Virilio’s trip: The seaside, purposeful places and their afterwards (plus a pointer to the next SHU SPG event)
October 25, 2016 Leave a comment
Trudging slowly over wet sand, back to the bench where your clothes were stolen.
This is the coastal town that they forgot to close down.
Morrissey (1988) Everyday is like Sunday
In the Summer of 1945 a 14 year old Paul Virilio encountered the seaside for the first time, a space which had been forbidden to him and his compatriots during the war. In the preface to his Bunker Archeology (1994), Virilio presents a vivid account of the unfurling of this new zone in his consciousness, and his initial attempts to characterise and make sense of it. Recounting his arrival at the Atlantic Coast, Virilio’s experiential processing at first foregrounds the abundance of space and emptiness of sand and sea, of the vastness of the “oceanic horizon” (9). The removal of the beaches mines and tank obstacles opened up this “liquid continent” (9) to view and access. Virilio recall’s the luminescence of the coast – its vivid sky, the transparency of the water, and the August sun “a magnifying glass scorching away every relief and contrast” (10) to leave a hybrid desert/deserted battlefield.
However Virilio is only too well aware that whilst mysterious, previously denied for him, the coastal strip had very recently been a place of intense activity for France’s Nazi occupiers and their forced labourers, who during the war had embarked there on the world’s largest ever construction project: the Atlantikwall, the building of a network of coastal bunkers and related infrastructure to deny the Allies access to the European continent via the shore. Exploring the physical legacy of this Virilio turns his attention to the action of walking between the remains of the coastal inhabitations – the evacuated village housing and the abandoned coastal defences, and in doing so he starts to outline the after-time effect of this place, for he is walking amidst somewhere that in other (very recent) times has had a surfeit of occupants and an intensity of purpose – and whether as vibrant coastal resort or nodal point in a wartime coastal defence line. In short, this place’s time (for the present) has gone. Here is ghost town, a phantom place defined by past activity and currently purpose-less. And it is a liminal place in another sense too – for this (currently thwarted) attempt at an aggregated human dwelling (an urbanity of sorts) is physically perched at an edge: the sudden end of all things land-based, as the ground gives way to sand and then vast water. Dwelling at this edge has a special character, particular attractions (aesthetic and other) but also a socio-economic structural vulnerability. Coastal dwelling, in both the sense of habitations and inhabitants, is especially precarious – exposed both to the physical proximity to the dynamic sea and coast and to the vulnerability that comes from a settlement being originated for only one, or only a limited few, purposes: fishing, tourism or coastal defence.
We will be exploring the precariousness of coastal settlements at out next SHU Space & Place Group meeting (details below). We won’t be talking about bunkers, but for me the ruminations of Virilio (and Morrissey) help to situate the thrall of the seen-better-days coastal town, one of which I grew up in.
Here are the details for the event:
“Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside” – two representations of coastal towns (and SHU SPG next steps discussion)
Wednesday, 30 November 2-4pm, Cantor Building Rm 9231
The SHU SPG is keen to investigate an ever wider array of studies and interrogations of place. For its next themed session we will be exploring two different studies of the lived reality of UK seaside towns and contrasting their methodological approaches and aims. Our speakers will be:
- Prof Christina Beatty, from SHU’s Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research who will outline her recent investigation into Seaside towns in the age of austerity, and its characterisation of recent trends in employment in seaside tourism in England and Wales:
- Dr Harriet Tarlo (Reader in Creative Writing, in SHU’s Humanities Dept) and Dr Judith Tucker (Senior Lecturer in Art & Design at Leeds University) who will showcase their Project Fitties: image, text and memory in place, a multi-modal affective investigation of the inhabitation of the North East Lincolnshire coast: http://www.projectfitties.com/about.
Joanne Lee (Senior lecturer in Graphic Design, SHU Institute of Arts) will chair this session, and in doing so, Jo will draw upon her recent work The Good Place That Is No Place, a photography/audio work which explores a deprived ward of tower blocks and low rise maisonettes near Grimsby docks, as part of the Lightworks Festival: https://wemustcreate.co/blog
Following open discussion on the two projects, there will be time set aside in which we can then discuss future projects and directions for the SHU SPG group in 2017 and beyond. This discussion will be led by Dr Luke Bennett (Reader, Dept of the Natural & Built Environment, SHU) and Dr Carol Taylor (Reader, Sheffield Institute of Education, SHU). As part of this session Dr Kiera Chapman from the Department of Urban Studies & Planning, University of Sheffield will outline the University of Sheffield’s Space & Place Reading Group and our joint plans for a collaborative Sheffield Space & Place Network along with Morag Rose’s Sheffield Psychogeography Action.
All are very welcome to attend this event (and regardless of institution, discipline or whether you’ve attended any SPG event previously).
The event is free – but please register on Eventbrite (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/oh-i-do-like-to-be-beside-the-seaside-two-representations-of-coastal-towns-and-shu-spg-next-steps-tickets-28815466837) so that we can keep an eye on numbers.
This is New Uses for Old Bunkers #39.