelled up and down the quays in a boat, my RoSPA colleague pointing out all of the locations at which adventurous water users had come unstuck, some fatally.

Every few minutes we had to stop filming, as a tram trundled past. Occasionally it was a jogger or dog walker who provoked the pause. Having to sit on a rock and talk about a place that you’ve never visited before is actually quite difficult. There’s almost something fakir-like about it; a trial of endurance.

An endurance taking me towards revelation?

Maybe

So, I eventually realised that the big point (my attempt at a ‘big’ point at least) about Pomona was that there is no big point. It is a pause place, a gap in the intense meaning otherwise foisted on the landscape in the city making, regeneration, repurposing. Pomona just ‘is’.

That’s it.

And with that revelation a nirvana-lite passed over me. Phew, I’d finally worked out something that they might be able to use in the film…

 

 

There’s an interview with George about his take on Pomona at http://www.theskyliner.org/pomona-island-on-film/ which includes the following account of his intentions and inspiration for his film:

“My main intention was to capture the essence of this unusual space, to glorify it, live with it and let it dwell for while. I wanted to celebrate the areas state of limbo – and see it with open eyes. A lot of people who look at the space see and feel nothing, they might see this film and think it’s trivial, but in a way that tension is what interested me. The film is ultimately an attempt to challenge and cause friction against most people’s perspective. For me, film should speak at an intuitive level – and this is what I aimed to do with Pomona Island.”

Ironically the photograph at the start of this post comes from a locations agency website (http://www.filmandtvlocations.co.uk/locations/pomona) – it seems Pomona’s wasteland status is productive in and of itself, with that site praising the venue as offering “a unique opportunity to film on an open quayside location in front of the back drop of Manchester City Centres impressive skyline.”

So, Pomona shows us that flux that is the succession of urban uses that any ground can testify to. But Pomona shows that procession in a freeze-frame. The recirculation is slower. The docks have lain empty for 40 years, and when they arrived in the early Twentieth century they displaced a range of earlier leisure uses formerly of this boundary between Salford and Manchester, including Pomona gardens and zoo.

Very fitting then, that ending to the film, that ‘cast of thousands’ – but I won’t spoil the surprise.

Great stuff!

 

Gazing upon monstrous hulks: landships, stone frigates and buildings that wander

 

“Everything degenerates in the hands of man…He mixes and confuses the climates, the elements, the seasons… He turns everything upside down; he disfigures everything; he loves deformity, monsters”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762) Emile or On Education

And thus Rousseau launched what would become the Romantic movement, a rallying cry issued at the brink of the first wave of the Eighteenth century’s revolutions. So much was about to change – new orders of politics, manufacture and ideas. But Rousseau saw in the Enlightenment not a will to order and sense making, but a multiplication of forms, an acceleration of man’s warping of otherwise static, given ways of things. The emergent brave new world was increasingly jumbling things up.

Imagining mills as landships

Not all saw this shock-of-the-new as a bad thing though, and some sought to apply the rules of the sublime (until then a characteristic of the awe-inspiring otherness of the natural world at its extremes) to man-made sights. There was a frisson to be savoured in that uncomfortable –  uncategoriseable – sense of gazing at something new and unfamiliar.  Thus, in June 1790, gazing for the first time upon Richard Arkwright’s Cromford Mills, the world’s first factory scale cotton factory, a traveller – Viscount Torrington – wrote in his travelogue – groping for a metaphor by which to circumscribe this exceptional place:

“seven stories high and fill’d with inhabitants, remind me of a first rate man of war; and when they are lighted up on a dark night look luminously beautiful”.

For this was a place that – by the standards of the day – was infeasibly large, purposeful and which resisted the century old environmental command that the waning of daylight is the signal of the end of the working day. Torrington gives us a glimpse here of an embryonic industrial sublime, something echoed in Joseph Wright of Derby’s contemporaneous painting shown above, Arkwright’s Cotton Mills by Night (c.1783) – the frisson of the new, a pride in progress of the new ‘manufactories’ and their entrepreneurs. Around this time the block form of Arkwright’s buildings, now modest in scale to our eyes given what we know of what came next, reverberated across Georgian popular culture – the factory, positioned as picturesque object, amidst greenery as decoration to drawing room wall or hand painted dinner plates, alongside representations of the ascendant British Navy and its infeasibly large and purpose-filled vessels.

In this piece I want to take for a walk (or a sail) the rebellious image of building-as-ship. This is a deviant proposition, for if there is one thing taken for granted with buildings it is that they do not move, they are fixed (in law ‘real estate’ denotes a type of property that is characterised by its very immobility). In short, a ship and a building are meant to be unrelated concepts. A building is not a ship, and a ship is not a building. Normally.

Stone frigates and military bureaucracy

15 years after Viscount Torrington gazed at Cromford Mills, and saw a stone building as a galleon, the British Navy commissioned a rocky isle in the West Indies as a frigate, adapting its caves as cannon emplacements from which to harry the Franco-Spanish navy as part of what would become known as the Trafalgar campaign.  By virtue of the vagaries (and bureaucracies) of the laws of war the British felt the need to regularise their possession of the island and did so by classifying it as an enemy sloop, and as a ‘prize’ of war thereafter commissioning the island as a frigate in service of the Crown: HMS Diamond Rock. In doing so a new naval category was formed – that of the ‘stone frigate’, a landship having the status of a seagoing naval vessel for the purposes of military law. Subsequently naval on-shore establishments became known as stone frigates, and were regarded as landward extensions of seafaring ships to whom they affiliated. They needed to be affiliated to sea vessels in this way, because the Admiralty was concerned that these landward places might otherwise be undisciplined – for the Naval Discipline Act of 1866 only applied to personnel enrolled upon the books of a warship.

To my mind the most inland and unseaworthy stone frigate is the colossal concrete bunker known – until 1998 – as HMS St Vincent, the Admiralty citadel in Whitehall. Overlooking Horse Guards Parade, this naval bunker was built in 1940, replete with a 20 feet thick concrete roof. In recent years Russian vine has been encouraged to grown upon its Brutalist flanks. Shorn of this greenery, the citadel looks like the approximation of an oil tanker, but also has primal – ark-like – connotations. It looks very immovable though.

Buildings that become ships

One of my kids’ favourite picture books was The School that Went to Sea. In that story a flood upends a classic village schoolhouse and the teacher and a few pupils must convert the standard fare of a school building into a sailing ship. Fortunately for them they manage this task and by the book’s end find themselves and their ship’ sailing into a sunny New York harbour, to be met with cheery smiles from an assembled welcome party.

One of my formative childhood moments was – in contrast – watching the Monty Python short 15 minutes film The Crimson Permanent Assurance, that ran as the opener to their (not great) Meaning of Life (1983). In Crimson an elderly crew of insurance clerks find their company taken over by “The Very Big Corporation of America” and its slick young executives. Throughout the ensuing mutiny the clerks convert their Edwardian office building into a gallon (with builder’s hording providing convenient sails) and having gruesomely killed their officers (the Americans) with improvised cutlasses, pull up anchor, detach from the city street and sail off to do rebellious battle with other offices, in other financial centres around the world.

 

Watching the film as a young boy it was the oddity of buildings becoming ships that had left its lasting impression – but watching it again now it’s the viscerality of the inter-generational / 1980s City of London ‘Big Bang’  and corporate takeover tensions that strike me most. But, it still remains – thanks to Terry Gilliam’s animation – a magical vision of a building becoming a ship and leaves you looking at the city-scape through new eyes. What if these buildings started moving?

And sometimes they do. There’s an uncanny echo of Crimson in this 1961 newsreel, which shows how an Elizabethan house was jacked up onto wheels and tugged to a new location in Exeter, out of the path of an impending motorway. Watch out in particular for the moment at which the building is seen to start moving from its resting position – in a way that challenges the viewer’s in-built assumptions about the static essentiality of buildings – and then the view of this house on wheels as it slowly crawls up the hill with Gilliam-like monstrousness.

 

Ships that become buildings

It is – of course – more common for ships to become buildings. In addition to ships at sea and stone frigates the Royal Navy in the Nineteenth century increasingly utilised old warships as dock accommodation – barracks, stores, hospitals and prisons. Via incremental adjustment these once-were-ships steadily changed into approximations of the functional buildings which they aspired to be. For example, in Cardiff, HMS Hamandryad an elderly 46 gun man-o-war was retired by the Admiralty to become in the 1860s a dockside hospital for sailors, eventually being replaced by a brick-built hospital of the same name in 1905 (when the sanitary status of mixing the proposition ‘hospital’ and ‘old ship’ no longer appeared to fit together). In turn that building was removed (in the de-institutionalisation drives of the 1980s) and the ship’s name now adheres to a nondescript steel and cement Community Mental Health Centre.

 

Sources:

Hamadryad Hospital Ship: http://education.gtj.org.uk/en/item1/30309

Former HMS St. Vincent: The Admiralty Citadel: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/78/Admiralty_Citadel2008.jpg

Auguste Mayer (1815) The Capture of Diamond Rock: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Capture_of_Diamond_Rock.jpg

‘Sails’ of the Crimson Permanent Assurance: http://node801.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/crimson-permanent-assurance-1983-by.html

Joseph Wright of Derby (c.1783)  Arkwright’s Cotton Mills by Night: http://www.wikiart.org/en/joseph-wright/arkwright-s-cotton-mills-by-night

Waddell, M. & Hartas, L. (1993) The School that Went to Sea: http://www.theaoi.com/portfolios/images/portfolio/thumb/847-374.jpg

Moving the house that moved: http://news.bbc.co.uk/media/images/47920000/jpg/_47920573_exeter_house_1961.jpg

 

Plasticity at Cromford Mills: Arkwright’s Brain, Water, Cotton and Fire via Malabou & Hegel

Here are my slides for the PlastiCities conference on Tuesday (3 June). This Occursus / University of Sheffield event seeks to explore the concept of ‘plasticity’ thus:

“Scientific discourses on neuroplasticity abound with metaphors both of (neuronal) landscapes and (cortical) ‘real estate’. This cutting-edge symposium brings together speakers from across the disciplines to explore the ways in which recent advances in the understanding of neuroplasticity might be used to construct new models for negotiating urban landscapes and temporalities. Our discussions will include a consideration of how brain trauma and cerebral re-organisation can yield new understanding and insight regarding the complexity and resilience of the damaged topographies that punctuate the post-industrial, post-colonial and post-traumatic cityscape. Thinking through the sculptural dynamic of cerebral morphology will also open up a debate concerning the ways in which critical methodologies from the arts might find their place in the sculpting of new forms of stability within the contemporary built environment, participating in the ‘real life’ making of cities, at both grass roots and policy level.”

The event will feature speakers from neuroscience, psychology, art, archaeology, geography, French studies and built environment. Here’s a link to the programme:

http://occursus.org/2014/05/21/plasticities-a-free-symposium-3-june/

This truly cross-disciplinary selection of speakers will outline the rise of plasticity as a concept in neuroscience, its take-up in the recent work of philosophers like Catherine Malabou, and then seek to explore whether (and if so how) plasticity can be applied to landscape – thus moving from metaphors of cortical real estate to real estate itself.

My presentation will introduce this shift of focus – and will seek to operationalise Malabou (and Hegel who has a potent influence on both Malabou and plasticity in philosophy) via a case study which will take the concepts for a walk, and consider them at a specific place and set of circumstances. In doing so I’m seeking to implement Chris Van Dyke’s call (in Environment & Planning D: Society and Space last year) for empirical deployment of plasticity in landscape studies. Van Dyke will also be speaking at the event via Skype.

The site I will be examining is Cromford Mills, Sir Richard Arkwright’s first textile factory, established in 1771 near Matlock, Derbyshire. I will draw upon a rich vein of industrial archaeology and economic history scholarship (both enthusiast and academic) and analyse it through the frame of Malabou’s four plasticities (developmental, modulational, reparative and destructive), looking at  change and stasis across the site’s 250 year span, thereby considering plasticity’s dual character – the partial persistence of form and the potentiality of certain degrees of change. Think of the resistance and affordance of ‘memory-foam’ mattresses and you get the idea.

My current presentation is very much an interim report upon a work in progress – there is more to be done on thinking through plasticities at Cromford, and perhaps thereafter widening the focus to later era mills. I’m also working on a parallel analysis of Cromford using David Delaney’s ‘nomosphere’ theory, to look at the ways in which law can be found materialised and manifested within the social and spatial circumstances of this site. More on that at RGS 2014 in August.

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My presentation for the PlastiCities conference seeks to trace not just the stasis and change of the Cromford site – but also to draw out the link to ‘self-development’ and neuronal ‘freedom’ (the focus of Malabou’s work) by intertwining an analysis of Sir Richard Arkwright’s ‘self-made’ status, and the way in which his success was lauded by the mid Victorian liberals, specifically Samuel Smiles in his book, Self Help (1859). This is potentially contentious, as Malabou frames neuronal plasticity as a chance to consider what else the self-aware human mind could choose to be (in resistance to neo-liberalism), yet the ghost of Hegel oddly replicates a neo-liberal focus on ‘plastic individuals’ and their achievements (or potentialities), for example where she writes of plasticity in Hegelian terms as  “a process where the universal and the particular mutually inform one another, and their joint outcome is that particularity called the ‘exemplary individual’.”(Malabou, C. (2004) The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic, Routledge: London: 16)

Arkwright is an exemplar of self-making, and in my case study I’m interested in what his self-making made at Cromford, of how he acted on matter and landscape, and how landscape and matter acted back on him. That’s plasticity.

(I’ve also written an earlier blog post about my first visit to Cromford, its here: http://lukebennett13.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/cromford-mill-surveying-the-ruins-of-the-worlds-first-factory/

 

Image source: Cromford Mill at http://www.nationalmillsweekend.co.uk/pages_water/cromford.htm; and many Cromford Mill images in the slide presentation originated by The Arkwright Society / Cromford Mills:http://cromfordmills.org.uk/

 

 

Beyond the broken building – dereliction, progress and ruinphobia

“The scars left behind by industrial development of the past, the abandoned waste heaps, disused excavations and derelict installations and buildings no longer needed by industry, are an affront to our concept of an acceptable environment in the 1970s”

Peter Walker, Secretary of State for the Environment, 1971 – quoted in Wallwork (1974) Derelict Land – origins and prospects of a land-use problem, David & Charles: Newton Abbot, p. 13.

 

Derelict Land Art: Five Sisters 1976 by John Latham 1921- 2006

 John Latham (1976) Derelict Land Art: Five Sisters, http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/latham-derelict-land-art-five-sisters-t02071

Big Ruins and dereliction

There’s always this danger when writing two pieces in parallel: that they will converge. Over recent days I’ve been working on my papers for the Big Ruin conference (Manchester, Wednesday next week) and the Land Art/Abandoned Quarries conference at Yorkshire Sculpture Paper the following day. Whether through collision, or otherwise, I find myself thinking a lot about derelict land in relation to both papers, in each case as a conscious opposition to the currently dominant focus upon the discrete buildings and structures in ‘ruin studies’. To foreground blank, indeterminate wasteland feels both dissident, and necessary.

Dereliction was seen as a major policy issue in the 1960s, and essentially as one of un- or under productivity. Notions of landscape aesthetics (eradicating the unsightly, the eyesore) played a part in the call to arms, and safety and environmental drivers came increasingly to the fore with (respectively) the Aberfan tragedy of 1966, and the rise of ecological sensibilities – but predominantly dereliction was something to be tackled because it was a ‘waste’ of land, expressing a deeply held view (that still has powerful sway today) that neither land nor labour should be left idle.

 

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My presentation for the ‘Big Ruins’ conference is streamed here. The gist of my talk is a desire to acknowledge recent calls (from critical, urban and economic geographers) to widen the context in which ruins are studied, and in particular to look at the political economy of ruination – the process by which ruins are made.

But in my presentation I will also argue that the aim should not be to throw the baby out with the bathwater, for the more aesthetically (and matter/affect) based approaches that have dominated ruinology in recent years, have an important role to play in helping us to understand how orientations towards ruins, ruination and dereliction ‘matter’. And I mean ‘matter’ here (in the double-play advanced by Karen Barad) both in the sense that ‘it is important’, but also in the – theoretically more complex – sense that orientations towards matter (i.e. stuff) affect how that stuff exists, occurs, survives, is reacted to, is able to influence us etc. To understand ruination we need to understand why it is objectionable to many, attractive to some and how those orientations affect the matter of the ruin and its stability as a loosening assemblage of wood, stone, metal, cement, brick, fabric etc under the dissipating action of time, human and ‘natural’ processes.

Thus, in my Big Ruins talk my desire is to emphasise the multiple gazes through which ruination is framed – and how those gazes (particularly those that are broadly anti-ruin) affect the occurrence, subsistence and fates of ruins and the dereliction of which they form a part. As a consequence, my talk will deal only briefly with ruinphilia and will instead concentrate on the ruinphobic gazes that frame ruins as a contagion, a waste of space and/or a waste of matter. Inevitably these are (in contrast to the ‘high’ arts roots of ruinphilia) earthy, pragmatic gazes of policy, law, taxation, economic development and their attendant discourses of efficiency, progress, modernisation and monetary value. But understanding these gazes and their effects is crucial to an understanding of contemporary ruination and – I contend – these gazes have received scant attention within ruin studies (where the aesthetic and Romantic ruinphiliac gaze has been privileged almost to the point of excluding all other ways of looking upon broken buildings). In my presentation I also point to the irony that ruinphobia both strives to eradicate ruin and yet at times actually amplifies it.

Land Art and dereliction

Towards the end of his recent documentary series on Brutalism, Jonathan Meades issued a rallying call for the nascent Brutalist revival, in doing so harking back nostalgically to a Modernist era in which – in his view – human will aspired, unapologetically to stamp its identity and presence upon the planet, raising gigantic forms towards heaven either in challenge to the gods, or in declaration that the gods are no more. In doing so Meades contrasted Brutalism’s aggressive confidence with a present day eco-modesty, through which, he asserted, humankind has lost sight of his specialness and its faith in progress.

I suspect that Meades, like John Latham, would celebrate the monolithic forms of the Five Sisters (shale tips – or locally ‘bings’ shown in the image above) in West Lothian. Yet Meades’ Brutalism is but one version of Modernism. Working back in time, to the height of Modernism we find John Barr (a journalist) castigating Iain Nairn (an architectural critic) as typifying a certain type of metropolitan aesthete thus:

“It is some academic opinion makers, usually living far from the nearest spoil heap, who defend dereliction on aesthetic grounds. To them, and, one suspects, to them alone, reclamation is seen as an enemy of the wonderous heaps and holes and tears-in-the-hillsides which shout proudly MAN WAS HERE!”

John Barr (1969) Derelict Land, Penguin: Harmondsworth, p.25

I find myself with both Meades’ and Barr’s words ringing in my head as I prepare for my contribution to the Land Art in quarries conference at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The wind has turned recently against Ruin Lust. The counter-forces are amassing, the label of ‘Ruin Porn’ now ever-present,waiting to pounce on those who linger too long in gazing at broken buildings. Doubtless a genealogy of  ruinphilia would find similar castigation at any earlier formative era (remember here that ‘nostalgia’ was originally conceived as an illness). But, for me, this week it has been appropriately moderating, to know that the battle between old and new, bombastic and modest, use and pause is nothing new.

My slides for the Land Art talk are streamed here:

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Latham’s work upon the Five Sisters was the result of a placement within the Scottish Development Agency organised by the Artist Placement Group (who had the mission of opening commerce and public administration to new ways of seeing the aspects of the world that they managed), the aim being to find new ways to see the vast bings as something other than “eyesores of spent energy” (Richardson 2012), and that according to Derek Lyddon, Chief Planner of the Scottish Development Agency at the time of Latham’s residency:

“The object of APG placements may be described as ‘organisation and imagination’; to place an artist in an organisation in the hope that his creative intelligence or imagination can spark off ideas, possibilities and actions that have not previously been perceived or considered feasible; in other words to show the feasibility of initiating what has not occurred to others to initiate. Hence the product is not an art work, but a report by the artist on new ways of looking at the chosen work areas and on the action that might result.” (quoted in Richardson 2012)

In part as a result of Latham’s work, and partly in the light of a post-industrial turn towards the preservation of industrial ‘heritage’, at least some of the bings have now been listed as ancient monuments (though hardly ancient in origin, the tipping that formed them ended in the early 1920s) and thus now have protection against demolition or reworking (the oil bearing shale having value to recyclers).

Latham’s creative visioning helped the civil servants to see this dereliction – these man made mountains – as positive features of the contemporary landscape. However, Latham’s own design for their artistic augmentation – the Meadesean sounding “Handbook of Reason”, a 24 metre cruciform beacon tower to be erected atop one of the bings, was rejected on cost grounds. If built, that bunker-like structure (shown in design mock-ups below) would certainly have signalled to the surrounding land, (perhaps to the delight of Meades and the consternation of Barr): “MAN WAS HERE”.

 

Documents as Part of APG Feasibility Study – Scottish Office 1976

 

Further details of Latham’s project are detailed in Craig Richardson (2012) ‘Waste to Monument: John Latham’s Niddrie Woman’  Tate Papers Issue 17, from which the above image is taken.

 

Gazing up, looking down: following cathedral stone back to its source

“Politics revolves around what is seen and what can be said about it, around who has the ability to see and the talent to speak, around the property of spaces and the possibilities of time.”

Jacques Rancière (2004) The Politics of Aesthetics, Continuum: London, p. 13.

Cathedral_Exeter4

You’re standing in the vast nave of Exeter Cathedral, staring up at the longest uninterrupted vaulted ceiling in England.

“When visiting such places most of us have gazed in awe at lofty stone arches and intricately carved tracery, each paying tribute to the masons who have fashioned them with loving care. Few amongst us, however, have given a passing thought to the men who provided them with their raw materials by working deep underground, enduring conditions of extreme hardship and danger, to wrest the stone from its natural bed” (Scott & Gray n.d.: 1)

In a previous post I’ve written about the after-life of stone fragments released (or prised) from crumbling ruins [here]. In contrast, in this post I will wander Beer Cave Quarry – the origin point of stone blocks that went into many of the grandest Medieval English cathedrals – in the company of a tour guide, walking through the vast underground spaces from which the cathedral’s rock was hewn and thinking about the possibilities of animating absent quarrymen, their toil and their stone prize.

Beer Cave Quarry, in East Devon was founded by the Romans in AD50 and then worked continuously for nearly two thousand years. The Roman entrance sits beside the Norman one, slightly apart – a few feet – and yet a thousand years too, the intruding rays of sunlight revealing thousands of pick marks on each threshold, in each case the ancient scrapes of very long ago. The Roman’s quarried into the cliffs from landward, at first in open workings and then following the ¼ mile wide seam of this 65 million year old chalk limestone underground, beneath the burden of 100 feet of overlying rock. In doing so, generation by generation, they and their successors inched forward a trail of Cathedral-like voids of excavated space: the pitch-black darkness now the spent inverse of the evacuated beautiful creamy-white, fine textured limestone won from this strata’s 13 foot seam of desire.

The Bishops of Exeter leased the quarries for centuries – but the reformation in 1540 saw the collapse of ecclesiastical demand for Beer Stone, and for a while the mine fell silent, then finding more modest secular (and local) uses for it, with some resurgence in the Victorian thirst for urban church building. Production finally ceased in 1920, leaving a 75 acre underground labyrinth comprised of sturdy stone pillars and the void spaces between: the extracted stone now elsewhere: dried, hardened and discoloured by centuries of exposure to sky.

What is there to see in the dark?

As Strangleman (2013) notes, a mine erases itself, though fulfilment (and exhaustion) of its purpose. It is a place at which there is nothing to see as such. The extracted stone is normally the story – and the places created with it – as Knoop & Jones noted back in 1938 the histories of stone are of their use, not their production.

The recorded story of Beer Stone is of its diffusion, its mobility (by sea) – Beer stone recorded on masons’ stock rolls at London Bridge (1350), Rochester Castle (1368) and Westminster Abbey (early 1400s), the result of impressive networks of supply. Tracing these networks is a challenge in itself, a trail only partially satisfied by ancient archives, as Edensor has argued. Seeking to explicate the networks by which metropolitan Manchester’s stone found its way into (being) the heart of that Victorian city,  Edensor set out to trace stone’s urban materiality: seeking out the relations and the consequences of the mineral ‘stuff-ness’ of cities and their buildings, and adopting multiple methods to find the “multiple traces of other time-spaces … [amidst]… an affective and sensual encounter with materiality that promotes empathy with other times, people, events and non-human agents.” (450) This tracing takes Edensor (and us) to the stone-source, the quarry: a former ‘workspace’ (literally worked-space) – a space made by work.

At Beer Cave Quarry the remains of quarrying tools from Roman era onwards, found within spoil filled chambers, testify to a day in day out playing out of working lives, alongside the working marks, scrapes, scratches, spoil, candle burns and graffiti. Walking into the workings is to walk amongst eras of excavation within paces of each other – but out striding as spectator the inch by inch creep of the working faces: Roman arches, then the more rudimentary square openings of the Saxons, then a turn into the expanded halls of the Normans, all adjacent to hundreds of subsequent years of steady workings up to 1920, and connected up by the mine’s poly-era workways, and their ‘robbed pillars’ showing the scars of subsequent trimming of stone from these ancient bulwarks, the quick winning of stone by shaving it from the pillar by sawing the one remaining connecting face, rather than an arduous six (as entailed in cutting a block free from virgin rockbed).

Here – in this gloom – is human/matter relationality: the pragmatism of ‘corner cutting’, the working lives and family fortunes entwined in the prising out of this stone.  These traces speak to the toil at this place, as does the following scrawl, scratched into a pillar in angry Norman French deep within the workings:

 “Master mason, you built your cathedral towards heaven

With stone that was quarried from hell.”

But in what sense can we know this toil? What illuminates these voids? What creates the experience of being there? How much hangs on the interlocutor and the narration of this place? Without lighting, without a pathway through the cave complex this would be meaningless unilluminated space – truly dark void. This place becomes animated by our guide’s (re)performance of the lives of this quarry, his eloquent foregrounding of background, of revealing the worked – made – space of this subterranean honeycomb: the incidental cathedral-like spaces of this evacuated rock mass.

Our guide’s incantations make us think of the 15 hours a day, 6 days a week toil, and of a quarryman presenting a four tonne quarried block to the foreman – the ‘touchstone’ – at the end of the lightless day – only to be paid if the rock ‘rang true’ in retort to his expert strike upon it. Our guide also emotes, narrating centuries of local antagonism, speaking a bitterness towards the productive focus of the Bishopric, and its driving of production at this site in the Middle Ages, of the collapse of a piece of the quarry roof in 1758 response to a surface explosion – 48 men and one boy killed, the owner’s only question in response to that news: “Have we lost any horses?”

There is ancestral bitterness directed at the masons too. An up-welling of the ages-old division between the local quarrymen and the far better paid stone masons who would often visit the site, sourcing blocks and working them underground in their softer – still moist – form. The secrecy of the masons kept the local quarrymen at bay, keeping to their brotherhood their valuable stone carving skills. It was not until 1856 that one – William Cawley – finally became a stone mason – entering the brotherhood using a community collection given to William’s grandmother after her husband was killed during a local smuggling accident in 1801.

And that smuggling – our guide told us – also still resonated within the culture of the local village and of its underground quarry. Brandy from France, Port from Spain and Portugal, hidden in the darkness sought out by customs men, deadly skirmishes and all. And to this day, the fisherman of the village chide our guide that he is the descendant of a customs man. There is then – via our evocative guide and his story-telling – a sense of a lingering symbiotic connection between the caves and the local village, and that there is much that is left behind in the caves, sedimented there:  discarded tools, voids, relations, attitudes, grievances and their attendant affects. And quarrying phrases too, now hovering – decontextualized – in everyday speech: ‘To broach’ – to prick, indent or furrow the surface of stone with a narrow-pointed stone chisel. ‘Stone deaf’ – occupational deafness from the thunderous echo of constant blows, iron against stone. ‘Worth a candle’ – each quarryman having to buy five animal tallow candles per day, and decide whether an area of rock was worth the effort – and cost – of the meagre lighting to be brought to its working.

Visiting the past?

Norman working area Beer Quarry

And so, we stand as an audience listening to these stories – but are we communing with stone, with the quarrymen or just with our narrator? Standing in the spot of the 1758 roof collapse we know – and feel – nothing of this incident until told of it. We walk Roman to Saxon to Norman in the space of a few strides. The arch work changes, that is our only sign, the stone is uniform throughout. This area’s substance is its void. This place is a curation of absence.

High and Lewis (2007) in their attack upon urban exploration, reject industrial experiential tourism, asserting that “Spelunking can be read as akin to dancing on a grave” (29). For them such spectatorship completes an insensitivity twice meted out by the non-working class, first in bringing about closure, second in the spectatorship of a “post-industrial necrology.” (29). But High and Lewis’ attack on urban explorers for a decontextualized appropriation, of generic – disconnected – fetishized images, assumes that no attempt is being made to connect with the specificity of a former workplace, its tasks and histories. Strangleman (2013), defends modern attempts to construct an engagement with sites of past labour – and sees in short-term engagement with them – each generation making its methods, finding its own way to take something from the past, and pursue (each generation for its own reasons) a ‘remembrance of lost work’ – there are indeed many ways of remembering.

A trip to Beer Quarry Caves shows that a good guide, using the time and space of passage through a place and a deft unfurling of its stories, can animate even the darkest, emptiest subterranean void.

But, in our journey back towards the mouth of this mine there is a spectre to meet, the (as Derrida styled it) ‘spectre of Marx’. Our guide frames this place in the conventional politico-materialist language of people actualising through work, through actions upon matter, socio-economic relations of production and the progressive movement of distinct historical epochs – all the raison d’etre of amateur industrial archaeology. As such this framing alludes to “concrete political forms” (Cheah, 2010: 89) flowing back to Marx’s dialectical materialism (that history is headed somewhere, that it embodies conflict between distinct social groupings, that history is driven by relations with matter and power). Edensor’s materialism is more vitalist, and in seeking to speak the alterity of urban stone (its flux over time, ungovernability of matter, its otherness and resistance to human dominion). Given that the human-labour-achievement-over-matter frame remains so dominant it is perhaps no surprise that ‘new’ materialists get accused of forgetting the toils of labouring people. New materialists would point out – perhaps – that human labour is not being denied, but rather shown alongside a much wider constellation of factors and forces. But that does result in a de-emphasis, the moral-political implications of which perhaps need working through more.

We leave our guide now, he’s back at the entrance, gathering the next tour group, getting them in the mood by passing around a Roman coin found recently near the entrance. Our guide knows both what he will say, and how to pace it for maximum effect. Whether in the bravura of performance or genuine ancestral angst, he will once again take the opportunity to colourfully re-assert the quarryman over the masons, the cathedral, the sky and the surface world.  He will once again weave thing and story in a way that activates some slight – but compelling – sense of others’ (and our own) material relations.

Sources

Beer Quarry Caves Ltd (n.d.) Beer Quarry Caves – www.beerquarrycaves.co.uk

Cahill, K. (2008) Beer Quarry Caves – Global & Western Media Productions at: http://www.jurassiccoast.org/downloads/news/beer_quarry_caves.pdf‎

Cheah, P. (2010) ‘Non-Dialectical Materialism’ in Coole, D. & Frost, S.A. New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency and Politics, Duke University Press: London.

Edensor, T. (2013) ‘Vital urban materiality and its multiple absences: the building stone of central Manchester’ Cultural Geographies, 20, 447-465.

High, S & Lewis, D.W. (2007) Corporate Wasteland: The Landscape and Memory of De-Industrialisation, New York.

Knoop, D. & Jones, J.P. (1938) ‘The English Medieval Quarry’ The Economic History Review, 9 (1), 17-37.

Scott, J. & Gray, G. (n.d.) Out of the Darkness: A brief history and description of the Old Stone Quarry, Beer, Axminster Printing co. Ltd

Strangleman, T. (2013) ‘“Smokestack Nostalgia”, “Ruin Porn” or Working-Class Obituary: The role and meaning of deindustrialised representation’ International Labour and Working Class History, 84, 23-37.

Images:

www.beerquarrycaves.co.uk

www.englishcathedrals.co.uk/cathedral/exeter-cathedral/

Revisiting the Quarry: Excavation, Legacy, Return. Approaches to the histories and sites of Land Art

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As a great proof of the merits of  ‘follow your instincts’ and see what happens, I’ve now been invited to give a presentation – as part of a symposium at Yorkshire Sculpture Park on 15 May 2014 – about the legal aspect of doing Land Art in abandoned quarries. This nicely adds to the symposium work I’ve done on law and abandoned quarries elsewhere in the last 18 months for the British Mountaineering Council (climbing in them), the National Water Safety Forum (swimming in them) and the Mineral Products Association (not dying in them). It also marks another step in the strange convergence of what once seemed a very dichotomous project: the occupiers’ liability stuff on one hand vs the urban exploration/psychogeography/bunkerology stuff on the other. This is both, in a single event!

So here’s the organisers’ promo for the event, followed by my abstract…

Revisiting the Quarry: Excavation, Legacy, Return 
Approaches to the histories and sites of Land Art

This one-day symposium, led by artists Charles Danby and Rob Smith, in conjunction with the exhibition ‘Uncommon Ground: Land Art in Britain 1966-1979’ (5 April – 15 June 2014), has been organised in collaboration with the Arts Council Collection, Northumbria University and Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

The symposium explores Land Art in relation to contemporary practices and historical precedents. It investigates the quarry as an active physical site for the production of new artworks and for the re-visiting of past works. Bringing together theoretical and practical positions in relation to chalk and limestone quarries, it focuses on approaches leading to the making of works, films, documents, field recordings and archives.

In the anthropocene the quarry becomes a site of new relations, that connects historical, material, technological and social revision through changing land use and post-industrial / post-ecological occupation. The day will examine the status of these quarry sites, the removal of materials, their social and physical reparation and the negotiation of their borders and thresholds in physical, legal and artistic frameworks, through to what Robert Smithson characterised as ‘an expensive non-site’ in 1969, the moon, as a speculative quarry.

Details of the speakers

Joy Sleeman - Senior Lecturer at Slade School of Art, University College London, and co-curator of Uncommon Ground: Land Art in Britain 1966-1979 http://www.ucl.ac.uk/slade/people/academic/profile/ASLEE78

Luke Bennett - Senior Lecturer in the Department of Natural & Built Environment at Sheffield Hallum University and researcher into owner and climber attitudes to recreational access to abandoned quarries
http://www.shu.ac.uk/faculties/ds/built-environment/staff/luke-bennett.html
http://www.lukebennett13.wordpress.com

Charles Danby - Artist, writer, curator & Senior Lecturer in Fine Art, Northumbria University
http://charliedanby.co.uk/
http://www.northumbria.ac.uk/sd/academic/sass/about/arts/staff/charlesdanby

Rob Smith - Artist and co-director of Field Broadcast
http://robsmith.me.uk
http://fieldbroadcast.org

Onya McCausland - Artist and co-researcher of Turning Landscape into Colour
http://turninglandscape.com/

Mark Peter Wright - Artist and editor of Ear Room and researcher with CRIASP, London College of Communication
http://www.crisap.org/index.php?id=40,393,0,0,1,0
http://mpwright.wordpress.com

Rob La Frenais - Critic and curator at Art Catalyst, and founder of Performance Magazine
http://www.artscatalyst.org

Neal White (video screening)- Artist and Associate Professor in Art and Media Practice at Bournemouth University, Director of Emerge – Experimental Media Research Group, and founder of the Office of Experiments
http://www.nealwhite.org
http://staffprofiles.bournemouth.ac.uk/display/whiten

For booking visit: www.thequarry.org.uk

And my abstract:

Encountering law and land art in abandoned quarries – excavation, legacy, return

My research work focuses upon the intersection of legal, aesthetic and pragmatic site management practices in the stewardship and re-valorisation of abandoned and/or physically damaged places such as quarries, derelict factories and decommissioned military sites. My presentation will explore the (feint) intertwined presence of law, proprietors and enthusiastic  ‘re-energisers’ within abandoned quarries. In doing so it will draw from my former experiences as an environmental lawyer advising on the decommissioning and safeguarding of extractive industry sites, as an academic now teaching land managers and as an active researcher of enthusiast groups who seek access to derelict spaces for recreational, creative or illicit purposes. My research work on quarries is  characterised by a desire to understand both how these places are forgotten, and how they are re-activated by enthusiasts finding new uses for them (and of the ‘challenges’ this may pose for their owners). This ongoing research project is ‘multi-stakeholder’ and opportunistic in nature, with me seeking to explore and understand each perspective and its processes of meaning making, within specific sites of occurrence. My project thus has at times been deeply ‘managerial’ in focus and at other points has explored the affective dimension. Thus at various points my project has seen interest and support from key stakeholder groups, including the Forestry Commission, the British Mountaineering Council, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and the Mineral Products Association and also a small commission in 2013 from the University of Sheffield’s Arts Enterprise Fund to research and write Scree, a deep topographical assay (with photographer Katja Hock – Nottingham Trent University) of the mine and wastescape of an excavated industrial hillside in the heart of Sheffield. In addition to giving an account of my various investigations, my presentation will also sketch out the key legal drivers that shape managers’ and regulators perceptions (and anxieties) about these voids, in doing so touching on the legal-materialities of spoil-spreading waste disposal scams, restoration and instability, contamination, re-mining and how the proximity of humans alters the legal status of excavated rock faces and abandoned mineshafts.

Uninhabited and En-habited spaces: thoughts on private law’s public space

The following piece has been written as a teaser for my paper entitled “Old habits die hard: owners, liability anxiety and accidental territoriality” which I’ve been invited to present at an ESRC symposium at Warwick University later this month. The theme of the conference is ‘Private Law’s Public Face’ and my paper’s argument will run somewhat against the grain of the  event’s likely focus on resistance, ‘right to the city’ and private law’s role in urban enclosure processes.

Essentially my concern is with more mundane – abandoned - spaces and whether (and if so in what sense) we can meaningfully say that law’s territorial effects subsist there even when no-one is present and/or after an owner or use has vanished.  The only thing left to encounter in these spaces is the remnant fences and faded signage. But is law within that remainder, or are the signs only activated when someone is looking at them? (yes – I know – that’s getting a bit like ‘if a tree falls in the empty forest does it make a sound?‘).

Anyway, I quite like this idea of ‘en-habited’ uninhabited space – space with habit written materially onto it, a space controlled dead-hand like by its material arrangement and ordering…

31 Dec 2010 (3)

The signs just sit there, flapping in the wind held fast by now rusting drawing pins, their texts  becoming indistinct as their home-printed inks are bleached by the monotonous daily succession of the harsh summer suns passing overhead year upon year. Along this fence lie aging signifiers of a stale something. But the fence itself is crumbling now, a structure collapsing in upon itself. Eventually these messages will self erase, fully succumbing to the elements, but until then they continue to send out their signals – weak now and indistinct, vague messages of warning, deterrence, liability aversion. Like a dying radio beacon, carrying on long after the ship has sunk, marking out a vestige, a ghost territoriality of the orders and arrangements that once were intended here.

I’ve been keeping an eye on this signage for over 10 years, intently so for the last six. I’ve seen the pub that the signs relate to pass through a succession of ownerships, then finally close and be redeveloped as apartments. I’ve seen each incoming publican – amidst buoyant commercial talk of ‘turning over a new leaf’, perpetuate this signage – perhaps reprinting it with his new logo – but keeping all else the same as before. The base text of these signs is silently handed down between the parade line of owners, and replicated by their own sign-affixing actions.

Even now, the remnant signs greet the passer by with exclusionary intent. Why would you enter a field festooned with lots of dense, textual messages? Why would you even go up to them and read them, engage with their specificity?

In the above description I’m seeking to raise a challenge to a rationalist belief that legal signage is deployed by place owners for reasons of clear purpose, and that whenever encountered it will still be valid, intended and territorial in intent.

Clearly there will be instances where space is conspicuously under control – and where the facilities of private law (ownership, trespass) are actively being invoked in order to enclose space and/or to channel possible (or permissible) uses within it. But scholarship must not just seek out and dwell upon those extreme spaces, it should also have a way of understanding invocations of private law in more mundane, more ambivalent spatial settings.

Also (in my view) we need to be careful in how much intentionality (and legal sophistication) we impute to the managers of everyday spaces. They are busy people, they have many things to mediate – suppliers, customers, neighbours, lenders, councillors, spouses, children, friends – they do not have time to dwell on the finer points of legal detail (unless locked into the disproportionate attentiveness of a spatial dispute of some sort). For most commercial place managers the signification of their property is an incidental – a tick line on a checklist of place managing rather than an entree to a grand scheme of territorial dominion.

My presentation will outline research that I have been doing in recent years, looking at small case studies of how place managers formulate a pragmatic understanding of what occupiers’ liability law requires of them – and work out (individually and via professional networks) what is a reasonable safety provision for visitors and trespassers who may pass through their spaces. These studies have explored occupiers’ anxieties attached to unstable tombstones in municipal cemeteries, street trees, derelict buildings and open bodies of waters, working variously in conjunction with RoSPA, the Forestry Commission, the Arboricultural Association, the British Mountaineering Council and the Mineral Products Association. In each instance the law (and legal duties) appear in the minds and hands of these lay actors as understood through wider frameworks of task orientation, organizational purpose, and short-hand stereotypes of visitors and the likely behavior of them. Yes, at times their spatial management behavior can betray a quest for privacy or territorial dominion, but at others apparently territorial behavior has appeared – on closer inspection – inchoate, habitual and/or related to received rules of thumb about how properties of a particular type ‘should’ be managed.

And thus, we return to the aging fence. My presentation will draw out provocations from my longitudinal study of this fence, and its material traces of occupier engagement with private law: in this case disclaimers of liability for any customers who might choose to enter this occasional ‘beer garden’ area at the periphery of this pub. I will show how, having watched this accretion of cautionary signage I approached the then owner and enquired of the motivations behind this ranked mobilisation of the liability restricting principles of private law – of its ‘story’ – only to find that there was no story and that this sign affixing behavior was a ritual practice. How this pub ‘should’ be operated – including the refreshing of the fence’s signage – was encoded into the fabric and deportment of the pub itself, acting back upon the succession of owners, the pub presenting as an unwritten user’s manual on how to run it. The publican could not account for his signage, the best he could do was link to a notion of performing (and perpetuating) the proper ways of doing and being within this urban fringe pub:

“…Here you’ve got to be kid friendly where we are, in like the Tap Room you’ve got to be dog friendly: because that’s how it’s always been…so it’s easy for me to come and say “I’m not having any dogs in there” – but it’s not; its part and parcel of this, the history of the pub I suppose”

Here we confront a strange dead-hand effect, a force of habit – the permeation of approximate, sufficient and workable approaches to place management, decisions and actions implemented in thousands of establishments day by day, hour by hour based not upon deep, lawyer aided deliberation on how to control space, but instead replicating – as part of a dull facilities management performativity – generalized, materially sedimented practices which may only incidentally have any connection to a notion of ‘legal’ aspects of the world.

 

 

 

 

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