According to UN data, by 2055 the global population will have reached 10bn.
Level 2 Achieve More at the University of Sheffield is organising a series of events to accompany an online course aimed at second-year undergraduate students. Some of these events are also open to the public.
I’ve been increasingly exploring the stabilities of place. In recent years writers on place have tended to emphasise place’s flux: the way in which it is a momentary, fragile assemblage of the varied intentions, actions and desires of those who happen to be present in (or otherwise having influence over) any seemingly coherent action-space. I get this kick against formalism, but I think that it tends to present place as too fluid. My recent projects have been examining various ways by which places become stabilised (and replicated). My recent article (details here) on the role of law in shaping the form and proliferation of the ‘classic’ cotton mill published in Geoforum earlier this year is an early outing on this. And now – after three years of gestation, my article co-written with Amanda Crawley Jackson of the University of Sheffield has been published in Social and Cultural Geography…
We walked along the river and I don’t remember any of our conversations, just that it was good to walk. My memories of this trip – starbursts: the café where we ate éclairs; the weak morning sun coming through the thin yellow curtains in our rented house in Pilrig; Ocean Terminal – empty, bluntly lit, shops closed; figuring out how the buses worked and travelling over and over between Princes Street and Leith.
I had not remembered that the trees were leafless, their branches thickly crosshatched across a pale grey sky.
I walked to Salmon Pastures. A. told me he went to school and did his apprenticeship there. He explained how his father’s funeral cortège had travelled slowly along Carlisle Street and the men came out of the steelworks, doffing their caps as it passed.
To get there, I travelled by tram to Nunnery Square – a patchwork of car parks and police buildings, hemmed in by security fencing. I walked under railway arches, past carwashes and small factories, before crossing Norfolk Bridge (built in 1856) and taking a sharp right along a small cobbled street to join the river.
An old man from Yemen was sitting on a bench watching the river crowfoot stream in long ribbons with the current. We talked for a few minutes and he told me how this is a good place. Quiet.
I walked with Daisy along the River Don from the Wardsend cemetery to Neepsend. At Wardsend, we started off a little way down the railway lines that run stark and clean through the undulating and overgrown cemetery, then veered off to follow the river itself, along the newly surfaced track that cuts through the vast mounds of debris – spolia from demolished works? – that loom either side. The electricity pylons hummed and crackled overhead and the thunderous engines of quad bikes rumbled and reverberated in an undefinable distance.
Everywhere we walk, waste. And amidst the waste, lilac and jack-in-the-hedge. The river bank is strewn with tyres and bottles and fast food wrappers, mattresses and plastic chairs, podgy black bin bags. A sign screwed to one of the metal kissing gates put there to stop the quad bikes : fly tippers – we are watching you.
At Wardsend, on the hill amidst the silver birch, there has been a fire. Graves squat in scorched earth, black tipped tendrils clasping shards of stone, displacing fragments of Victorian ironwork.
The Hillsborough playing fields are to our right. A man in a vermilion jersey sparks across the pitch. A sheep’s skull – or perhaps it is just a carrier bag – is revealed, briefly, as the river washes across it. Bottle-green, muddy mallards drift.
Neepsend. Eviscerated drag cars and deserted roads, leading to an empty, elevated horizon.
We’re excited to announce the launch of our new album, Foundry.
Featuring new compositions by Martin Hogg, Vanessa Massera, Chris Bevan, Adam Stansbie, Jordan Platt, Alex Gowan-Webster, and Jonathan Higgins, the album is made exclusively from found sounds and sounds recorded in and around Furnace Park.
In the 1980s, Sheffield became known for its vibrant electronic music scene. Its luminaries drew on and made use of the industrial sounds that could be heard all over the city, emanating from the drop forges, works and foundries. Foundry – the most recent of the plastiCities projects – revisits the sounds of the city, in one of the areas most strongly connected to the now largely defunct industries which gave the 80s their soundtrack – Shalesmoor. The composers and researchers made a series of field recordings which have been archived as a sound bank for others to listen to and use. These materials also served as the basis for a series of seven commissioned sound pieces, which will be presented online and as a limited edition CD.
The compositions extract and re-frame quotations from the acoustic ecology of the area. They reflect months of deep listening and sustained attention to the sounds which are at once constant and everyday, but also, typically, ‘unheard’. Our aim is not to recycle these everyday objects and sounds. By re-casting ‘everyday sounds’ as ‘music’, by hearing harmony in the cacophony of rush hour, we are creating a space in which, quite simply, there is a possibility of imagining how all this might be different.
Chris Bevan, Amanda Crawley Jackson, Alex Gowan-Webster, Jonathan Higgins, Martin Hogg, Jordan Platt, Vanessa Massera, Adam Stansbie, Thom Wilson
Inflecting time’s arrow, or the art of exploring impossibilities
‘The city is an oeuvre, closer to a work of art than a simple material product’ (Henri Lefebvre, The Right to the City, 1968).
When the French philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre called for ‘the right to the city’ in his 1968 book, Le Droit à la ville, he was not making the case for the redistribution of urban property. Instead, he was advocating the democratic right of the people to participate in and to appropriate the city as oeuvre (artwork). By this he meant that the ideal city, for him, would be one that is worked perpetually by its inhabitants and that this process of inhabiting (in other words making and re-making the city) would take priority over consuming ready-made cityscapes (or habitats). The city he evokes (and which he describes as the properly urban) is a working site, characterized by disequilibrium, unpredictability, desire and encounter, a place that survives ‘in the fissures of planned and programmed order’ (Lefebvre, 1996: p. 129). It is a space of untold possibilities, in which the meaning of what is and what can be remains (perpetually) at stake. By contrast, capitalist logic forecloses the possibility of making new meanings in and of the city. It transforms the use value of the city into exchange value, concealing the emancipatory plasticity of the site with the hard signs and values of profit. In the capitalist city, the inhabitant, the user of the city, is instead conceived as a consumer of signs, a client to be kept happy. The city as a place of consumption, Lefebvre reminds us, goes hand in hand with this idea of the consumption of place.
Fredric Jameson famously wrote that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to envisage the end of capitalism. Lefebvre applies similar thinking to the capitalist city, noting that we often perceive it as being ‘as full as an egg or as an entirely written page’ (Lefebvre, 1996: p. 104), a physical and ideological space in which there is little or no opportunity for us to intervene or make significant change. Certainly, it seems that all too often the only ‘wiggle room’ we’re able to imagine for ourselves remains contained within dominant ideological structures.
For example, in Britain, it seems that we find it very difficult to imagine the city centre as anything other than ‘the high street’. It’s true that shops have, historically, influenced the morphological structure of our city centres. Their streets and architecture were constructed for the purpose of trade and a whole social structure grew up around the actions of browsing, buying, conversing and taking refreshment between purchases. Still today, street furniture and the layout of pedestrianized areas point to shopping as a key factor in city centre design and planning. However, the economic crisis, the rise of online shopping and other factors including the number of available car parking places and the proliferation of out-of-town malls have together produced a sharp downturn in the numbers of consumers who choose to shop on the high street. Since 2007, nearly 300 major UK retailers have gone under (affecting almost 2500 stores) and countless small businesses have closed their doors. Between 2009-2011, city centre vacancy rates doubled. What we’ve inherited, then, on the high street is a form that is increasingly without function, and yet literally set in stone.
There’s a left-right consensus in government that as much as possible must be done to keep city centre shops open. Money has been made available through some high-profile schemes to ‘re-think the high street’ and despite the introduction in 2014 of a new PDR (permitted development right) it still remains difficult to convert retail properties into residential accommodation, the thinking being that the latter doesn’t create long-term jobs and salaries. Mary Portas, who headed up a review commissioned by government in 2011, described its aims thus: ‘once we invest in and create social capital in the heart of our communities, the economic capital will follow’. In other words (and this is underscored by the first of the review’s five headline recommendations – that town centres should be ‘run like businesses’), the point for her is that the means of producing capital might need to change, but capital as an end remains unchanged. It seems also that even many ‘grassroots’ initiatives to re-think and re-make our city centres also remain grounded in doing retail, even if they are claim to be doing retail differently. The glut of ‘alternative’ pop-up shops, window displays by local artists and other ‘meanwhile’ solutions, all of which shore up the premise that this is but an economic hiatus, neither challenge the neoliberal status quo or respond usefully and creatively to the irrefutable downturn in city centre shopping. Instead, they paper over the cracks of a socio-economic model that requires not so much an aesthetic sticking plaster as a radical structural overhaul. The ideology of consumption – that is, the idea of the city centre as a space to be consumed and a space in which to consume – remains intact.
So what should we make of Lefebvre’s call for the city to be inhabited as oeuvre? As artwork? In fact, the connection between art and the modern capitalist city is a difficult and ambivalent one. In the nineteenth century, while the Impressionists embarked on their radical attempt to capture something of the fleeting, rapidly changing quality of industrialising cities such as Paris and London, Baron Haussmann – the self-proclaimed ‘demolition artist’ responsible for dramatically re-making the urban fabric of the French capital – commissioned photographers to make propagandistic ‘before and after’ images that would be used to persuade the people of Paris of the social usefulness of an initiative born largely, in fact, of military, political and financial interests. Similarly today, art is harnessed to the needs of the regenerating, branded city. Artists, when they are not asked to work for free, are offered financial incentives to package and sell their practice as product to the public and private corporations who manage our cityscapes. ‘Percentage for art’ schemes variously request or require of developers of residential, commercial and public space a small percentage of their overall budget for the purposes of commissioning art that will be publicly sited. This is perceived as ‘adding value’ to regeneration and ‘enriching’ urban space. Artists are also employed to work with communities whose landscapes are being transformed or ‘regenerated’, with a view to encouraging the latter’s ‘buy-in’ to the project and reinforcing the illusion that they have some creative say in what is happening. Beyond these funded opportunities, there are also, of course, invitations to sell artworks in pop-up shops and galleries, or make street art, or window displays in the now defunct retail spaces described just a moment ago… And then, at another level again, there’s the infamous ‘Bilbao effect’. Every city worth its salt wants a contemporary art space (with gift shop attached) that draws in the tourists, drives the economy, draws inward investment and renews the urban fabric, though since the crisis of 2008 art’s magical effects can of course no longer be guaranteed…
Writing in the middle of the last century, Lefebvre was alert to the dangers of art’s problematic complicity in the top-down meaning making of the capitalist city, yet also keenly aware of its critical and creative potential. He writes:
To put art at the service of the urban does not mean to prettify urban space with works of art. This parody of the possible is a caricature. Rather, [we argue] that time-spaces become works of art and that former art reconsiders itself as source and model of appropriation of space and time. (Lefebvre, 1996: p. 173)
Through this prism, art is reconceived as ‘a capacity to transform reality, to appropriate at the highest level the facts of the “lived”, of time, space, the body and desire’ (Lefebvre, 1996: p. 164). The space-time of the city, rather than being endured or accepted with passive resignation (ibid, pp. 156-157), becomes the very material from which the properly urban might be sculpted. In other words, the city itself should be understood as a plastic object, the consistency, form and texture of which are at one level determined by what has been, yet the stakes and future of which remain open to (re)appropriation by its inhabitants. It is in this sense, and in contrast to the ‘full egg’ model of the capitalist city, that Lefebvre perceives a gap between the fact of the city and its practice. To inhabit the city is, for Lefebvre, synonymous with critical art practice; it involves interrogating, and more specifically denaturalising, what is and, consequently, what it seems must follow, by exposing their radical contingency. To inhabit the city, in other words, is to imagine that all this might be otherwise.
The works made in the context of the plastiCities project share a common interest in reconfiguring the fact of the city, its objects, sounds and signs. For example, in Is this not a wasteland? Richard Ward destabilises dominant urban taxonomies and re-opens the hermeneutic complexity of ‘wasteland’, which is in fact a discursive ideological production, to other configurations of interpretation and intervention. The compositions sculpted from ordinary and everyday sounds found on and near the Furnace Park site can be heard through listening posts engineered by Thom Wilson, Sam Varcoe and Ben Wadsworth. With ingenuity and craftsmanship they extracted empty paint tins from the cycle of consumption and obsolescence to re-make them as conductors of sound. Similarly, David McLeavy’s stark images decontextualize objects found at Furnace Park. These empty cans of spray paint, rusting padlocks and photocells, along with the lumps of industrial stuff that we simply cannot identify, are a reflection on the processes of production, releasing the labour and forces embedded in the commodity of the ‘steel city’. An archive of the obsolete, McLeavy makes no recommendation as to what use this archive might be put, other than inviting us to contemplate its possibilities.
Lefebvre, as we have seen, describes a gap between the fact of the city and its practice, between what the city is and what we make of it (literally and conceptually). This gap, for him, is the space of politics, agency and engagement; it is the space in which we might deflect time’s arrow, interrupting the ‘natural progress’ of capitalism’s logic and recalibrating what we are made to understand is possible and impossible. This deflection, or interruption, is how we have interpreted the political valence of détournement and derive. The event of art institutes a space for thought, a critical distance from what is, and – very simply – creates the conditions for exploring impossibilities.
‘Art is not, in the first instance, political because of the messages and sentiments it conveys concerning the state of the world. Neither is it political because of the manner in which it might choose to represent society’s structures, or social groups, their conflicts or identities. It is political because of the very distance it takes with respect to these functions, because of the type of space and time that it institutes, and the manner in which it frames this time, peoples this space’. (Deranty, 2014: p. 23).
Amanda Crawley Jackson & Martin Elms, 2015.
An essay written to accompany our work being shown in The Art of Wandering exhibition at 35 Chapel Walk gallery, July-August 2015.
Deranty, Jean-Philippe, Jacques Rancière: Key Concepts (London: Routledge, 2014).
Lefebvre, Henri, Writings on Cities, translated and edited by Eleonore Kofman and Elizabeth Lebas (Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 1996).
Rancière, Jacques, The Emancipated Spectator, translated by Gregory Elliott (London: Verso, 2009).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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  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.
 Clandestine migrants who burn their identity papers during the crossing; meaning ‘those who burn’, from the Arabic حراقة, harrag – to burn.
In 1914, Sheffield’s Medical Officer of Health described properties on Matthew Street and Doncaster Street (along with others in the adjacent area) as being ‘in a condition so dangerous or injurious to health as to be unfit for human habitation’ (see Scott Lomax, The Home Front: Sheffield in the First World War [Barnsley: Pen and Sword Military, 2014], p. 2). A municipal slum clearance project began in the 1920s and was clearly still ongoing when, in 1936, George Orwell stayed with a family living on Wallace Street, just a mile or so away from what we now call Furnace Park.
Had a very long and exhausting day (I am now continuing this March 4th) being shown every quarter of Sheffield on foot and by tram. I have now traversed almost the whole city. It seems to me, by daylight, one of the most appalling places I have ever seen. In whichever direction you look you see the same landscape of monstrous chimneys pouring forth smoke which is sometimes black and sometimes of a rosy tint said to be due to sulphur. You can smell the sulphur in the air all the while. All buildings are blackened within a year or two of being put up. Halting at one place I counted the factory chimneys I could see and there were 33. But is was very misty as well as smoky – there would have been many more visible on a clear day. I doubt whether there are any architecturally decent buildings in the town. The town is very hilly (said to be built on seven hills, like Rome) and everywhere streets of mean little houses blackened by smoke run up at sharp angles, paved with cobbles which are purposely set unevenly to give horses etc, a grip. At night the hilliness creates fine effects because you look across from one hillside to the other and see the lamps twinkling like stars. Huge jets of flame shoot periodically out of the roofs of the foundries (many working night shifts at present) and show a splendid rosy colour through the smoke and steam. When you get a glimpse inside you see enormous fiery serpents of red-hot and white-hot (really lemon coloured) iron being rolled out into rails. In the central slummy part of the town are the small workshops of the ‘little bosses’, i.e. smaller employers who are making chiefly cutlery. I don’t think I ever in my life saw so many broken windows. Some of these workshops have hardly a pane of glass in their windows and you would not believe they were inhabitable if you did not see the employees, mostly girls, at work inside. The town is being torn down and rebuilt at an immense speed. Everywhere among the slums are gaps with squalid mounds of bricks where condemned houses have been demolished and on all the outskirts of the town new estates of Corporation houses are going up. These are much inferior, at any rate in appearance, to those at Liverpool. They are in terribly bleak situations, too. One estate just behind where I am living now, at the very summit of a hill, on horrible sticky clay soil and swept by icy winds. Notice that the people going into these new houses from the slums will always be paying higher rents; and also will have to spend much more on fuel to keep themselves warm. Also, in many cases, will be further from their work and therefore spend more on conveyances.
In April 1931, just a few years before Orwell’s visit to Sheffield, the Lord Mayor of Sheffield opened the Matthew Street playground, the construction of which had been funded by local philanthropist Alderman J.G. Graves. The playground occupied a site made vacant by the recent demolition of the Doncaster Arms public house, which had fallen into a state of disrepair and dereliction, and 97 nearby houses.
The corner of the playground, visible here, is where the entrance to the Doncaster Arms once stood. The large building in the right-hand corner of the image is the Don Cutlery Works. The upper level of Furnace Park now occupies what was once this children’s playground. The smaller buildings which stand in front of the cutlery works (to the right of the image) were demolished many years ago.
In early summer 2013, Amanda Crawley Jackson worked with Luisa Golob from Ignite Imaginations to organise a series of den-building workshops at Furnace Park. SKINN designed maquettes for two of the dens, and a group of artists worked with children and young people (aged 3-18) to construct dens using reclaimed materials and willow. The results were fantastic.
A fascinating blog post that speaks precisely of the area in which we are making Furnace Park. It’s a strange serendipity that on the 1873 map, the space occupied by what is now the Furnace Park site is marked out in a red pen…. We have also done a little research on the Jewish community that lived in this area in the 19th century. See https://occursus.org/2012/06/15/quiet-flows-the-don/
After leaving Russia, my great-grandparents’ path of travel would have likely taken them through Austria-Hungary or Germany to the nearest railway station whence they would have crossed Europe to a North Sea port in Germany, Holland or Belgium. There they would have boarded a ship for England, probably travelling third class where conditions were hardly luxurious, but adequate for the two-day crossing.
Many such migrants passed through Sheffield on their way from Hull to Manchester, Liverpool and ultimately America. Some decided to stay and set up as watchmakers, jewellers or tailors.  My great-grandparents were among them.
Typical of migrants in a strange land, new arrivals often went directly to members of their own family who had already settled in England, or else to people from their village back home.  The Jewish community, which grew from a base of about 60 in the 1840’s to…
After my great-grandfather’s death in November 1876, it seems that there was little reason for his widow and infant son to remain in Sheffield. Within two years, they had left town and, to my knowledge, they would never return.
Shepherd St, Google Maps, 2012
I’d always wondered what had happened to Shepherd Street and its surrounding area in the 10 years since I’d first visited. And thanks to the wonders of Google Maps and Street View, I did not have to make a trip to Sheffield to find out.
From my desktop several thousand kilometres away, it seems that the area has deteriorated further and some businesses have closed their doors. If it had all looked rather dreary in 2003, then it is even more so now.
However, there is a ray of sunshine on the horizon.
My earlier hunch about the area being ripe for urban renewal has proved…
I’m currently writing a paper which explores the colonial re-making of Algiers in the years 1830-1848, focusing particularly on the cartographic and topographic strategies of zoning, segregation, fortification, expropriation and demolition. Drawing on a number of contemporary sources, including accounts by the colonial army’s chief medical officer, Jean-Pierre Bonnafont (Douze ans en Algérie, 1830-1842) and the army captain Eugène Perret (Récits algériens, 1830-1842); the Saint-Simonian social reformer Prosper Enfantin’s Colonisation de l’Algérie (1843); Alexis de Tocqueville’s Travail sur l’Algérie (1841) and Rapport sur l’Algérie (1847), the paper presents a critical overview of the colonial imaginary of – and plans for – Algiers during the July Monarchy. While foregrounding the singularly military urbanism practised by the colonisers, it also explores the uneven application by the colonial army and military engineers of an urban modernity conceived in Paris and geared locally towards the production of a Christian, commercial city which would effectively erase and re-construct what one French engineer described in 1839 as the ‘pirate capital’ (Nightingale, 2012). This spatio-historical analysis will be presented in the context of my current research on the concept of urban plasticity, which at one level can be described as the tension between the city’s malleability and resistance, and at another as the complex entanglement of past, present and future in the very stuff of the urban fabric. It will be argued that an understanding of Algiers as a plastic urban object will shed critical light on the strategic exigencies, complexity and failures of the colonial intervention, and in so doing contribute to a discussion of the active and resistive agency of both the city and its colonized inhabitants.
I’ll also be looking tangentially at some of the works made by French painters commissioned to depict the French conquest of Algeria. I have a feeling that this may grow into another, separate paper…