Behemoth: on the beguiling monstrosity of the wandering factory
February 16, 2013 3 Comments
“Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, because he was wroth. There went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured: coals were kindled by it. He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and darkness was under his feet….He made darkness his secret place; his pavilion round about him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. At the brightness that was before him his thick clouds passed, hail stones and coals of fire.”
Psalms 18: 7-12
Many of the practices that I’m interested in involve walking factories – in the sense of walking around and within them for a variety of reasons. But what about factories that walk? That’s worth a ponder.
There’s something monstrously captivating about the idea of a moving factory – a truly mobile plant unmoored and roaming abroad, rapaciously consuming all in its path. It’s the point at which a vehicle become more complex, more totalising in its operations, than it feels a vehicle should. A point where the factory function starts to foreground and the vehicular elements retreat into the background. Think roadsweeper, combine harvester, dragline, tarmac layer. Factories on wheels, churning, belching – slow, but relentless. And beyond human, for any driver seems dwarfed, superfluous, stuck somewhere spare that hasn’t already been consumed by an asymmetric (and unstreamlined) productive purpose. And then there’s the nomadic dimension: this machine is untethered. It is free to move next wherever it may, there are no rails or foundations to constrain it. This thing has chaotic potency.
A Walkley Factory walks
This week started with an expedition, a search for an invisible hole. The task was to trace to source the origin point of a house brick that I found when my garage was demolished a few summers ago. The brick helpfully had an inscription in its frog, ‘Chas. Wirkworth – Wadsley Bridge’. A bit of map work found the site of the former brickworks and we trekked to it. But this piece is not about that trip. Instead it is about a trip that we did not take. My research found many ‘vanished’ brick work sites across the historic maps that I’d spread out on the kitchen table. Flicking through as a time sequence, holding location stable but skimming through successive editions of the ‘same’ map, my attention was drawn to a former brickworks and clay pit on Carnaby Road in the Walkley district of Sheffield. Here’s the time slice:
Two things grab me here. First that the brickworks doesn’t – does – doesn’t exist. It is a blip in time. In its day it dominates its site, then its gone, the clay cavity in-filled with refuse. The second is the thoughts triggered by thinking about the scale and extractive / generative ferocity of the plant whilst it existed. Through time the brickworks appears mobile. Maybe I’ve been watching too many end-of-the-world-alien-invasion films with the kids recently, but the strange two kiln beast appears to travel (an effect of the doesn’t – does – doesn’t flicking through maps and the eras that they represent). Thus an alien brick-ship descends upon an empty field, chomps into the land consuming earth in its fiery furnaces and spewing out millions of identikit bricks. But then something weird happens. The bricks start to form houses. The brick-ship becomes surrounded and flies off, leaving its empty field. The house army laying siege to the field pause (perhaps awaiting reinforcements from elsewhere) before finally crashing in, tide like, filling the field with their next generation host.
And then it’s all over, at least until a wave of urban clearance or a road scheme pulverises the houses in turn, rendering them back to fractured brick and block-dust and the ground level swells with a new layer of ground. Made ground.