Confronting objects, waste, histories: a conversation between Amanda Crawley Jackson and David McLeavy

Diary Entry, September 2012 (Amanda)

Furnace Park is being cleared by two men sent by the University’s environmental services team. I watch them scrape up scratchy foliage, broken glass, iron rods, lumps of metal stuff that we can’t identify, condom wrappers, syringes, plastic bags, CD boxes… The detritus of lives played out around the edges of the security fence, thrown over its gates. I try to ignore the layby opposite the main entrance, where tyres and condoms, wet wipes and plastic bottles, stained mattresses and police cones pile up one on top of the other, dishevelled pyramids of crap.

The rubbish is being sorted into waste streams and taken away – somewhere. The upper part of the site is becoming visible for the first time. Here and there, the dried-out, headless carcasses of birds, greasy feathers ligatured to hollow bones, their substance sucked out by the foxes I’ve heard live on the site. Some bevelled, rusting rods emerge from the lip of land that overhangs the concreted part below. We can’t pull them up so have to cover them with painted plastic bottles, identifying them as trip hazards. Resistive, non-compliant stuff, incorporated nonetheless in our scheme of things. Some soft black rubber hoops, which look like bicycle inner tubes but which I’m told are used to seal window frames, lie half buried beneath the loose rubble, wood chippings and leaves. They slither easily out of the humus, bringing their friends with them, tangled coils of dirty black snakes eating their own tails.

David is wearing thick gloves and collecting fifty objects from around the site. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do with these things yet, but we’re anxious to salvage stuff before it all disappears. It seems invested with an importance connected to this place that none of us understand. Once it’s gone from here it’s gone.

All over the site we see lumps of industrial stuff, chunky hieroglyphs that none of us know how to interpret. Someone finds a Tate membership card, sheathed in orange plastic, hiding dirtily under the buddleia. A couple of our brand new padlocks, sawn off with angle grinders by contractors frustrated by the awkward tilt of the gates, squat shiny and scarred, fat round scarabs on the suspect soil. This surface is awash with disordered pasts.

 Email from David to Amanda, March 2014

Being asked to select objects from a site you’re unfamiliar with, within a strict timeframe and for a project you may have no real idea about poses certain issues.

Firstly there is the problem of understanding a site within a short time frame. What is Furnace Park and why have Amanda and the team invested so much time in it? On an entirely visual level it seems to be just like any other brownfield site once used for industry that has been left to stew in its own detritus, the only possibility being that one day it may provide affordable parking opportunities for commuters. How do you go about navigating and appreciating this site without any prior knowledge of it?

The second is the selection of the objects themselves. The site is strewn with debris from empty spray cans to condom wrappers, all of which provide a conflicting account of the site’s history. It is apparent that some of the objects may have no real connection to the rich history of the site. However, how am I to decipher between the myriad of urban and industrial histories?

And thirdly, why am I doing this? The site is scheduled to be cleared the day following my visit so the objects will no longer be there. It seems like a frantic scavenge attempt in which I am attempting to collect anything that may hint at an interesting history, leaving the conceptual aims a post ‘collection day’ thought.

I never knew picking up rubbish would be this hard.

Contrasting with the representative scene of the visibility of speech is an equality of the visible that invades discourse and paralyses action. For what is newly visible has very specific properties. It does not make visible; it imposes presence… (and possesses an) inertia that comes to paralyse action and absorb meaning” (Jacques Rancière 2009, p. 121)

Diary Entry, September 2013 (Amanda)

The temptation is always to see sites such as the one on the corner of Doncaster Street and Matthew Street as blanks or voids, the negative spaces of the city’s redevelopment. But this presumed negativity (which is both ontological and moral) is a complex product of discourse, an illusorily static nexus of largely unchallenged perceptions.

Hours spent in the local studies library unearthed a series of histories associated with the Furnace Park site. In 1886, a stockyard wall collapsed and tons of iron bars and timbers cascaded on a group of children playing below, killing eight. In 1899, a boiler explosion at the Don Cutlery Works, now a listed but derelict building that adjoins Furnace Park, killed seven men. In 1931, Cllr Graves opened a children’s playground on the part of the site where the Doncaster Arms had once stood. The gate that currently stands at the entrance to Furnace Park traces the pub’s ghostly outline. On the lower part of the site, where the ground is more stable (a mixture of concrete and brown floor tiles) we have been able to make out a wall that used to be part of the Council’s Municipal Lighting Department. Before that, this part of the site was overlaid with slum housing, arranged in grandly named ‘courts’.

Looking at photographs of the playground with a local policeman, we conclude that the handful of twisted iron rods, a couple of feet long and protruding from the surface of the soil by the lip of land that overhangs the lower site, probably once anchored the seesaws and swings. We’ve been unable to pull them up, so deeply are they rooted. But the majority of the objects we find on the site are alien supplements – weirdly disconnected from the activities and architectures that have come up in our research. They refuse to give themselves up as material expressions of their own owners and users; they resist our expression of them (and overflow it).

When I asked David to collect objects he found interesting and may be ‘able to do something with’, I’m not really sure what I was asking of him. I have an idea that we might just exhibit them in a provisional museum of the rusty, tattered and ordinary, or that we might cast them in concrete or polish them up. But to what end? Why this urge to salvage, protect, collect, display? The semantic texture and density of the site, the multiplicity of its historical and recent uses, rendered in this anarchic proliferation of things, countermand the idea of the site as void (in the sense of its begin devoid of meaning, if not of ‘value’). But they also resist incorporation into a narrative or an aesthetic. They remain a paralysing jumble of stuff, awaiting (impossible) re-enchantment in David’s studio.

David McLeavy, 2013

David McLeavy, 2013

David McLeavy, 2013
All images copyright David McLeavy, 2013.

Diary Entry, November 2014 (Amanda)

Behind the shipping container, two large water butts are filled with waste: banana skins, blackened, soft; sandwich cartons; plastic bottles; packing tape; latex gloves. When people come to work on the site, they leave their rubbish here, in the expectation that it will be removed, taken away. But at the moment we have no provision for waste removal, other than taking it ourselves to the local tip. The problem is that none of us drive.

A group of students have just put forward an idea for a site-specific performance which would involve bringing two tonnes of sand on to the site. My first question was not about the performance itself, but how they planned to get rid of the sand afterwards, when those two tonnes – wet with rain – may well weigh in at four tonnes. How would they stop it dispersing across the site? How would they dispose of it when rats and foxes may have soiled it, thereby making it unsuitable for donation to a school or playground? Their immediate thoughts were about the suitability of the site in terms of bringing in the sand. They couldn’t, for example, do this at a smaller indoor venue they had also considered for their performance. My concern at the moment is: how will you take what you bring away?

Getting rid of our waste is something we take for granted. Contrary to all the laws of physics, in our world stuff disappears. Even the materials we put in the blue bin for recycling aren’t recycled by us; they aren’t re-used and re-incorporated in our world. Other people, other bodies, do that for us.

At the moment, however, we are confronted with sights and smells of decay; with waste we struggle to manage and dispose of ourselves. Each time I go down to the site, it seems people have tipped their waste – wet wipes, cans, food packaging – over the fence. Others must come in vans, throwing their tyres, signs, boards and rubble into the buddleia which, not yet flowering, barely functions as a screen. This ‘wasteland’ – a repository for waste. Yesterday, in my orange work gloves, catching my face on the dried stalks as I crouched among them, I picked up as much detritus as I could, cramming everything into plastic bags from the garage down the road. I’m scared of coming across a syringe (I don’t) and I don’t want to pick up the wet wipes. I have an idea of what they have been used for. In the end, I propped up a large fibreglass mould that someone had pushed under our gate (the site economy relies on the donation of ‘useful’ or ‘interesting’ waste) against the buddleia that grows by the gate in an attempt to hide the rubbish I didn’t have time to collect and store away, for now, behind the shipping container.

Email from David to Amanda, April 2014

I have a strange relationship with objects (to use the word in this context as the ornaments and signifiers of memory that we surround ourselves with on a daily basis). On one hand I have little time for the act of hoarding, which Channel 4 amongst other sources have made us increasingly aware, is a common issue within cramped domestic dwellings. I dispose of a lot of my ‘stuff’ on a regular basis, as I don’t feely terribly precious over the banal objects I tend to posses. On the other hand I do envy collectors in a romantic way. The idea of a ceramics mogul collecting historical pots from progressive artists such as Braque and Bindesboll has always seemed attractive, perhaps that’s due to the inherent value that the ceramics possess or perhaps its the enviable status that a collector of such rarity possesses in certain social circles.

It’s interesting to note why people collect things. My impression is that its due to a number of reasons, ranging from hierarchical social ambitions, a genuine interest in the formal, contextual and conceptual value of the objects to a more addictive scenario in which the collecting becomes more of a compulsion. There is also the sense of inherent monetary value that these collections begin to acquire (the common example of a mint condition Star Wars figurine still in its packaging that becomes the sci-fi pornography to a certain generation of uber fan). In most cases this results in the collectors projecting a specific value onto an object that far exceeds its material value or the value of its constituent parts.

 This brings me to Furnace Park and the objects that I was urged to collect. The interesting opposition to my previous statement is that these objects have no value or very little at best. More often than not the value of the materials is more than what they are worth as a whole. I imagine this is due to their function, or in fact their lack of function. The objects I collected are often broken parts ripped from working machinery along with fragments of machinery that has since become obsolete. The only value they seem to have is determined by their new home, or by someone willing to project a value. The difficulty I am finding is trying to project a value on the objects I have collected when I have no emotional or melancholic connection with them at all. Perhaps this is something that will form over time, like the friendship between Tom Hanks and Beasley the dog in Roger Spottiswoode’s classic feature Turner and Hootch. Or perhaps my hunt for an emotional connection with the objects is a wasted pursuit altogether.

 Initially I thought that the outcome of my research and residency period at Furnace Park would take the form of some sculptural works inspired or using the various fragments that I collected. Instead it seems to have fuelled more of a critical dissemination of the point of collecting and our forced relationship with objects that we project a false melancholy upon.

All photographs copyright David McLeavy, 2013.

24 Hour Inspire, 16-17 April 2015 – Programme

PlastiCités:

My talk on post-traumatic landscapes – part of 24-Hour Inspire at the University of Sheffield

The 2015 24 Hour Inspire starts at 5.00 pm on Thursday 16 April, and ends at 5.00 pm on Friday 17 April – in between, audiences can enjoy lectures on everything from photons to psychogeography, with speakers from across the University and beyond.

This year’s event is dedicated not only to Tim Richardson but to Dr Victoria Henshaw, who was a lecturer in the department of Town & Regional Planning until her death from cancer last autumn. Many of her colleagues are participating in this year’s event, and our opening speaker will be presenting a tribute to her.

Proceeds from the 24 Hour Inspire will go to our partner charities Rotherham Hospice and Impact Young Heroes – funds will be raised via the sale of tickets (£2 for a single lecture, £7 for the full 24), books and refreshments, and from cash donations on the day. You can also donate through our BT MyDonate fundraising page, which is live now, and will be open for some time after the event.

The programme for the event can be found on the charity’s blog and we will keep everyone informed about any updates and changes to the programme through the blog and website as well as through Facebook and Twitter.

Come and join us – for one lecture or several, or even the full 24! Help us to celebrate living, giving and learning.

Originally posted on Inspiration for Life:

Catherine Annabel Inspiration for Life Introduction and welcome
17:00:00 Professor John Flint Town & Regional Planning Victoria Henshaw – a tribute
17:30:00 Dr Nate Adams Molecular Biology & Biotechnology Throwing spanners at nanobots
18:00:00 Dr Victoria Williamson Music Music for wellbeing: possibilities and promise
18:30:00 Professor Paul White Geography Global population growth – the good news and the bad news
19:00:00 Professor Rowland Atkinson Town & Regional Planning Ecology of sound: the sonic order of urban space
19:30:00 Morag Rose Town & Regional Planning Loitering with intent: psychogeography the Mancunian Way
20:00:00 Professor Claire McGourlay Law Legal aid – what legal aid?
20:30:00 Dr Amanda Crawley Jackson French Post-traumatic landscapes
21:00:00 Professor Davide Costanzo Physics & Astronomy Anatomy of the ATLAS particle detector
21:30:00 Dr Tim Shephard Music Machiavellian sounds: how to rule a Renaissance state with music
22:00:00 Dr Catherine Fletcher History The insider’s guide to Wolf Hall
22:30:00

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004 – Theory-Parkour – Lamb on Parkour, Architecture and the Body – Urban Cultural Studies Podcast

Originally posted on urbanculturalstudies:

UCS 004 Lamb on Parkour, Architecture and the Body (12 August 2013) Conversational interview inspired by scholar Matthew Lamb’s article “Misuse of The Monument: The Art of Parkour and the Discursive Limits of a Disciplinary Architecture,” forthcoming in the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies (1.1, 2013). Pitched at a theoretical level (complementing the specific place-bound analysis of  Monument Circle in Indianapolis found in the article) discussion centers on the origins (and varieties) of parkour–an athletic engagement with the built environment (misuse through climbing, dropping, vaulting, jumping…)–and the conditioning of the body in place and as subject to architectural and urban forces.

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Spiral coast

Originally posted on rag-picking history:

Spiral near Charmouth, Dorset Spiral near Charmouth, Dorset

Leaving the busy pub directly above the beach at Seatown, in south Dorset, I begin my 3-mile walk back along the coast to Charmouth. Just like the previous three days, the December sun in a cloudless, calm sky felt unseasonably warm; the shingle beach sloping steeply into the gently rolling waves at high tide. Behind, a low wall of  grey Eype clay cliffs visibly crumbled, leaving piles of debris at their bases. Approaching these unappealing mounds, and with keen eyes, you see them: the tell-tale spiral forms of ancient molluscs, the ammonites. Prize open some larger pieces of this mud and you find more, some in a miraculous state of preservation, others crumbling away before your eyes – lost forever.

Seatown shingle Seatown shingle

Cliffs flanking Seatown beach Eype clay cliffs flanking Seatown beach

This is the world of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, where ancient sedimentary rock and mud, laid down when the dinosaurs ruled…

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# MAPS /// The Age of the Drone: No-Fly Zones and the Future Fear of Blue Sky

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PlastiCités:

There’s some interesting work being done at the moment on drone theory, particularly in the light of Grégoire Chamayou’s thought-provoking publication, Théorie du drone (2013). Along with the piece below, originally published on thefunambulist.net, I recommend reading Derek Gregory‘s reflections on Chamayou’s work, which can be found here.

Originally posted on The Funambulist:

Fragment of a US map showing no-fly zones for drones by Map Box

In the recent days, two similar incidents were reported around the presidential residencies of France and the United States. On January 16, a small drone has been seen flying above the Élysée (French presidential palace), revealing a breach in the security of the complex, only two months after photographs of President Hollande inside the gardens were published, leaving the presidential staff clueless about whether these photos had been taken by a drone or not (the magazine denied using one). Two days ago, a similar incident occurred this time in the vicinity of the White House in Washington DC, when a 2×2-foot commercial drone crashed in its gardens. The spectacle of the American news channels exacerbated this almost non-event (it was candidly piloted by a drunk government worker) to the point that CNN anchor Wolf Pritzker suggested to set up the equivalent…

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A ‘Solid Sea’? Mediterranean Crossings

I’ve previously written on the work of Moroccan artist Yto Barrada with regard to migration and border crossings in the era of globalisation. This is the abstract of a paper I’m currently writing specifically about the Mediterranean as a disciplinary space, a ‘solid sea’ (to coin the title of an installation piece by Multiplicity at Documenta in 2002) in which crossings are conditioned by the constraints of neoliberal tensions between securitisation (the politics of fear) and the economics of free trade.

A ‘Solid Sea’? Mediterranean Crossings in the Age of Globalisation

The Mediterranean Sea is a particularly neuralgic border zone in the geopolitical imaginary of the West, a thick space, in which multiple and heterogeneous crossings are performed and intertwine. And yet, as Multiplicity (a Milan-based collective of artists, architects and activists) assert, it is no longer, if indeed it ever was, ‘a large and liquid “lieu de rencontre” [space of encounter]. […] The Mediterranean is today a hard, solid space, ploughed by precise routes that move from equally defined points’ (Multiplicity, 2002). It has become ‘the only Certain Territory of this part of the world’ (ibid.). It is a space in which identities are reified and ‘exacerbated’ (clandestine/legitimate, vagabond/tourist [Bauman, 1996]), and condition also the very modalities of travel within and between this broadly securitized constellation of geopolitical and geo-economic formations (Fluri, 2011). This chapter thus explores Mediterranean crossings as performances of ‘disciplined mobility’ (Moran, Piacentini & Pallot, 2012) in which both migrant and tourist mobilities are unevenly produced, channelled, surveilled and contained, inextricably ‘caught up in the power geometries of everyday life’ (Hannan et al, 2006). The analysis is conducted through the prism of recent works by a number of contemporary artists: Zineb Sedira, Kader Attia, Bruno Boudjelal, Yto Barrada and Tiécoura N’Dao. In particular, and with reference to photographic, video and installation works by the artists in question, it considers the ways in which harragas [1] navigate the intensely securitised space of the Mediterranean (Raeymaekers, 2014; Paoletti, 2009; Mountz & Lloyd, 2014), coming up against – but also slipping into the cracks and interstices of – the European (global) police order. And yet this study will also suggest, with reference to the slippages, mirrorings, displacements and doublings which operate within the selected artworks, first that mobilities of business and leisure are similarly constrained and conditioned by the ‘all encompassing “securitisation” of everyday life’ (Philo, 2011); and secondly by specific, disciplinary visual regimes which transform the ‘fact of movement’ into meaningful mobilities (Cresswell, 2006) in the context of transnational and transcontinental border crossings in the neoliberal age.

[1] Clandestine migrants who burn their identity papers during the crossing; meaning ‘those who burn’, from the Arabic حراقة, harrag – to burn.