Here’s a chance to work as a post doc with me and others on our study of the St Peter’s, Kilmahew modern ruin project

“You have been warned”
A photo of the seminary gates with asbestos warning signs, May 2013.

Back in December 2015 I announced here that I was part of an AHRC bid for a large project to study the re-activation of the modernist ruins of former seminary, St Peter’s, Kilmahew, details here . That bid got through to the final round but ultimately wasn’t granted. So, we picked  ourselves up and dusted our ideas off and I’m please to report that we have now secured a smaller grant from The Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland that will enable a more modest study of the project to now go ahead.

The key element enabled by this funding is a 14 months post-doc post (based at the University of Glasgow) to provide the embedded eyes and ears of our study. Here’s the summary of the post that’s been circulating via other channels this week…

“Research Assistant

‘Re-Placing Risk and Ruination: Experimental Approaches to Access, Design and Engagement in Transitional Heritage Sites’

RA Grade 7, Part-Time (0.8 FTE) for 14 months

Full details and job specification (post reference: 018433) available at:

https://udcf.gla.ac.uk/it/iframe/jobs/

This position is part of a research project funded by the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, entitled:

‘Re-Placing Risk and Ruination: Experimental Approaches to Access, Design and Engagement in Transitional Heritage Sites’.

The post-holder will enable the research project to address three research questions:

– How do you activate a modern ruin safely?

– How do you activate a modern ruin creatively?

– How do you activate a modern ruin collaboratively?

Responses and findings will be drawn from an interdisciplinary study that investigates the on-going transformation of a Scottish site of international architectural significance and its surrounding historic landscape, Kilmahew-St. Peters (Argyll & Bute). Studying the novel and experimental approach to heritage site presentation and management being taken by artists, architects and designers at Kilmahew-St. Peters, will be the means to produce novel research findings with widespread relevance and applicability. Nationally and internationally, there are a multitude of valued heritage landscapes, in a ruinous, vulnerable, degraded state, requiring equivalent levels of creative intervention for the purposes of rehabilitation and to safeguard cultural legacies for the future. See: http://nva.org.uk/artwork/kilmahew-st-peters/ The post-holder will gather original data through a combination of critical literature review, stakeholder interviewing, and immersive, participatory fieldwork activity in the site under investigation.

Data gathering undertaken by the Research Assistant will be managed and supported by the Principal Investigators: Professor Hayden Lorimer (University of Glasgow), Professor Ed Hollis (University of Edinburgh) and collaborators Dr Luke Bennett (Sheffield Hallam University) and Angus Farquhar (NVA).

The project team will produce high-quality academic outputs, complemented by a range of dissemination activities.

Applications are sought from candidates with an awarded PhD in one of the following subject areas: Cultural Geography, Landscape Architecture, Landscape Studies, Architecture and Design, Heritage Studies, Creative Arts.

Closing date for applications: Monday July 31st 2017.

Applicants should note that interviews for the post are due to be held at University of Glasgow on Monday 21st August 2017.

Projected start date for post: 1st October 2017.

The appointed researcher will be based at University of Glasgow, in the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, and will be a member of the Human Geography Research Group:

http://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/ges/

http://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/ges/researchandimpact/humangeographyresearch/

 

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ianrobertson63/8959128176/lightbox/

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Micro-Habitats: Bunkers, Sheds & Space Capsules

“Just as fish die if they stay too long out of water, so the monks who loiter outside their cells or pass their time with men of the world lose the intensity of inner peace. So like a fish going towards the sea, we must hurry to reach our cell, for fear that if we delay outside we will lose our interior watchfulness.” St Anthony the Great, c. 300AD

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Here are my slides for my presentation at today’s Occursus/University of Sheffield symposium on ‘Micro-Habitats’. As my title will already have revealed, I used the opportunity to talk again about bunkers. This time my focus was on bunkers as micro-worlds. Through a clip from Lost I highlight the two faces of ‘the bunker’ in popular culture – the space-age bachelor pad and the abject, dank crisis space of last resort. I also took the ‘bunker as womb’, ‘bunker as shed’ and ‘bunker as man-machine’ riffs for a walk again. So far, so good (or at least, so far so familiar), then I ventured – via the Unabomber’s shed – into Outer Space aided by key scenes from the 1971 motion picture Silent Running, and in doing so invoked Paul Virilio’s conceptualisation of the spaceship as the bunker transposed into orbit. I then focussed in on the space-bunker’s hermetic nature – both in its sense of sealed off from the outside world, and as an essence of monastic retreat. I concluded with images of Lowell (Silent Running’s eco-hero) as lone bio-pod space shepherd to the remaining fragments of Earth’s vegetation, of Saint Anthony withdrawn from the world into the Egyptian desert and dwelling within its abandoned Roman forts, praying for his and the world’s salvation and of Desmond (Lost’s bunker dweller) now revealed as less the carefree bachelor enjoying his well equipped pad, more like a modern day Sisyphus typing code numbers regularly into his keyboard – as he believes he must – to prevent the detonation of some unspeakable device to which he is in thrall. So – bunker as hermitage…

temptation-of-saint-anthony-538

 Oh, and the ‘men and bunkers’ riff was challenged by the audience – and a great discussion had around whether women and men equally attach to machines, objects, intimate spaces. Yes, they probably do. But we all agreed that conditioning plays a role too. Kitchen vs Shed does seem to have a gendering, and both can be domestic.

star-wars-by-salvador-dal-30231-1262969804-8

Finally, the slides don’t have citations – but these can be found in the two papers that this talk drew from:

  • Bennett, L. (2013). Who goes there? Accounting for gender in the urge to explore abandoned military bunkers. Gender, Place and Culture. 20 (3), 630-646 
  • Bennett, L. (2011). The Bunker: metaphor, materiality & management. Culture and Organization, 17 (2), 155-173.

Pictures: two views of The Temptation of St Anthony

1) Heironymus Bosch,  (detail), c.1500: http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/bosch/tempt-ant/

2) Anon, Star Wars mash-up of Salvador Dali’s 1946 painting: http://mentalfloss.com/article/52970/11-great-salvador-dali-art-mash-ups

 

This post is New Uses for Old Roman Forts #38

On Three Outcrops: Granite – trial and ordeal

“A rock, an event, a past, cannot write itself…and yet it does” (Schlunke, 2005)

I now close this outcrop trilogy with a multi-site rumination on the imperviousness of granite.

Haytor

haytor1

Granite always involved a journey inland, and a negotiation too. Growing up in a household without a car it was always a convoluted trek to Dartmoor to commune with its stout grey sentinels. It would entail finding a spare seat on the extended family’s convoy into those hills. But the relative difficultly of reaching these rocks added to their lure. To be there, amongst them was to be somewhere made meaningful through its relative unattainability; special through a (modest) trial and ordeal. Whilst barely 30 miles from my town, these bulbous grey mica flecked outcrops felt regional, rather than local. I hold cherished memories of actual visits, but the yearning to visit was always stronger than the specific memories of actually being there. In melancholic moments the image of being up amongst these windswept peaks was a strong one. A wished for recuperative:  something to blow the cobwebs away, to recharge the batteries, to fill a hole.

Granite sits and broods, squat and strong, its forms asking to be clambered upon, pored, investigated. But it doesn’t give much away. It leaves you to speculate. Unlike the perishing, unstable and ubiquitous rocks of Torquay, granite has a resolute firmness and mystery. And there is something sinister in granite’s sly Easter Island faces: a silent leeching of radon from its radioactive pores, that gas seeping into basements, slowly poisoning unventilated air and bringing 1,200 lung cancer related deaths each year in the granite zones across the UK (Laurance 2010). A slow, silent-but-deadly, rock fart.

Bluff Rock

“Bluff Rock sits. Bluff Rock towers. It is the silent main character in this crime cum ghost story – it is always there, it always remains.”

Bluff Rock

Kristina Schlunke’s Bluff Rock (2005) is an account of her attempt to investigate an 1844 massacre of aborigines atop a local granite outcrop close to her Australian outback childhood home.  Schlunke ‘s research ranges across contemporary accounts, wider cultural context and the material conditions of the event-space. The rock itself is offered up as a mute witness to whatever happened there. For Schlunke preoccupations of the present inevitably seek to project onto any attempt to interpret the past. She sees the urge to order and make sense via selection and narrative as something to be – if not resisted – then at least laid bare. In that sense her investigation becomes resolutely autobiographical and deconstructive. The outcrop itself is presented as resistant to this ordering, resistant to the writing (or revealing) of the ‘truth’ of the event. In the swirl of interpretations, Schlunke clambers to the top of Bluff Rock and finds there no plateau, no clearly defined edge from which the cornered aborigines could have been ‘thrown’ (as in the testimony of the perpetrators). Schlunke is not seeking to deny the atrocities of colonialists and their actions against those already inhabiting the supposed Terra Nullis, but she finds threads that cannot be neatly assimilated into any of the circulating accounts. She concludes that the massacre probably did take place – once amongst many in this locality – but probably not at this landmark, that scenery having been added later, as though the event required geological ‘sexing-up’, bringing in a dramatic staging point, a crescendo for the endemic casual violence of such frontier encounters.

Bluff Rock passes no clue other than its own topography and density of thicket. It is impervious to rapid travel and interrogation alike. A material synonymous with memorials and headstones gives up little testimony of this past. Instead meaning comes from that projected onto this outcrop by its passersby:

“To drive past Bluff Rock is to see nothing but rock. To stop at the viewing place is to acquire a name and some history. To go to the Visitors’ Centre and ask for a leaflet is to be given a story of omnipotent white power.”

Cave Rock

Schlunke notes the instability of the very naming of Bluff Rock (and of the colonial urge-to-name as part of territorial conquest). An early – rain soaked – explorer came upon the outcrop in a wet July  and declared it ‘St Swithin’s Bluff’. That name didn’t stick, but – as for Schlunke – “This combination of rain and rock and the figure of a man’s body open to the elements and the effect of other men, creates a very nuanced image of that first ‘owner’”.

Cave Rock

Likewise Matthew & Michael Makley find something similar in Cave Rock (2010), their account of the disputed use of a Nevada lakeside granite mass, the remnant of a volcano that erupted there three million years ago. To the local native American Washoe tribes this outcrop is “De’ek wadapush” (Rock Standing Grey), to the white explorers who then sought to style a name for this landmark, it was variously “Rocky Point” then “Indian Rock” and then “Cave Rock”.

The Washoe detoured to avoid this place. It was a potent place, to be visited only by shamen and at which secret rituals of re-powering would be performed, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill. But then in 1859 the white man’s gold rush saw a plank bridge-road skirt the edge of the mass. Then in 1931 engineers blasted a road tunnel straight through it (with a second tunnel added in 1957). The Washoe were not consulted.

Granite comes in many shapes and textures, but is often notable for its sheerness. As Schlunke puts it: “only straight, downward fissures and the simple immensity of granite”. Cave Rock was of a formation not well suited to traditional crack system based climbing, but the pioneering of bolt enabled sport climbing in the 1980s opened up the possibility of sheer rock faces to climbing. You don’t need cracks, seams and crevasses if you have runs of metal bolts fixed into a face.

In 1987 the first sport climbing route was pioneered at Cave Rock. Sports climbers bolted this vertical landscape and – in their view – improved the place by tidying up the litter and tunnel debris they found there, and paving the cave base. Ultimately 325 anchors marking the 47 distinct high-challenge routes written onto the face of Cave Rock by the scrutiny of the pioneering climbers who attentively read this vertical place and its route-potential, portraying this engagement with the rock in ecstatic, semi-spiritual terms, for example route pioneer Dan Osman:

“When I finished ‘Psycho Monkey’, I looked to the right and saw the line of ‘Phantom Lord’, which was harder [5.13b]. When I finished that, I looked to the right again and saw…the line of ‘Slayer’…I yelled to my belayer to lower me, and ran over to start working on it.” (quoted in Makley & Makley, 2010).

The climbers’ interest in Cave Rock coincided with emergence of a (slightly) greater attentiveness to Native American affairs in US Federal policy, sparking long debate amidst Cave Rock’s custodians, the US Forestry Service, about how the seemingly incompatible uses could be reconciled. The Washoe wanted all non Washoe use of Cave Rock to be banned. In retort the climbers developed a triple pronged argument, first that US constitutional law prohibited the Forestry Service from acting in a way that promoted the interests of a religion. Secondly, that the spiritual integrity of Cave Rock had already been erased by the road tunnels and thirdly, that Cave Rock now held a rich spiritual meaning for climbers too (hinting at an equivalence to that of the Washoe).  Meanwhile – to add to the messy reality and multiple meaning making in play at this site – Cave Rock had been designated as a Federal heritage site due to its historic transportation significance: the road tunnels!

Sadly, the dispute remained one largely polarised between the climbers and the Washoe, the vision of a march upon Cave Rock by an enraged mob of access defending road tunnel enthusiasts never materialised. Ultimately, after some extensive to-ing and fro-ing the Federal Appeal court decided that it was lawful for the US Forestry Service to ban climbing at Cave Rock without falling foul of the US constitution. The rock’s heritage value for the Washoe (and the general population of the area) could be acknowledged , and climbing upon this publically owned land could be prohibited as of deleterious character to the integrity of the rock itself.

Subsequently, the climbers bolts were removed, their holes plugged and the climbers flooring works taken away too. But Cave Rock remains publicly owned land, it has not been repatriated to the Washoe, and traffic still streams through the tunnels.

What the granite thinks of all this is not known.

 

 

References

Laurance, J. (2010) ‘Radon Gas: the silent killer in the countryside’, The Independent, 10 August.

Makley, M.S. & Makley, M.J. (2010) Cave Rock – climbers, courts and a Washoe Indian sacred place, University of Nevada Press: Reno.

Schlunke, K.M. (2005) Bluff Rock – autobiography of a massacre, Curtin University Books: Fremantle.

Image Sources

Haytor, Dartmoor – http://travel.aol.co.uk/2013/07/12/mother-son-die-falling-100ft-dartmoor-devon/

Bluff Rock, New South Wales – http://www.onthehouse.com.au/reports/property_profile/12445298/7417_New_England_Highway_BLUFF_ROCK_NSW_2372/

Cave Rock, Nevada – http://blog.skiheavenly.com/2012/08/01/hiking-to-the-top-of-cave-rock/

Bunkers, anoraks and the erotics of knowledge

Here are my slides for the paper I’m giving at @conservingc20 ‘s conference on cultures of architectural enthusiasm at University College, London next week.

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There’s another bunkerology slideshow here:

https://lukebennett13.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/new-uses-for-old-bunkers-8-affective-landscapes-sebald-orford-ness-and-the-patriotism-of-pillboxes/

That one dwells more on representation and genre.

[This is New Uses For Old Bunkers #33]

New uses for old bunkers #22: doing ‘ruin porn’ in Churchill’s other bunker?

“I propose to lead a troglodyte existence with several ‘trogs’” – Winston Churchill, 21st September 1940

Yes, there was something wrong with my camera that day, my pictures aren’t very good. This blog-essay juxtaposes my ‘bad’ photos of an open-day at the ruined hulk of Churchill’s ‘other’ London bunker – codenamed  ‘Paddock’ – in Spring 2010 with a rumination on the practice of modern ruin gazing, and ‘ruin porn’.

Paddock

‘Paddock’ was built 40 feet beneath a suburban GPO research station at Brook Rd, Dollis Hill, North London in the early stages of the war as a reserve bunker, a fallback in case the Government should be ousted from the Cabinet War Rooms beneath Whitehall. Whilst that central London complex is now presented as a restored walk-through ‘attraction’ and bunker-themed subterranean Churchill museum, Paddock has received no restorationist’s attention. Instead, it presents as a buried decaying hulk, its two layers having the ambiance of a cross between a rusting submarine and a buried Travelodge that the World somehow lost, and left to the decay in a fug of penetrating water, oxidation and fungal growth. This bunker, in short, is a modern ruin.

Paddock was decommissioned from military use in 1943 and ceased its subsequent GPO occupation in the 1970s. From that time it fell into decay. In the 1980s BT (as successors to the GPO) closed the research station, and in the 1990s the site was acquired by Stadium Housing Association and plans drawn up for a social housing development on this ‘brownfield’ site. At an advanced stage of the planning process the existence of this once ultra top secret bunker came to light and the local planning authority decided to impose a planning condition upon the developer. In return for permission to build 36 houses upon the surface, twice-yearly ‘open-days’ would have to be held, to give any who wanted to, a chance to venture inside.

Going underground

When I went along in Spring 2010, I found a gaggle of people milling on the pavement beside the nondescript entrance to the bunker. As the safety instructions sent to me by the Housing Association had mentioned with evident relief, this tour would be conducted by the experts – the bunker enthusiasts, Subterranea Britannica (Sub Brit).

Holmes (2009), in his book about Churchill’s main bunker, quotes from the diary of one of Churchill’s Assistant Private Secretary, Jock Colville who described Paddock in its prime, in September 1940 as:

“deep underground rooms safe from the biggest bomb, where the Cabinet and its satellites (e.g. me) would work and, if necessary sleep. They are impressive but rather forebidding: I suppose if the present intensive bombing continues we must get used to being troglodytes (‘trogs’ as the PM puts it). I begin to understand what the early Christians must have felt about living in the Catacombs.” (64)

Descending the cellar-like steps, the feeling was very much of entering some dank catacombs. This place is uncurated – there has been no preservation, let alone restoration there. There are no interpretation boards, there is no son et lumiere to bring this place ‘back to life’.

Instead (and I keep returning to this word because it really does capture the essence) here was a rusting and rotting hulk. In the two levels of long narrow corridors with office sized rooms either side, there was very little to identify this site’s prior exceptional purpose or even its subterranean location (apart from the absence of windows to these rooms). This was a rotting building, a long narrow rectangular office block, that just happened to be buried underground and to have had the good fortune to have been visited a few times by a wartime Prime Minister. Or, at least that’s how it struck me.

Seeing and doing

The crowd who had assembled for this trip underground was a surprisingly diverse bunch, a genuine North London cross section by race, age, gender and class. I suspect that many were there for the heritage angle – to glimpse another part of the Churchill trail, and perhaps others were curious local residents. It was strange to be in this derelict, decayed space in the company of an array of mainly smartly dressed middle aged people whom – I suspect – don’t normally clamber into the depths of dilapidated office-bunkers. Presumably they were here for the link to history and heritage, a link that was pretty hard to grasp hold of in this rotting void.

What attracted my attention most was the determined and disciplined photographic foraging of a black female teenager in the party. In each room she would seek out standard tropes of urban exploration photography and take multiple shots with her expensive looking camera. She clearly knew what she was looking for.

And what was she photographing?

Well, dust encrusted old bottles left on tables, fragments of notice board parchment, rusting signs: all the usual indicia of former use, abandonment and decay. And no doubt, from her thorough approach she would have come away with some ‘beauties’ in the oeuvre. In making this observation I’m not being ‘sniffy’. If my camera had been working properly that day I would have been attempting to perform the same stock compositions.

What struck me was that she (and I) had brought along a readymade way to ‘read’ this ruin – and we read it in a way that enabled us to pretty quickly forgot that we were in a specific place of heritage or events. Our engagement was more generic and focussed on the experiential materialities of this hulk – of the rust, the mould, the exposed metal: the place as ruin.

Smith (2004) recounting his own visit to this place with Subterranea Britannica, rendered this strange aesthetic – an unlikely conjunction of survey and poetics – thus:

“walls and floors ran wet…a beautiful snowy fur, the most exotic fungus I had seen below ground grew from the ceiling…gravy splashes of mould up the walls…droplets of water had been cultured into jewels by immobility” (333-334)

Our Sub Brit guides also seemed more captivated by the dank, broken-ness of this place that in portraying a clear and confident account of its wartime life. A line from Smith’s book had struck me when I first read it, and almost verbatim replayed itself via our own guide when we were taken into the generator room: his guide had inhaled contentedly there and declared with evident satisfaction “there’s still that engine-room smell”’ (2004:334), our guide showed a similar enthusiasm for this mechanical room and appended to every sentence of his description of these power devices the rider “as you probably know…”, co-opting us – willing or not – into a ceremony of subterranean machine-worship, recalling the obsessive enthusiast quoted in Geoghegan’s (2009) wonderfully titled article on industrial archaeology enthusiasts: “If you can walk down the street and recognise the difference between cast iron and wrought iron, the world is altogether a better place”.

Smith also relayed another evocative parallel recalled by one of his Sub Brit guides, about areas of water ingress into this bunker: “It’s like Star Wars where they’re trapped in a trash compactor” (333). It was, it really was. Trash compactor, space hulk, derelict bunker – they all merged as cultural reference points in this broken place.

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Ruin Porn

I’ve been thinking about Paul Mullins’ (2012) recent blog-essay on ruin porn and archaeology of modern ruins. The teenage photographer, the Sub Brit enthusiasts and I (with my damaged camera) were all – each in our own way – exhibiting and practising a contemporary ruin aesthetic in our engagement with this place. The decontextualised dimension is what renders the so-called ‘ruin porn’ aesthetic distinctive.

Garrett (2011) has sought to explore this free-ranging aesthetic sensibility in his notion of urban exploration as an ‘assaying’ of the past and its structures, it is a promiscuous, selective and ‘mix and match’ approach that is free of the channelling of meaning which curated heritage venues or an archaeological investigation would entail; that urban exploration harbours “no temporal or typological constraints to an appreciation of the past” (2011, page 1050).

Garrett takes to task High & Lewis (2007) for their attack on urban exploration, which they regard as shallow and lacking a deep engagement with the history and use-lives of the places that are briefly explored. He argues that places are more than memorials, more than an embodied outcome of use-lives waiting to be faithfully excavated by in-depth study. Instead he regards ruins as much about place as time, as places of more open-ended (and generic) material stimulation of the senses and experience.

I follow Garrett’s view up to a point. I agree that urban exploration can be performed via a ‘cross-reading’ of place (a notion captured in Edensor’s (2005) important work on the aesthetics of industrial ruins), but I depart from Garrett in terms of how ‘free-form’ the urban exploration aesthetic or practice actually is. I have sought to show elsewhere that actually it is deeply structured, that it is fairly easy to spot and replicate the ‘rules’ of its ways of doing in terms of what, where and how (Bennett 2011).

High & Lewis write off urban explorers’ narratives as (only) “a valuable window into how some white, middle class North Americans in their teens and twenties view[…] deindustrialisation…” (2007: 63). Whilst they make an important contribution in characterising urban explorers as tourists, in whose gaze places are romanticized and decontextualised. What they write off as “little more than impressionistic collage of observations and feelings. [Where] we learn more about how these abandoned buildings make the narrators feel, than about their history and function” (2007: 55), I view as products of a sophisticated and relatively stable genre, a mode of representation that is being performed by (in the case of this visit), me, the Sub Brit enthusiasts and the teenage photographer. This genre sets frameworks for approaching ruins, a way of measuring good and bad attempts at the genre and denies a truly free-form engagement with them (at least to the extent that any attempt to document and share the visit is concerned).

So, is this ‘ruin porn’? I guess it depends what you mean by ‘porn’, implicitly there is a negative judgment wrapped up in the term, but helpfully Mullins draws out some of the nuances, and potential positives.

In his essay Mullins seems to align the notion of pornography with a self-centred, gratificatory and asocial consumption of place. He points to critics of the ruin porn practitioners at work in the ruins of Detroit as celebrating the aesthetics of ruin in the way that previous generations of white, middle-class, male ‘hipsters’ might have extolled – from the safe distance of their life-comforts – the ‘soul’ of slums, or the authenticity of the ghetto. The fear that Mullins echoes (but does not necessarily share) is that ruin porn arrests social processes (like urban regeneration) that would otherwise address socio-economic and other inequities: that in ruin porn’s fetish of decay and remnant signs of the past, progress is somehow opposed or delayed.

Mullins then goes on to suggest that ruin porn may be a positive counter weight to modernism’s fixation on grand schemes of ever-change and perfection seeking; that an attention to decay and traces may open our eyes to a wider range of stimuli and ways of seeing our worlds.

I’m with Mullins on that. Yes, there is a danger that celebrating decay could avert attention from pressing issues, but there is also a danger that a relentless and unquestioning quest for modernisation, change and cleanliness rushes too boldly towards erasure.

There is a positive role that ruin porn can play. Just as it is said that children need to be exposed to a little dirt and germs to develop immunity, perhaps adults need to see a bit of a dank bunker now and then to remind them that the built environment has a wider range of textures, smells and forms than everyday experience might normally reveal.

If ruin porn helps to augment our sensory range then that is good – provided we remain vigilant against the rise of narrowing representational conventions within ruin porn itself and the proliferation of derivative and hackneyed depictions that lose their ability to offer augmentation of experience of the built environment.

However, there is also a need to remain attuned to the role (past, present and future) of these structures as places of social life, of questions of power, habitability and quality of life.

Bennett, L. (2011) “Bunkerology – a case study in the theory and practice of urban exploration”, Environment & Planning D: Society and Space, 29 421-34

Edensor, T. (2005) Industrial Ruins: space, aesthetics and materiality, Berg: Oxford.

Garrett, B.L. (2011) “Assaying history: creating temporal junctions through urban exploration”, Environment & Planning D: Society and Space, 29 1048-1067

Geoghegan, H. (2009) “ ‘If you can walk down the street and recognise the difference between cast iron and wrought iron, the world is altogether a better place’: being enthusiastic about industrial archaeology”, M/C Journal: a journal of media and culture, 12 2 unpaginated.

High, S. & Lewis, D.W. (2007) Corporate Wasteland – the landscape and memory of deindustrialisation, IRL Press: London.

Holmes, H. (2009)Churchill’s Bunker, Profile Books / Imperial War Museum: London

Mullins, P. (2012) “The Politics and Archaeology of ‘Ruin Porn’” at http://paulmullins.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/the-politics-and-archaeology-of-ruin-porn/

Smith, S (2004) Underground London – travels beneath the city streets, Abacus: London

http://www.subbrit.org.uk/

 

New uses for old bunkers #16: a post about a book about a film about a journey to a bunker

This NUFOB# series is ploughing a psychological furrow at the moment – looking at the reverberation of bunkers and bunker imagery in a variety of manifestations. It won’t last forever, a more detached perspective will reappear soon, but here I’m staying in that moody place, and will be looking at the resonance of abandoned bunkers as places of mythic pilgrimage.

To do so I’m going to focus upon Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 file, Stalker and Geoff Dyer’s recent book Zona (2012) which I’ve just finished reading. Dyer’s book is a dreamy reflection upon how Tarkovsky’s film has weaved through his life and thoughts since he first saw it in the early 1980s. I will be doing likewise, linking Stalker, the roots of my bunker-awareness and interest in melancholic male wandering.

Dyer’s book is subtitled ‘A book about a film about a journey to a room’. And that neatly sums up what he has achieved. Except, that the room that the questers finally reach at the heart of the post apocalyptic ‘Zone’ is actually a bunker (one of the questers refers to it – in translation at least – as ‘Bunker 4’). Whether this large room is a bunker for containing the unspecified abnormality within, or protecting it from the normality that lies outside is never made clear. But the journey of the raggerdy middle aged questers is to this place. Everything builds up to the arrival there, and it is where the questers hope that everything will make sense.

 

 

I have only seen Stalker all the way through – in a single sitting – on one occasion. That was in the early 1980s, on TV. I was 12 and staying at my dad’s house. I remember thinking that this film was very strange. Much of it is in black and white and consists of three threadbare men shuffling their way towards ‘The Zone’. There are occasional tension points. But much of it is chilling for the absence of clarity about what is happening. Think Alien crossed with Waiting for Godot crossed with the melancholy spirit of a terminally slowed down Joy Division. In the rain.

One image stuck in my mind. The three characters clambering through a derelict factory in sodden clothing, looking small, frail, lost, abject against the backdrop of gnarled girders, corroding silos and pools of indeterminant industrial dross.

It was their dejected questing that struck me most – the travel – rather than the arrival. I think that frame, plus a few others, were the early seed for my interest in urban exploration and wandering. Other formative punctum were images of derelict Liverpool (it seemed always to be Liverpool) in circulation in gritty early 1980s TV dramas like Boys for the Blackstuff. Emasculated ex-labourers now picking over the carcass of former worksites (for a more light hearted version of this trope see the canal scene at the start of The Full Monty: an early instance of metal theft on film).

Then closer to home, there were my drawings aged five of complex interconnecting bunker-like complexes. A page wide array of tunnels, turrets and technicality. In those days ‘cuttaways’ were a common feature of print media, they seem less prevalent now. But then there seemed to be drawings and plans everywhere interpreting how things looked inside.

And there was a recurrent early childhood dream of a complex mechanical enfolding – an ambulant crush-monster that seemed to have some connection to a zebra crossing. Later-on a feverish dream one night of corroded tank cockpits the day before I was due to visit Salisbury Plain firing range with my dad. That visit didn’t happen, or if it did it didn’t leave much impression. But that dream-image lingered.

And then, me aged about six listening to my dad’s amateur dramatics group practising lines from a play he’d written for them. It was a play about the end of the world. The reason for that ending was unspecified, but the line that stuck in my young mind was “we ate Mrs Jones’ crackling yesterday”.

An innocuous line on one level – but only if you take Mrs Jones to have been the cook, rather than the cooked…