Invisible Geography

CODED GEOMETRY : METADATA

It was only leaving this territory of ghosts, memories, and bitter class clearances, that the digitally expanded city revealed itself, if only partially, within in a coincidental alignment of moments. Heavy vibrations amplified through the riveted panels of an iron bridge, a heady exaggerated perspective of tracks and electricity cables raced towards their vanishing points, a yellow brick post war tenement block topped with transmitters and a collection of satellite dishes pointing to the sky and a man wearing an embroidered white dashiki shirt and trousers with a kufi cap, probably a recent arrival from West African judging from his gestures, tended pink flowers on the balcony below. I tried to take a photograph but the metadata reveals more than the blurred and ill composed image.

I was passing the centre of the bridge that connects platform 1 and 2 of Hackney Central overground station when my attention was grabbed by the heavy low rumbling that reverberated through my feet and deep into my body. The Iron railings had been covered with painted grey chipboard blocking my vision and forcing me to rise up onto my toes to look over the high sides of the bridge. I watched the slow movement of yet another freight train passing below. Containers with strange names and a very particular pallet of colours that have become familiar by the frequency and repetition of their passage through this area heading north from Tilbury docks or London Gateway;

HAMBURG SUD, HAMBURG SUD, MAERSK, MAERSK, EVERGREEN LINE, MAERSK, COSCO, HAPAG-LLOYD, P&O/Nedlloyd, P&O/Nedlloyd, MAERSK SEALAND, COSCO, HAMBURG SUD, P&O/Nedlloyd, COSCO, HAPAG-LLOYD, EVERGREEN LINE, HAMBURG SUD, MAERSK.

Tilbury to Birmingham, Bristol, Coatbridge, Felixstowe, Leeds, Liverpool or Manchester.

London Gateway to Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Coatbridge with an ad-hoc service to Bristol.

The African guy was cleaning his already spotless balcony with sharp whip like movements of a white cloth that seemed to amplify the weight of transmitters only metres above his head and emphasise the oversaturation of his pink flowers which struck me as anachronistically out of place in October. A sudden bright spark illuminated the bridge and burnt a temporarily blind spot onto my retina as the connecting strips of the pantograph arm momentarily disconnected and reconnected the Freightliner engine to the suspended power line. The ionised air and the visceral presence of the usually invisible electricity made me recall a passage from Gilbert Simondon’s On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects in which he meditates on the relationship between a traction engine and its varied geographic environments;

The traction engine doesn’t simply transform electrical energy to mechanical energy; it applies electrical energy to a geographically varied world, translating it technically in response to the profile of the railway track, the varying resistance of the wind, and to the resistance provided by snow which the engine pushes ahead and shoves aside. The traction engine causes a reaction in the line that powers it, a reaction that is a translation of geographical and meteorological structure of the world’.

The freight train continued to rumble below my feet as I contemplated the invisible electrical mapping produced by the train within its connected power line, not just of the physical environment but also rendering social and economic flows. The added weight of commuters at certain times of the day moving in one direction then the other or the alterations in the power line between commuter trains and freight. Either the electrical substation or the train itself must be engineered to counter the effects of these cartographic fluctuations, but if the system could be hacked at that key point a form of rhythm analytics could be extracted revealing the invisible geographies produced in the power lines through the socio-economic and environmental rhythms of the train network.

The endless freight continued to flow below me. The physical length of these trains is impressive but can induce an overwhelming sense of monotony. My mind started to contemplate wider invisible geographies. The African man had disappeared indoors but I’m pretty sure that my mobile phone was secretly communication with the mast that is sited above his flat. My limited knowledge of the mobile phone network informs me that these masts constantly broadcast their system identification code and mobile phones are set to listen and check in, even when they are not in use.

I had a moment of epiphany. The digitally expanded city that I was searching for and had failed to locate is, just like the relationship between the train and its power cable, in part invisible. It is not accessible through the normal human sensors, only disclosing its presence through its absence. Those moments of low signal or lack of wifi connection. As I walk Hackney I have been enmeshed in an invisible geography of machine to machine communication, I have been creating invisible disturbances in a whole host of systems, casting data shadows, a personal trail of involuntary meta-data has accompanied my walk as my phone broadcasts and receives its secret messages, revealing my presences in an unseen cellular network and creating fluctuations within the electro magnetic fields that I pass through. My phone has communicated with satellites in order to log the location and altitude of my photograph and layered wifi zones have been mapped and charted, routers contacted and interrogated. It now becomes clear that the digital devices and interactions that form the tangible aspect of the digitally expanded city atop a vast invisible infrastructure. Where the Industrial revolution had transformed space through the construction of impressive physical structures the digital revolution overlays space with an invisible geography.

Poor Doors Demo

November 19, 2014 @ 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm

One Commercial Street (on the corner of Whitechapel High Street & Commercial Street). Every Wednesday between  6-7pm.

London is facing gentrification forcing working people out of their home boroughs as prices rise. Added to the problems of the bedroom tax, inflation, rent rises and pay cuts, working class communities are being dismantled. Social segregation is seeing people being priced out of their own areas. Nowhere is this more stark than in developments using Poor Doors. These developments provide social housing within developments with luxury flats but whilst the rich get a concierge, gyms and other services social housing tenants have no services, separate lifts and an entrance down an ally or round the back.

Class War have been protesting this on Wednesday evenings at 1 Commercial Street, which is just next to Aldgate East tube station.

We now call on all trade unionists to join us on Wednesday with banners and placards to show solidarity with working people on the fringes of The City. Together we can highlight the injustice of social segregation and widening inequality. Please come down and spread the word.

Date:
November 19, 2014

Time:
6:00 pm – 7:00 pm

Venue
One Commercial Street
Whitechapel High Street,
London,
E1 7PU
United Kingdom

<<< The Manvers Main Complex >>> A Digital Drift

<<< The Manvers Main Complex >>>

<<< The Manvers Main Complex >>> A Digital Drift

Part of the Edge of Human project

Sunday 16th November 2014

4pm – 5pm

70 Paul Street, London, EC2A 4NA

THIS IS NOT A PERFORMANCE. Bring booze for a psychic drift through a future landscape constructed on the site of the former Manvers Main Colliery Complex, a network of collieries that were linked below ground and included Wath Main and Kilnhurst colliery in the Dearne Valley, South Yorkshire.

The drift will take place within Google street views distorted, glitchie and copywritten representation of space.

CODED GEOMETRY >>> NEVER FORGIVE NEVER FORGET !!! SUPPORT THE ORGREAVE TRUTH AND JUSTICE CAMPAIGN >>>

NOSTALGIA fuels the anger. A FUTURE COMMUNISM demands the seizure of the means of production of physical and virtual SPACE.

‘the psychogeographical games’ – Limehouse

[Read as pdf]

This text explores psychogeography and the way artists and activists have used and developed this practice to imagine, represent, perform and contest, the geographies of cities. Charting all the practices, histories, and controversies associated with psychogeography would require a journey from contemporary psychogeographers such as Iain Sinclair, Stewart Home, Fabian Tompsett, Patrick Keiller, Chris Pettit and Laura Oldfield-Ford, back to the origins of the practice within post war avant-garde groups such as the Situationist International and the Letterist International and an investigation of the proto-psycogeographical practices that have informed and inspired its development, carried out by figures as diverse as Walter Benjamin, Louse Aragon, Baudelair, Rimbaud, De Quincy, Poe, Defoe and Blake[1]. This study will be restricted to the marginal historys and psychogeographical activities of a small area of East London. The junction of Commercial Road and Burdett Road, and three adjacent buildings which radiate a magnetic force throughout contemporary British Psychogeography; St Annes Limehouse, Limehouse Town Hall and the Sailors’ Mission.

Nazi Occultists Seize Omphalos

Limehouse Town Hall is situated between St Annes and the Sailors’ Mission and it seems appropriate to start this essay in a dusty office on the second floor of this decaying former Town Hall. The windows are partially obscured by incessant ivy, creating a constant threat of dissolution of the border that separates the inside from the outside as its tendrils bury under the Georgian sash windows bringing with them gusts of cold air from the graveyard below. The building itself is a crumbling former administrative centre and assembly rooms, the previous home to Kropotkin’s desk and the National Museum of Labour History, current headquarters of the Space Hijackers, MUTE magazine, ABJECT BLOC and an esoteric mix of artists, theorists, and cultural activists collectively known as The Boxing Club. Former tenants have included the West Essex Zapatistas, WE ARE BAD, the University of Openness and members of the London Psychogeographical Association.

St Annes Limehouse from Limehouse Town Hall
Figure 1 – St Annes Limehouse from Limehouse Town Hall

The window looks out onto the western elevation of St Annes Limehouse, an 18th century church designed and built by Nicholas Hawksmoor and believed by the London Psychogeographical Association to be on an important lay line connecting Queen Anne House and St. Annes Limehouse with a mysterious cobbled circle which was the subject of a 1994 LPA leaflet titled ‘Nazi Occultists Seize Omphalos’ (Sinclair, 1997:26).

LPA 1994 leaflet titled 'Nazi Occultists Seize Omphalos'
LPA 1994 leaflet titled ‘Nazi Occultists Seize Omphalos’

Iain Sinclair recalls, in Lud Heat, that he once worked as a gardener in this graveyard and that he and Brian Catlin traced the lines of influence connecting the eight great churches built by Hawksmoor (Sinclair, 1998). St Annes Limehouse is at the intersection of three of these lines of influence. Standing in the graveyard is the pyramid that was originally planned to top St.Annes’ tower, which featured on the cover of Sinclair’s 1998 Granta Books edition of Lud Heat and more recently has been the site of sex magick rituals organised by the West Essex Zapatistas, an organisation associated with Fabian Tompsett and Asim Butt. Fabian Tompsett is better known for translating some works by the Situationist Asger Jorn into English and under the pseudonym Richard Essex reconvening the London Psychogeographical Association (LPA) in the 1990’s. The original London Psychogeographical Association consisted of only one member, the British artist Ralph Rumney, effectively existing in name only (Bonnett, 2009: 45) and on the 28th July 1957 at a meeting in Cosio d’Arroscia Italy the London Psychogeographical Association merged with the Letterist International and the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus to form the Situationist International.

Tompsett is himself a former resident of the Town Hall and the top floor once housed the LPA collection of maps. Whilst the town hall has been home to many different strands of artist and anti-capitalist activists it has also had a strong current of technology based experimentation, particularly influenced by Saul Albert one of the founding members of the boxing club. Saul Albert brought the politics of the open source movement to the town hall through the organisation of the University of Openness (Uo). The Uo described itself as, ‘a framework in which individuals and organisations can pursue their shared interest in emerging forms of cultural production and critical reflection such as unix, cartography, physical and collaborative research’, and suggested that ‘Any member may start a faculty to socialise their research with the Uo’. One of the faculties listed in the Uo bulletin was the ‘East London Cybergeografical Underground Network’. Which described itself with a similar anachronistic playful style of the LPA.

East London Cybergeografical Underground Network
Description of the East London Cybergeografical Underground Network reprinted from the bulletin of the University of Openness

Whilst this organisation never existed beyond this statement, it significantly represents an interest in the growth of wireless networks and the relationship between psychogeography and digital space. Another example of a psychogeographical approach applied to digital space was the publication in 2002 of ‘A Collection of E-Mails around 11/9/01’(evol, 2002) by evol PsychogeogrAphix. On inspection evol PsychogeogrAphix is yet another pseudonym for Asim Butt. Closer examination of these emails, collated from various architecture emailing lists, provide a psychogeographical mapping of the spatial and psychological ambience that arose in the immediate atmosphere post 9/11. From a Cyberpsychogeographical viewpoint, physical space has been overlaid with digital space and whilst they have different material and spatial properties, psychogeography must make all contemporary spaces the subject of its investigations.

Jack the Ripper is probably psycho-geographical in love

Figure 4 - the Situationist International outside Limehouse Sailors' Mission 1960
the Situationist International outside Limehouse Sailors’ Mission 1960

Crossing the road from the Town Hall is the former Sailors’ Mission, built as a hostel for Sailors. The building subsequently became a notoriously rundown hostel for the homeless and a squat before being converted into luxury apartments. The Sailors’ Mission was the secret location of the 4th conference of the Situationist International (SI), held between 24-28 September 1960. The Psychogeographical Games were organised as a playful part of the conference and Guy Debord, who five years previously had attributed the term ‘Psychogeography’ to an ‘illiterate Kabyle’ (Debord, 1956:5), was in attendance. The meeting posed the key question ‘To what extent is the SI a political movement?’ (SI,1981a:66) The psychogeographical techniques developed by Debord and the Situationists went hand in hand with a radical revolutionary politics that aimed to transform the banality of the capitalist city and the every day life of its inhabitants. But the Situationist fascination with the psychogeographical potential of Limehouse can be trace back even earlier, to the proto Situationist group l’Internationale lettriste. As the site of the old China Town Limehouse had been the subject of an article, published in potlatch, and titled ‘Limehouse Nights in the 1930s’ within which an anonymous author recounts becoming a ‘safe guide’; ‘I gained a reputation as a safe guide (unpaid), who was always ready to conduct one, or at most two, persons through the mysterious precincts of Limehouse Causeway and Pennyfields’ (mcdonough, 2009). The article opens with a brooding sense of loss for the impending demolition of Pennyfields, the row of slum housing and shops that formed a ‘buffer’ between the shabby respectability of the High Street and the ‘rabit warrens’, labyrinthine alleyways and Oriental underworld of Limehouse Causeway. ‘London’s Chinatown is threatened with extinction. That labyrinth of squalid streets, mysterious passages, and shuttered hovels a mile or two east of Aldgate Pump is doomed. The planners have been told to go ahead. By the end of the year much of Pennyfield will have been demolished to make room for blocks of flats. After that, it is only a question of time before the rest of it will vanish like an opium smoker’s dream’. The article was printed alongside a letter to the Editor of the Times, dated 13 October 1955, signed by Michèle Bernstein, Guy-Ernest Debord and Gil J Wolman, which objected to the demolition of Limehouse’s China Town in the most tong in cheek aristocratic tone;

Dear sir,

The Times has just announced the projected demolition of the Chinese quarter in London.

We protest against such moral ideas in town-planning, ideas which must obviously make England more boring that it has in recent years already become.

The only pageants left are a coronation from time to time, an occasional royal marriage which seldom bears fruit; nothing else. The disappearance of pretty girls, of good family especially, will become rarer and rarer after the razing of Limehouse. Do you honestly believe that a gentleman can amuse himself in Soho?

We hold that the so-called modern town-planning which you recommend is fatuously idealistic and reactionary. The sole end of architecture is to serve the passions of men.

Anyway, it is inconvenient that this Chinese quarter of London should be destroyed before we have the opportunity to visit and carry out certain psychogeographical experiments we are at present undertaking.

Finally, if modernisation appears to you, as it does to us, to be historically necessary, we would counsel you to carry your enthusiasm into areas more urgently in need of it, that is to say, to you political and moral institutions.

Yours faithfully,

for l’Internationale lettriste

Michèle Bernstein, Guy-Ernest Debord, Gil J Wolman

Through out ‘The Bulletin of Information of the French Group of the Letterist International’ better known as Potlatch (Coverley, 2006:85), the term ‘Psychogeography’ appeared inconsistently as a playful provocation. However, as the Letterist International merged to form the Situationist International, Debord gave the term a more theoretical articulation. Defining it in International Situationniste #1 as, ‘The study of the specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organised or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.’(SI, 1981b:45) Psychogeography is the attempt to understand the effect that the built environment has on people’s emotions and behavior, and this is key to understanding the Situationists reimagination of the City. What emerges is an image of the city as a series of ambiences that can be studied. Debord defined two useful tools to carry out this study, the Derive and the psychogeographical map. The derive, translated as a drift in British psychogeography, was described as, ‘A mode of experimental behavior linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of transient passage through varied ambiences.’ (SI, 1981b:45) In effect the drift is an aimless stroll or walk in which the walker breaks out of their usual routines and allows themself to be guided by the particular emotions and ambiences of the built environment. The results of such a drift could then be used to produce a new form of cartography, the psychogeographical map, which rejects traditional Cartesian mapping in favour of techniques that better reflect the emotional context of the drift. Guy Debord and Asger Jorn gave an indication of how this new cartography might be expressed when they produced the 1956 ‘Guide psychographique de Paris’ and the 1957 ‘Naked City’ (Sadler, 1999). These maps attempted to represent the disorientation and fractured experience of their Paris drifts by scattering pieces of the map and linking them with military style arrows. Fundamental to these practices was an analysis of alienation. Marx, in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, had highlighted the process of human alienation from the products of their own labour. In the post war economic boom and reorganisation of Paris the SI, together with other thinkers such at Henri Lefebvre, witnessed the expansion of alienation into everyday life. The sanitisation of city space was a form of alienation of the cities inhabitants from the city streets, as Debord himself noted, ‘The modern commodity had not yet shown what could be done to a street’ (Debord, 1991). The Situationists represented the city as a site of contestation. The militaristic overtones of ‘Naked City’ are not by chance. In the collective imagination of the Situationists, they were engaged in a battle against the alienating colonialisation of the city streets. This battle was particularly apparent in the clearances and gentrification of the working class districts of Paris [2]. The battle against the alienation of the streets is the origin of the two strategies employed by the SI during this period of glorifying the old working class parts of Paris , such as Les Halles, whilst constructing a ‘Formulary for a New Urbanism’ and drawing up designs for a revolutionary transformed Situationist city[3].

Invisible Rods of Force Active in this City 

The pyramid in the graveyard of St. Annes Limehouse
Figure 5 – The pyramid in the graveyard of St. Annes Limehouse

A map of St. Annes Limehouse appears in Iain Sinclair’s Lud Heat. The map dematerialises Limehouse Town Hall, the Town Hall rendered as a negative space between a row of memorial slabs and Limehouse cut. However, Lud Heat has played an important part in materialising the Town Hall as a Key site in London’s psychogeography. Iain Sinclair himself has become synonymous with London psychogeography and since the 1970’s his output has been prolific. His book Lud Heat has had a seminal and lasting impact on subsequent psycogeographers. The drift is a central element of Sinclairs practice and he has written that, ‘Walking is the best way to explore and exploit the city; the changes, shifts, breaks in the cloud helmet, movement of light on water. Drifting purposefully is the recommended mode, tramping asphalted earth in alert reverie, allowing the fiction of an underlying pattern to reveal itself’(Sinclair, 1997:4). Lud Heat also presents an alternative mapping, an alter-cartography of the City in the form of the

maps and diagrams produced by David McKean. The London that emerges out of this poetic literature and mapping is however very different to the outcome of the Situationist studies. Central to the book’s reimagination of the city is the map titled, ‘The 8 great churches: the lines of influence the Invisible Rods of Force Active in this City’(Sinclair, 1998:18). The Map charts a series of alignments linking all 8 churches built by Hawksmoor with other significant sites within the city, such as the Greenwich observatory and the British Museum. In this map the city itself is dematerialized leaving behind only key sites of power and the flows between them. The sites are linked through the text to ritualistic murder, both in the past and the present. Through this reimaged geography, London is presented as a city built upon a masonic energy grid of occult power through which the past maintains a hold over the present[4]. The redemptive possibility of a radical future transformation of the city suggested by the Situationists is missing in this brand of psychogeography. However, Sinclair does produce a radical transformation in his reader’s imagination of the City. The City itself is not transformed but our way of experiencing and relating to it is. The ordinary and everyday is imbued with magic that calls to the reader to re-engage with the city, exploring its mysteries and hidden histories. Notably, the map also includes both Iain Sinclair and Brian Catlin’s houses, either arrogantly elevating the writer and his artist friend to significant nodes of force in the city or anchoring the map to a personally subjective and poetic rendering of the city.

Figure 6 - Limehouse Town Hall
Limehouse Town Hall

Limehoue Town Hall occupies a central position between St Annes and the Sailor’s mission and the LPA ideologically feeds from both the language of the left Marxism of the Situationist and the imagination of occult London. The particular form of language used in the LPA’s leaflets and flyers raise the spectre of a proletarian black mass in opposition to the masonic power that inscribes itself as hidden forces within the landscape. The proletariat is cast in a class struggle in which the secret occult powers that flow through the city are the site of contestation. To be subverted and harnessed by the proletariat, for the proletariat, by ritualistic acts. The LPA’s texts read as a provocative and unsettling mixture of both the occult and the Marxist tendencies and have been dubbed Magico Marxism (Bin, 1996:120)[5].

The triangulation of three buildings, St Annes Limehouse, Limehouse Town hall and the Sailor’s Mission, sketches out the key tropes of contemporary British psychogeography. The radical left-Marxism of the Situationist International, the occult influence of Iain Sinclair’s Lud Heat, the unsettling mixture of both the occult and the Marxist tendencies of Magico Marxism (Bin, 1996:120), and the transmigration of psychogeography into cyberspace.

Death to the Gods of Mount Olympus

Laura Oldfield Ford has described Barry Squiggins as ‘a bit tasty on the pavement’[6]. A reference to his fighting capability. Squiggins was born and bred in Limehouse and had been a member of the Boxing Club at Limehouse Town Hall, when it had actually been a boxing club, prior to its take over by the current collective of artists and activists who continue to use its name. Fabian Tompsett met Barry Squiggins in The Star of the East, a Pub on the opposite side of Commercial road to St. Annes. ‘Initially interested in what had become of the Town Hall, Barry became a regular visitor to the space. Hanging out in the map room and attending the frequent parties that were held at the town hall. Through this liaison, Barry discovered psychogeography and being an autodidact educated himself in its history and traditions’[7]. Having no time for mysticism and the Occult Squiggins set up his own psychogeographical group, aligning it closer to the politics of CLASS WAR[8] and naming it WE ARE BAD. From 2005 Laura Oldfield Ford and John Wild organised a series of drifts under the name the Savage Messiah Collective that in late 2005 merging with WE ARE BAD and the poet Robin Bale, designer of the groups sinister hooded figure logo. When Fabien left the town hall he passed his workspace on to WE ARE BAD. From 2006 WE ARE BAD organised anti-gentrification drifts around Kings Cross and Hackney, carried out a psychogeographical study of the Olympic Zone, attacking its blue fence with posters and raising the slogan “Death to the Gods of Mount Olympus”. These activities brought Laura Oldfield Ford, one of the most significant contemporary female psychogeographers to a wider public through her Savage Messiah Zine[9].

WE ARE BAD poster by Robin Bale
WE ARE BAD poster by Robin Bale

With the announcement of the victory of the London 2012 Olympic bid, on the 6th July 2005, cleaning up and gentrifying working class areas became a governmental priority. Working class pubs were converted into gastro pubs, the Spurstow arms, the Cat and Mutton, the Pembury Tavern, Clapton White Hart. Shops that served the needs of the working class were closed down; Spirit’s Jamaican food store and Tony’s Café on Broadway Market. Rents were rising, squeezing out anyone on a low income not already in social housing, a process WE ARE BAD labelled Class Cleansing. New Labour had replaced the concept of class with the concept of community. The language of meritocracy was revived, a return to the deserving and undeserving poor. Robin Bale was particularly vocal on these issues and WE ARE BAD rejected community, arguing for a restatement of class. WE ARE BAD rejected meritocracy through a celebration of those labelled undeserving and antisocial, ASBO’s and Alcohol Control Zones were considered spatial weapons in the class cleansing of inner city London[10]. This was the climate and context of the development of WE ARE BAD’s brand of psychogeography.

WE ARE BAD posters on the Olympic perimeter fence
WE ARE BAD posters on the Olympic perimeter fence

In the early phase of activities the drift was reinterpreted as a form of direct action. Ambience is constructed and reconstructed through the actions and interactions of its inhabitants. As such a group of walkers can actively create and construct ambience. WE ARE BAD attempted to create an ambience that was explicitly hostile to the ‘yuppies’ and ‘hipster’ gentrifiers. Stickers, posters and graffiti were used to increase underlying tensions and oppose gentrification. ‘TODAYS GATED COMMUNITIES TOMORROW’S GULAGS!’ declared one wall outside a Gated Community in Wapping, Tower Hamlets. ‘DESTROY CARTESIAN RHETORIC’ in a labyrinthal brutalist estate at Elephant and Castle, whilst close to Broadway Market in Hackney was scrawled, ‘ YUPPIES!!! Hands off our houses! There’s plenty of space for you in the THAMES GATEWAY! GET OUT OF HACKNEY!!!. The posters and graffiti had a psychotic, schizophrenic style and tone and featured the sinister WE ARE BAD head. These tactics were considered by the group as a form of psychological class war in which the ambience of an area was the prime site of contestation in the battle against gentrification. Alongside these forms of direct action more artistic strategies were employed, the most enduring being the production by Laura Oldfield Ford of a Zine to accompany each drift. These were personal, subjective and inspired by the literary psychogeographical tradition whilst rejecting the Occult reading of space in favor of a vision of class contestation. Robin Bale would imbue the drifts with a poetic but no less provocative air through invocations and incantations at key sites. John Wild followed a line of enquiry suggested by the East London Cybergeografical Underground Network, exploring the invisible geographies of electro magnetic communications networks and data tracking. The Kings X drift organised on Saturday November 17th 2007 exemplifies how these strategies worked together. Squiggins had been a squatter in the Kings Cross area and was becoming increasingly frustrated with what he saw as the destruction of one of the cities most important liminal zones. Oldfield Ford produced a study of the area that later became Savage Messiah Issue 8. A launch for the Zine was organised at Hausman’s Bookshop on the Caledonian Road and invites to the event contained the following call:

SAVAGE MESSIAH CALLS FOR AN INVASION OF THE ST.PANCRAS EURO TERMINAL!!! MASS TRESPASS KINGS CROSS TO HACKNEY WICK!!!!!!! Bring balaclavas, jemmys, ladders and ropes. Take a look round the new euro terminal, great coffee shops and places to hang out! Why not relax in the new champagne bar or browse in some of the great new retail developments?”[11]

Sufficiently provoked, a police van was stationed outside the bookshop throughout the Launch. What actually took place was even more complex. Squiggins had photocopied old maps, stretching back to the 1800s, of the Kings Cross area. Circular routes were plotted onto each map, starting and ending at Hausmans bookshop and following old streets, paths, alleyways, and tramlines. Gathered participants were divided into four groups of 6 or seven people and each group given one of the maps. Bale began the drifts with an invocation[12], marking the four points of the compass on the pavement outside Hausmans with Special Brew; Libations to the good dead, the bad dead, Dionysius, and Us. The drifts began. Each group tried to stick as closely as possible to the routes on their maps, taking them over fences, into building sites, through buildings and ultimately into conflict with the sheer scale of construction and reorganisation of the area. During the drift John Wild transmitted a pirate radio signal constructed from the location data collected by tracking his own mobile phone. The data was read out by an anonymous computer generated voice and broadcast back into the streets of Kings Cross via speakers mounted outside the bookshop.

Ultimately these strategies failed to halt gentrification and may have inadvertently had a counter productive effect, as Laura had already pessimistically observed in Savage Messiah Issue 7.

Excerpt from Savage Messiah Issue 7
Excerpt from Savage Messiah Issue 7

Tensions within the group started to emerge around political and artistic strategies, culminating when WE ARE BAD were invited to participate in a Late at the Tate event at Tate Britain, Friday 2 January 2009, and Squiggins refused to take part. Laura Oldfield Ford brought the London Psychogeographical Association and WE ARE BAD together for a final joint drift around the Olympic Zone on Saturday 21st February 2009, under the title “A Drift through the Ruins”.

Returning to Limehouse Town Hall a new group, CODED GEOMETRY, is holding its inaugural meeting. This group believes that the global reorganisation of production has brought into being new forms of space and a contemporary psychogeography cannot ignore the emergence of digital and hybrid spaces. CODED GEOMETRY insists that, ‘a FUTURE COMMUNISM must demand the seizure of the means of production of physical and virtual space by the creation of a cybernetic dictatorship by the proletariat’.[13] I can’t help thinking that Limehouse’s game of psychogeography isn’t over yet.

 

WE ARE BAD poster montage
WE ARE BAD poster montage commissioned by MUTE magazine

 

Notes

1. For a more historical overview of psychogeography see, Coverley, M (2006), Psychogeography, Pocket Essentials, Herts, UK.

2. A more in depth study of the SI’s relation ship to old Paris can be found at D, Pinder, 2000, Old Paris is No More, Geographies of Spectacle and Anti-Spectacle’.

3. A wider discussion about the SI’s plans for a Situationist City can be found in, Simon Sadler, The Situationist City.

4. For a more comprehensive overview of the relationship between Paris and London Psycogeographical cartography see. Duncan Hay, Transforming Psychogeography: From Paris to London, Published: October 18, 2012.

5. For a more in depth discussion of Magico Marxism see. Bonnett, A, 2009, The Dilemmas of Radical Nostalgia in British Psychogeography, Theory, Culture & Society, Vol.26(1), pp.45-70

6. Laura Old-field Ford talking about the origins of the WE ARE BAD / Savage Messiah Collective at a Rough Trade East on February 15, 2012

7. Ibid

8. For a more comprehensive overview of CLASS WAR see, Home, S, 1991, The Assault on Culture, AK Press.

9. Laura Old-field Ford’s work deserves a more in depth discussion, particularly in relation to psycogeoraphy and gender. However this text is focused narrowly on the collective vision of WE ARE BAD.

10. For a more in-depth view of Robin Bales argument against Alcohol Control Zones See Bale, R, I Know thee not, old man: The Designated Public, Critical Cities v3. P 347

11. Savage Messiah Issue 8: Kings Cross to Hackney Wick Invite available online at:- http://rupture.co.uk/KingXdrift/savagemessiah8.htm

12. For documentation of a similar Invocation by Robin Bale see: – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocw0dYc-deg&feature=player_embedded#at=205

13. Statement of the inaugural meeting of CODED GEOMETRY, 1st May 2014, Limehouse Town Hall.

References

Bin, D. (1996). ‘ London Psychogeographical Association Newsletter and Manchester Area Psychogeographic ‘, Transgressions, 2/3, pp. 120-121.

Bonnett, A (2009) The Dilemmas of Radical Nostalgia in British Psychogeography,

Theory Culture Society 2009 26: 45

Coverley, M. (2006) Psychogeography, Pocket Essentials, Herts, UK.

Debord, D. (1956) Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography. In K. Knabb (Ed.) Situationist International Anthology, Berkeley: Bureau of Public Secrets.

Debord, G. (1991) from In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni. Quoted in Pinder, D. (2000) Old Paris is No More, Geographies of Spectacle and Anti-Spectacle. Antipode 32:4.

evol PsychogeogrAphix, (2002) A Collection of E-Mails around 11/9/01’, in Inventory Vol.4 No.3

Home, L (Ed.) (1997) Mind Invaders: A Reader in Psychic Warfare, Cultural Sabotage and Semiotic Terrorism, Serpent’s Tail, London.

Internationale Situationniste #5 (SI)(1981a) The Fourth SI Conference in London, Originaly published in 1960. In K. Knabb (Ed.) Situationist International Anthology, Berkeley: Bureau of Public Secrets.

International Situationniste #1 (SI)(1981b), in K. Knabb (Ed.) Situationist International Anthology, Berkeley: Bureau of Public Secrets.

K. Knabb (Ed.) Situationist International Anthology, Berkeley: Bureau of Public Secrets. P 5.

McDonough, T (2009) the situationists and the city, Verso, London

Sinclair, I (1997) Lights out For the Territory, Grant Publications, London.

Sinclair, I (1998) Lud Heat, Grant Publications, London

John Wild 2014

CODED GEOMETRY

CODED GEOMETRY

Something strange is happening to space. At every level a transformation is taking place; from the traditionally intimate space of love, finding a partner, to the panoptical mapping of the whole earth by Google; the reorganisation of global cities, the urbanisation of China and the emergence of the extra national space of the cloud. A material infrastructure of cables feeds an invisible infrastructure of wireless signals, whilst the triangulation of satellites attempts to locate everything from an item in a global supply chain, to a future partner, to an extra-legal combatant to be targeted by drone strike assassination. The construction of data networks is complimented by the streamlining of supply chains. Shipping makes up more of the UK’s GDP than restaurants, takeaway food and civil engineering put together. Data, information, money, goods, all travel relatively freely across the globe, whilst many people are increasingly subject to restrictions on movement as immigrants are blamed for economic collapse and the body itself becomes both ID and interface. Fingerprint, Iris scanning, facial recognition, analysis of the body’s gait, biometric ID card, passport, right to travel, Google glass. The digital is leaking into physical space and reconstituting it. Digital space, once confined behind the screen of the monitor, is finding its way beyond the screen and embedding itself into every aspect of everyday life. Phones, shopping habits, withdrawal of money, RFID entry systems and city transport networks. Everyday social practices create data shadows, materialising rhythms, flows, habits and deviations. Fundamental to this reorganisation of space has been a shift in the means of production in the industrialised nations, driving the development of planetary-scale computation, all overseen by the political and economic ideology of neo-liberalism. For far too long this mass transformation of space has been treated as a series of isolated fragments. These seemingly unrelated phenomena all represent elements of the total shift in the production of space and only by bringing them together into an open and dynamic totality can we hope to map and understand our own position in this emergent landscape.

Green_WEB

We are currently experiencing a period of convergence between digital space and physical space. Digital spatial practices that developed alongside the Internet are currently converging with the physical space of the city. Physical space is dematerialised and re-materialised as digital representations, either overtly through representational models such as Google maps, street view and the open data streams such as those representing city transport networks, or less visibly through data capture, storage and processing. ‘Software matters because it alters the conditions through which society, space and time and thus spatiality, are produced’ (Kitchin, Dodge 2011). Data and its processing via software now plays a fundamental role in the construction of the social space of institutions and reacts back to play a role in the production of the space of cities. Cities, such as London, are experiencing increased digital augmentation either by the use of smart phones or by environmentally situated software and data capture devices. Algorithms, data collection and sensors are been embedded into the city. Kitchin and Dodge (2011) have noted that, ‘Software is thus actively shaping sociospatial organisation, processes, and economies, along with discursive and material cultures and individuals’ construction of identities and personal meaning’. This convergence of digital and physical space coincides with a reorganisation of globalised cities in general and London in particular as the inner zones are socially cleansed to make room for a hipster digital elite and intensified property speculation. A contemporary psychogeographical practice can neither ignore the impact of the digitally expanded nature of the city or the reorganisation of the city, and space in general.

Psychogeography is a practice that has been developed by activists as a method of engaging with the city, purposefully traversing away from the predictable paths, discovering and mapping the hidden processes through which the emotional space of the city is constituted. CODED GEOMETRY extends this practice, developing techniques to explore, map and détourne the hidden processes that are involved in constituting the digitally expanded city. It aims to create a subjective and embodied cognitive mapping of digitally expanded space. A form of ambulant research towards a FUTURE COMMUNISM.

CODED GEOMETRY

References

Kitchin, R. Dodge, M (2011) CODE/SPACE, MIT Press.

sensingsite 2014

Materialising Site

23 April 2014
Lethaby Gallery
Central Saint Martins

Humans are widely assumed not to have a magnetic sense…However, there is consistent evidence of an influence of geomagnetic fields on the light sensitivity of the human visual system. Moreover, it has been proposed recently that light-sensitive magnetic responses are not only used for directional information, but may also aid visual spatial perception in mammals, by providing a spherical coordinate system for integrating spatial position. (Foley, Gegear & Reppert: 21 June 2011)

The ability of humans to sense electromagnetic fields is a disputed territory at a period when a vast infrastructure of communications equipment has been constructed across urban and rural spaces to form the backbone of the im/material economy. These structures are as important as the iron bridges and railways were to the industrial revolution, forming an electro-magnetic architecture of transmission and reception.

Each site creates its own unique electromagnetic geography through its networked devices, WLAN, Cell phone signals, RFID readers, Bluetooth devices, DECT cordless phone base stations, and the internal processors of laptops. Making use of a GSM sniffer, electromagnetic induction coils, and a broad spectrum RF receiver to make this invisible geography audible, John Wild will employ the technique of electromagnetic audio drifting, allowing himself to be guided by the intensities, textures, and ambiances of the site’s electromagnetic transmissions, materializing the invisible architecture of the Lethaby Gallery.

[sensingsite 2014]

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Lauren E. Foley, Robert J. Gegear & Steven M. Reppert. (21 June 2011). Human cryptochrome exhibits light-dependent magnetosensitivity. Nature Communications, 2, 1-10.

Data\Money\Data

“…our ambition is to bring together the creativity and energy of Shoreditch and the incredible possibilities of the Olympic Park to help make East London one of the world’s great technology centres…in East London, we have the potential to create one of the most dynamic working environments in the world…we are today setting ourselves the ambition of making Britain the best place in the world for early stage and venture capital investment…Here’s our vision for East London tech city – a hub that stretches from Shoreditch and Old Street to the Olympic Park… [1].

David Cameron in East London, 4.11.2010

On 24 October 2010, two weeks before David Cameron gave his ‘vision of East London as a tech hub’ speech, the performance poet Robin Bale lead myself and three other participants on a walk around Shoreditch and Hoxton. He traced the invisible border that had been erected by the imposition of Hackney Council’s Alcohol Control Zones.

Screen Shot Robin

Alcohol Control Zones, also known as Designated Public Place Orders (DPPOs), give the police powers to stop people from drinking and to confiscate alcohol within a designated geographical area. In the words of the 2001 Criminal Justice and Police Act, a local authority can order the public; “(a) not to consume in that place anything which is, or which the constable reasonably believes to be, alcohol; (b) to surrender anything in his possession which is, or which the constable reasonably believes to be, alcohol or a container for alcohol …”[2]. The Act states that an offender will be “liable on summary conviction to a fine”. The fine can be a fixed penalty notice of £50 up to a maximum of £500.

The introduction of the Alcohol Control Zones immediately affected Hoxton’s street drinkers and rough sleepers, particularly around St-Anne’s church, Hoxton Community Gardens and Haggerston Park. In effect making the area a no-go zone for certain ‘undesirable’ members of the public. Robin’s original plan was to circumnavigate the Alcohol Control Zones, whilst drinking alcohol, in an attempt to observe what, in the environment, might have given rise to the measure [3].

I returned to this area again in March 2013 to witness another of Robin’s performances. This time Robin was performing a shamanic ‘cleansing’ of the area. He used chants of ‘Data, Money, Data’ and connected the rows of bottled water in Foxton’s faux-bar shop front with the river Walbrook which was believed to emerge from the sacred spring at the site of the former Holywell Priory. He berated the growth of local gyms, luxury flats and bars and exposed the ruins of the boroughs social housing. Since Robin’s original walk, the Alcohol Control zone had been extended to the whole of the borough of Hackney and the original Zone had now been re-branded as the Silicon Roundabout, not referring solely to the old street roundabout itself but to the digital cluster that, with the help of David Cameron, was now stretching in all directions from the roundabout.

The contrast this time was much more stark that in 2011. In 2011 it was clear that the desire of enacting the DPPO was to enhance the appeal of the area to young creative types by making the area ‘safer’ by eradicating the areas visible poor. Namely those who would meet to drink alcohol in the local parks or churchyards. This time the visible contrast produced by Robin’s performance was not between those members of the public who would sit outside bars drinking whilst those sitting and drinking in the parks were been harassed by the local constabulary. This time the contrast was between the large number of construction projects that were creating new luxury apartments whilst the area’s social housing was being under-invested, residents moved out, and whole working class housing estates demolished. Rows of derelict social housing lie side by side with new developments such as 145 city road, a 39 storey, 300 unit apartment block; 261 city road which will soon become a 36 storey residential tower; the 27 storey Eagle House and the 29 storey ‘Groveworld’ buildings.

Robins latest performance, ‘Data, Money Data’, highlights the direct relationship between the growth of Shoreditch as a Tech Hub and the Process of social cleansing that has been accelerated inline with government investment. His transformative and esoteric drift brought into sharp relief a sociospatial process that is having a massive impact on the land use of the inner city and has parallels in most post-industrial cities [4].

In many ways Shoreditch and Hoxton function as a metaphor for the wider industrial and economic shifts that have taken place since the end of the 1980’s. This area was a former industrial area that was hit hard by the decline and relocation of manufacturing and light industries. Leaving a proliferation of decaying former industrial properties and a high level of poverty and unemployment. The access to cheap industrial units attracted the 80’s artists associated with the YBA movement, reactivating these spaces initially into artist studios and galleries and eventually into bars, clubs and restaurants. However, the impoverished artists who created the Hoxton experience in the first place have also moved on because of the rise in property prices…’ [5]

What Robin’s performance suggests is that the area has taken a fundamental shift from “creative cluster” to what Saskia Sassen would recognise as a command and control node in the global network of economic exchange. Sassen has highlighted how the shift from industrial production to post-industrial knowledge and finance based production has lead to the dispersal of manufacturing, whilst creating new forms of centralisation which in turn producing new sociospatial configurations within the post industrial city.

Screen Shot skype face

In order to coordinate and manage the complexity of dispersed production, a vast expansion of the communications infrastructure is required. So we can see that the practices of knowledge based production develop in tandem with the development of the Internet and fuel its’ convergence with other communications infrastructures such as Mobile phone networks and locatative media. Contrary to many of the early predictions outlining how the rapid growth of networked communications would change the nature of work, freeing people from the office and out of the crowded cities, the converse has occurred. The major cities of the world have re-emerged as important centres in the global network of economic flows. We can visualise their emergent role as centralised control and management nodes within the global network of production and exchange, employing a growing workforce of immaterial knowledge workers. Sassen observed that, advances in electronics and telecommunications have transformed geographically distant cities into centres of global communication and long distance management [6]. I think that Sassen here correctly identifies the emergence of centralised control within the chaotic network of distributed production. Whilst the vast expansion of the communications infrastructure has enabled the production process to become deterritorialised, the need to control the activities of distributed production has coalesced into centralised control nodes within global cities and Silicon Roundabout is one such node. The reterritorialisation of global cities has also started to reverse the decline of the inner-city residential districts. The process of deindustrialisation left many inner city areas with high levels of unemployment, poor housing and a population socially excluded from more prosperous districts. As the City remerges the location of these districts, often close to the business and financial centres of cities are once again becoming desirable places to live for the young knowledge and culture workers whose immaterial labour is required by the new economy of information and control. Consequently properties in these areas have become attractive to property speculation and overseas investment. Because of the disproportionate concentration of very high and very low income in these areas they are characterised, as Robin’s performance exposes, by economic and spatial polarisation. The effect of the regeneration of Shoreditch and Hoxton has been to raise property value and increase rents. This, combined with the governments’ Housing benefit cap expected to be introduced in the area from September 2013, is producing the conditions for a literal class cleansing of the area, as poorer families are priced out and forced to move further and further to the outskirts of the city or displaced to cheaper areas altogether.

Screen Shot Housing

On Thursday 6 December 2012 the Prime Minister and the Mayor of London announced plans to transform Old Street Roundabout. The Government will put £50m towards creating a new civic space. The new space will house classrooms, auditoriums, shared office space, and 3D printing technology. Prime Minister David Cameron said, “We’re investing in creating the largest civic space in Europe – a place for start-up companies and the local community to come together and become the next generation of entrepreneurs’. It is clear that if Robins visionary divinations of the area are correct and the class cleansing continues the ‘local community’ referred to by Prime Minister Cameron will be a very different ‘community’ from the one that is currently residing in the area.

Robin Bale 2013 – ‘They knocked down the estates or decided that market rents, and who makes the market, was more appropriate. They put the occupants in tracksuits and taxed their booz. Theirs a fear of contagion. Gyms sprung up like mushrooms, where those who could – could reduce their flesh – to work of the burden of self hood. Where they could reduce their meat – to reduce the burden of selfhood. Running to stay still. – And the only flows round here – Underground – Will be Data and Money. That which comes to the same thing – Underground – Data and Money’.

 

Notes

[1] David Cameron in East London, 4.11.2010, Transcription of speech: Retrieved from: http://www.number10.gov.uk/news/east-end-tech-city-speech/
[2] Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, section 12, HM Government, 2001, http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2001/16/section/12#commentary-c1772955 (accessed 25/02/11).
[3] Stated aim of the walk in: Bale, R (2012) “I know thee not, old man”: The Designated Public, In D.Naik & T.Oldfield, (Eds.), CRITICAL CITIES Volume 3, London, Myrdle Court Press
[4] Saskia, S. (2001). the Global City, p256, United Kingdom: Prinston University Press
[5] G. Evans and P. Shaw (January 2004). The Contribution Of Culture To Regeneration In The Uk: A Review Of Evidence, A report to the Department for Culture Media and Sport
[6] S. Sassen (1997). The New Centrality – The Impact of Telematics and Globalization. In P. Droege, Intelligent Environments: Spatial Aspects of the Information Revolution, MIT Press