Friday, 28 November 2008

Slash and Burn

"London's on fire" he said.
"What!?" I often forget about the capital, my hometown, while living in the countryside. It seems so much further than the three hour train ride, a different type of distance.
"Yeah, the Olympic site is burning down".
"Where exactly?" I said leaning across the counter excitedly, suddenly I felt out of it, away from the action. Tom peered deep into his screen scanning the text for the information,
"Waterden Road". I spent the afternoon plodding between news sites, searching for the exact location of the fire, which did not take long. Two days later the whole internet was awash with photos, and my mind was made up. I had to go, and soon.

The building in question was less than one hundred metres from my first and favourite entry point, next to the bus garage which was, I believe, the last non-olympic operation to leave the site and was still functioning on this cold november night (a year ago). Perched atop the fence I was struck by the most impressive of all the panoramas I had yet witnessed here. On the left the mangled silhouettes of corrugated sheeting buckled under the intense heat of the flames, all backlit by the disturbing orange/purple glow of the city at night. On the right probably the most cliched image of demolitio-philia: a towerblock in mid-teardown, its framework fraying at the edges to strands of steel knotted with clumps of concrete.

Once again there was no sign of any life, or even security, just some distant lights, which by now I had learned to ignore - they were as likely to have been left on or have a sleeping guard beneath them as they were to indicate any danger. I approached the building, really at a loss to know how to deal with such a subject. I could still feel smouldering warmth and a smell that took me back to childhood tube journeys: melting brakes wafting up the tunnels. That evening produced my most straightforwardly sympathetic reactions to these places. Although I have often engaged in emotive postures, only this building has provoked genuine sadness. I slumped in forlorn imitation of its sagging structure, tried to haul it upright and bodged mending one of its gaping holes with my body.

On its other side was emblazoned the clue as to the reason for the fire. I think the official version still reads that a welder's torch was left burning while the workers ate their sandwiches. The sign read something along the lines of ASBESTOS NO ENTRY. A few days later the front of the Hackney Gazette read ARSON. I am not in the business of investigative journalism and have no wish to be, so all that follows is strictly speculation. There is no reason to weld inside a condemned building, I guess one might want to use an oxyacetylene cutter, but judging by the demolition strategies in evidence elsewhere in the area, this would be anomalous in the extreme, buildings were not being dissected. This building it seems was cremated. One can only assume that the health and safety procedures governing the safe removal of asbestos proved impracticable to a high profile project with a deadline considerably more strict than that of the Scottish Parliament. Hackney Council now seem to have adopted this as a favourite tactic (there have been nine fires in five years in derelict buildings occupying Dalston's development area): the slash and burn mentality of siege warfare prevailing to this day in local development disputes.

I heard distant footsteps, over my shoulder, and froze. I am told it would take 120,000 individual speakers arranged in a sphere to test the spatial awareness of two human ears. On this night mine served me well, I turned around and spied a fox making it's way along the mud embankment beneath the proposed undulating roof of the Olympic Pool.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Supporting Industry

Two months after the completion of the fence I was in London with the sole intention of catching up with friends and seeing some live music. But when my plans were thrown awry by a situation beyond my control I found myself in a fowl and frowning mood traveling east on the Silverlink North London Line with a few hours to while away. I looked up from my self-absorbed misanthropy when I reached Hackney Wick and not wanting to end up in Stratford, leapt off. The thought of trespassing that evening had not crossed my mind until the train pulled away, but I was now in the habit of carrying the camera and ancient portable tripod that I used with me on all visits to the capital, and it seemed a suitable pursuit on which to vent my aggression.

I went over the fence in one of my favoured spots, and the post-apocalyptic abondenment I had witnessed in the same spot just a couple of months before had begun to be torn down. The JCBs had moved in and the landscape had begun it's journey towards wasteland. Acrid sodium lighting shone all around casting twisted shadows on exposed interior walls, the whole ground seemed to glow a lurid orange when compared with the calming deep blue of the night sky. With the buildings coming down and the rubble heaps going up staying hidden could not have been easier. At a distance of a hundred metres I reckoned a passing security van stood zero chance of spotting me - even in the bright red hoody I was wearing, having not planned to be 'jumping' tonight - as long as I was frozen still.

I didn't have to go far before I found a subject worthy of a whole evenings imagery. It was a building I had known well which stood on the site of the first temporary buildings in the zone. I almost missed the majestic state of semi dismemberment but glancing nervously back over my shoulder as I crouched beneath a dormant digger I was awestruck. I spent the next two hours in this small space of ground, mostly cowering beneath the JCB, staring intently at the crumbling facade, trying to work out my next move. And having planned my pose, set up the tripod and checked for approaching security vans; scuttled across the open ground counting the ten seconds of shutter delay and hurling myself into position, where I froze, counting the seconds again - this time to fifty, all the while tense and as still as my adrenalin pumped body could stay.

On that evening, in front of this epic crumbling cliff-face, I came up with two responses both attempting to create a dialogue between the foreboding scale of destruction and my own puny body. In the first - the only image as yet produced to have a title - I leant with all my might against the structure, performing the architectural role of a flying buttress. The image is titled 'Supporting Industry'. In the second I threw myself at a predetermined architectural springboard and clung to some handhold for the duration of the exposure. Heroic as this may hope to sound, it took several attempts to pull off with even vague success, only two of which produced 'usuable' images. On the final attempt, my arms aching from earlier fruitless efforts, clinging doggedly to some slice of conduit, I saw the telltale revolving orange light of a security van approaching in the metallic reflection an inch in front of my face. In an atypical moment of level-headed calm I reasoned that even were they to identify my form, the spectre of a human figure draped near lifeless beneath crumbling concrete would be too incredulous to register as anything but optical illusion. The reflection continued steadily across my field of vision fading into the distance. Almost half a minute after the shutter had closed I climbed down and scampered back to the safe shadow of the digger to calm my heart rate.

I took one final photo that evening, cowering among the sheets of twisted metal which had been torn from the building. I should here pay brief and possibly surprising tribute to the excellent job that was done of recycling the building materials. This night among many others I encountered heaps that had been meticulously sorted - metal from masonry, much was made of this in the publicity but as few people will have clapped eyes on the evidence, I thought it should be noted.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Cat and Mouse

Although my trespassing activities are intentionally clandestine in the real world, I have always presented the documentation in public online space with total transparency. To begin with I hid my face from the camera, but as the images became regularly published on a website bearing my name, I soon stopped even this pretense of anonymity. More important than my identity though are the landmarks that crop up in the pictures, many of which would give telltale details as to movements about the site, especially my entrances and exits: the achilles heels of Olympic security. Much as the intention of the project is to subvert the control of both access to and imagery from Europe's largest building site, I was pleased to give the powers that be a fighting chance in preventing my intrusions, should they care enough to notice. I have taken a self-defeating pride from the outset in clearly demonstrating the weaknesses of the (de)fences.

I made the project's iconic title image early on, lying in the road at the bottom of the new gate which blocked Carpenter's Road, demonstrating the ease with which I slipped beneath it. A sign above me clearly reading "OLYMPIC PARK. ROAD CLOSED HERE FROM MON 2 JULY". The fence, which had already been extended to 'fit' the space was, when I returned two weeks later, further extended: steel bars welded to within an inch of the road on every other fence post. A month later still, unwanted eyes were also excluded - the whole fence clad in the now ubiquitous blue plywood. Whether this gradual improvement was a response to the online visibility of my images seems unlikely, but I had taken one measure to deliberately draw attention to my website.

Newham council's website contains an anomalous page amidst the mass of local government public access buraucracy. It contains a live link to a webcam mounted on top of Stratford station. The camera pans and zooms automatically back and forth, in and out across the Olympic site, whether it was installed for the purposes of sating public curiosity I have no idea. I decided to try my hand at some primitive hacking and was shocked to find that simply copying the html code and pasting into my own website code made the camera broadcast live on any page I desired. I left it for the time being on my links page, watching it occasionally and plotting to make a performance specifically for this camera as soon as I could work out how to get within range of its lens and make myself visible, if only fleetingly, to its erratic movement. Before I had come up with anything, it disappeared. I went to the source - now a blank white space, it had been taken offline. I duly removed the code from my site and within a couple of days Newham had reinstated it, so I pinched it again, and again soon enough it was gone. I intentionally went through this process several times, largely in order to prove to myself that it vanished as a consequence of my code-piracy, but also in the hope that there would be further repercussions - perhaps a polite email asking me to stop, which would give me the opportunity to question their ideals of transparency if I were not allowed to post links to the camera (I had credited the footage properly). My final reason for continuing this virtual baiting game was simply to draw the authority's attention to the images. You can watch the webcam here

I was surprised therefore that it took a lot longer for any changes to be made at my most regular point of entry, a short row of trees that flank the fence on the towpath. I believe more than nine months passed with me regularly shinning up these trees before they were boxed into the fence for good.

Monday, 3 November 2008


The next night, spurred on by the new barrier, I returned to the opposite side of the site which is flanked by the Greenway, intending at least to stake-out the potential for breaching the fence. Soon enough another tree nestled against the fence and overhanging the no mans land presented me with an easy opportunity. Climbing to the top of the fence I stopped, concealed in its shadow and watched the empty landscape, playing the waiting game with the inevitable security patrols. None came and my fingers began to go stiff with cold so I took the plunge and clambered down the supporting structure. There was a small section of now obsolete fencing blocking the canal bridge before Marshgate Lane - I photographed myself squeezing beneath it. No sooner was I on my feet than I had my first close call with a security patrol but in the incongruous urban silence - the traffic and sirens all distant - their engine's purr was an early warning and I was safely opbscured in the branches of a weeping willow as they passed. Confident that another would not come past soon I strolled out onto the road. All the street lights were still burning and the demolition job had not yet been started, business looked from afar as usual, in fact one of the warehouses, apparently granted a stay of execution, was still functioning.

I headed straight for an old target that I had never yet managed to breach and was thrilled to find the razor-wired gate unpadlocked. The remnants of the works that used to inhabit the place were few, mostly signs warning of hazardous substances, prohibiting naked flames, two tumble down cabins at the entrance, a stairway leading to what I believe used to be a gantry running along the tops of the giant compression cylinders which held whatever toxic gas or liquid this place used to process, now lead to nowhere. I remember spotting it from afar on one of my first outings, lit up like a beacon, even in the dead of night, but now it was deserted, stripped of it's impressive industrial fittings, and unlit save for tonight's full moon. I spent quite a long time here. Hidden from the road by the various concrete structures I became relaxed and sat and admired the desolation.

This abandonment was the same everywhere, the stacked towers of skips no longer stood in the skip yard, gates had been left open and creaked in the wind. Had it not been such a familiar area, it might have felt something like the set for that old Charlton Heston film: Omega Man, in which he's the last man alive in a city depopulated by plague. Post-apocalyptic is surely an over-used term considering how unlikely such an experience is on our crowded island, but that is how it felt. Again the security van trundled past, I dashed across the open ground of the skip yard heading for cover, and there was still plenty to had, but I had become a little complacent in my distracted thoughts and should by rights have been seen.

I slipped between some loose railings, into areas of the site that had previously been patrolled by guard dogs, hotch-potch smaller plots most of which still looked exactly as they had before the fence went up. One contained a caravan-cum-dumping ground, a portacabin on stilts, indistinguishable junk. The last in the line was the creepiest of all, the Reception sign still hung above the door, torn pin-ups papered the walls and porn magazines strewn across the desk, the room behind promised to be treasure trove of useful found objects but was too dark to be investigated and I was tiring.

On my way back towards the fence I decided to stick my nose around the corner to see if the old artist's studio complex would be worth a return trip another day. Leaning around the corner into its internal courtyard I stared straight into the face of a sleeping security guard less than five metres away. I ducked back behind the wall, thanked my stars and made my way hurriedly back to the fence.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Thanks to the Fence Builders

Early in 2007 there was a long break in my trespassing activities, I was living in Devon and other artwork was taking priority, my eyes wandered from the Olympic prize and I was trying to ignore the news to boot. I reurned to London that summer and was shocked to find the entire 'park' ringed by the blue fence which has since become such a contentious issue in the local community and unsurprisingly a site for numerous art-activist-antics. The extent to which the organisers were willing to go, not only to keep people out but, as has been pointed out elsewhere, to keep them from seeing was unbelievable as I had naively believed, even despite the road closures already in place, that access would not be quite so restricted, that we might be granted the opportunity to see the transformation at hand. Were it not for the natural viewing platform offered by the Greenway the whole project would likely have been carried out invisibly, the safety curtain raised after a five year interval revealing a scene-change of epic proportions.

In July 2007 the fence was not yet complete, although wandering down the canal on the 30th it was impossible to tell that half a mile to the east there was still (just) open access. I scaled the fence using one of several trees growing right up alongside it. These trees have all now been boxed into the fence, I strongly suspect that I have not been the only transgressor on this turfless turf and between us we must have made our mark (I will discuss my more conspiratorial and paranoiac musings on the updated security efforts in a separate post). Dropping down on the other side I became instantly aware of what a massive favour the fence builders had done me. I was standing in what used to be a car park for workers, located off Waterden Road, in the shadow of the colossal self-storage building. One month ago this would been accessible: not a trespass. Whereas before I paced the fews roads through the site, always on the lookout for a chink in the armour, now anywhere inside the fence was mission accomplished - I had simply to climb it and set foot on the other side.

Tonight was easy, if nervous, pickings. I decided not to stray too far, this was all of a sudden new territory, however familiar the buildings and spaces were the rules of the game had changed completely and I needed time and practice to accustomise myself to this. I stuck close to the fence, exploring only the two warehouses closest and the open space beside them until I saw the glowing portacabins and flashing orange lights of the security units and (probably needlessly) lost my nerve. Climbing back over to safety I was hit by the first serious rush of adrenalin, since my two experiences of capture, but this was different. I had succeeded. The fence builders had moved the goalposts to a place I had never expected, and much as I wish I could stop with the crass sporting analogies, I had raised my game. This was a fix that I would soon become fiercely addicted to, returning periodically over the next nine or so months, with increased nerve, cheek and commitment to get deeper into this forbidden territory, just because I could and am convinced that people should.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Caught (part two): By a dog unit

If you've read this whole page religiously the you'll know that I am terrified of dogs, I won't go into the childhood trauma which sparked this lifelong fear here, but suffice to say even a jack russell is enough to make every muscle in my body tense.

The end of an early evenings trespassing, very soon after the first sections of fence went up, at that stage it was just around Arena Recreation ground, the old cycle circuit and a few neighbouring plots where the businesses had already relocated. My final target that evening was the BOC gas bottling plant, right on the north-western corner of the main park. This had been a target ever since the first days of clambering in search of field recording material, but gas is dangerous and it had been well guarded with cameras spread evenly and placed well. Now they had departed, BOC's a big company and I don't imagine this site was any great loss to them, so I reveled at the chance to take a peek at the area in its state of abandonment, a chance I never got.

There was an access fence (two bits of standard steel meshing crudely nailed to the beginnings of the plywood ring) and by pulling out one of the nails I could flex it just far enough away from the rest of the fence to squeeze in. I'd only gone about five metres into the site when I stopped to set up the tripod in front of a small brick hut one end of which had been chewed by a JCB, plastic BOC sign still intact. Fiddling with the composition and trying to envisage where to put myself in the frame I heard a small sound to my right and looked up to see a broad barrel-chested dark-haired man, dressed all in black with the words dog unit glowing in white, it took me a second longer to notice the (as yet silent) dog, a very hairy Alsatian?

I had planned out and silently practiced the ensuing conversations often. Two options had presented themselves to me as replies to what I assumed would be the inevitable question: "What are you doing?" First the cheeky response "I'm trespassing", it was difficult to gauge what this might provoke in a captor: annoyance? confusion? The other was the 'harmless' approach: "taking photographs". To my surprise it took a long time for him to say anything at all. I was playing the standard trick of pretending there was nothing out of the ordinary, ignoring his presence and continuing to fiddle with the camera, trying my best to hide the rush of adrenalin surging through my torso. I seem to remember beginning to hum a tune, which must have made something click and exactly as I expected:

"What are you doing?"
"I'm just taking some photographs"

At this all of a sudden his brain flew into action, the dog began to bark (on demand, I assume) and his voice changed tone, pitch, volume all at once.

"oh, no you're not, stand up, put your hands on your head! no leave that there! keep your hands where I can see them! Right now walk towards me, keep your hands up! right, stop right there... Keep your hands up! The minute you came across that fence you were trespassing". I felt like saying: I know, that's the point - but thought better of it He pulled out his walkie-talkie and called for back-up. If you don't know me then you won't realise know how farcical it is for a man of his size with a trained police dog in tow to ask for back-up to apprehend me. I'm 5'11", have never weighed as much as 10 stone, I wear glasses, have thrown one punch in my whole life and I must have been visibly scared of the dog. I tried to put my camera away a couple of times, but each time he stopped me, telling me a story about one of his colleagues being shot at somewhere else on the site a few days ago and all the while his dog barking loud and rhythmically, intimidation tactics.

"If you move your hands once more I'll set the dog on you"

I think I asked if I couldn't just go out the way I came in, but he said no, mumbling something about how he was going to waste my time now that I'd caused him trouble. I understood him perfectly but responded:

"I can't hear a word, your dog's making so much noise, can't you shut him up"

The dog fell silent in seconds, and it wasn't much longer thankfully until two 4x4s both flashing orange (thankfully not blue) lights pulled up hurriedly on the kerb. The first person out of them was female and the look on her face when she saw who he'd caught was a picture. She clearly thought it pretty ridiculous the fuss that my captor had made over me and ushered me back through the gap in the fence. She was friendly and immediately set to asking me questions and only now did I fully realise the stance of the LDA and ODC to actions such as mine. When I explained I was taking photographs, she flinched and asked me suspiciously who I worked for, clearly expecting to hear the name of a newspaper or magazine in response she was surprised when I responded "I'm a self-employed artist", but quickly latched onto my purported aims of documentary photography. She took my address: I gave a false one, an old house, whose postcode stuck, and was sent away.

It turns out that even on official tours of the site, photography is strictly banned. The Olympic Delivery Committee will not stop short of complete overarching control of all the imagery that leaves the area, the propaganda machine which rolled into action as the fence went up is really far more impressive than the giant demolition crane that their leaflets boasted so proudly of.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Caught (part one): By a motion sensor

It's been ages since I posted anything up here as other things have taken precedence. I'll come clean right here because I don't want to do suspense. In trespassing on the site on numerous occasions I have so far been caught twice, both times were very near the beginning of my escapades. The first should probably have been an adjunct to a previous post as it happened on an evening I'm sure I've already written about below. Now that I come to think of it I was heading for the first road-block barricade but soon got distracted by a construction site (which seems to happen all the time). Getting in was hard, razor wire looped across the top of the gate and there were no handy footholds. Looking at gaps in the fence I always seem to under-estimate my slender frame, I know I'm skinny but getting through six inch gaps is actually not possible for any fully grown human being. Still I persevered, trying to force myself underneath the gate, and after a good three minutes of huffing and puffing. laughing at myself I made it when I took off my jacket.

After such a struggle the prize was inevitably a bit disappointing, it looked like just your average new-build housing was going up, a crane, a JCB, a lot of shuttering and a pretty treacherously crammed patch of ground. Old habits die hard so I made my way to the JCB for starters, another industrial legover, greased jeans again. Ferreting cautiously further I noticed a sound the like of which I had never heard before and was soon gazing further down into the urban ground than I thought possible. I am fairly sure what I witnessed was the entry into one of the new drains that were the first major construction job to be undertaken on the site. A giant hose snaked its way down and along out of sight, but it's rhythmic gurgle was the source of the sound, amplified and reverberating deeply in this concrete cavern. If I had had even a cheap microphone with me... but I didn't so making a mental note for another day I continued to search out likely locations. There was really nothing to be dome here so again I resorted to the 'heavy plant' and decided to act out one of those scare stories your parents tell you to keep you in line: climb the crane. I set up the camera and sprung into action making it as far as I could up the structure while counting the ten second time delay in my head, I got to zero, clung on and right then the place lit up and a booming voice almost made me fall off.

"You have been caught on CCTV, stay where you are, the police will be with you shortly"

No fear.

Actually, plenty. This has to go down as one of the all-time adrenalin rushes of my life, I was off the crane so fast it felt like dropping, grabbed the camera and tripod and then an image flashed into my head. Me, wedged tight underneath the gate, sternam pinned to the ground, flapping arms and legs like a helpless beetle as the cops pull up, lights-a-flashing. Luckily adrenalin changes everything, i threw my coat underneath dived on the ground and was out first time and running, trying to get my coat back on with the extended tripod flailing in my other hand, running, around the corner and quick, back to the Greenway, the pedestrian haven, the safety zone.

In retrospect I think that's called 'blind panic' and in a way I'm glad I have been there. Whether the police turned up is impossible to say. Whether there even was a CCTV camera I have no idea, I suspect it was simply a motion sensor to prevent vandalism and the sort of idiocy I was engaging in. Well, it worked. And the resulting image shows that.

Friday, 23 May 2008

The Cement Factory

The Greenway (for anyone not familiar with the area) is a walkway atop a raised embankment which runs from Hackney through Stratford south east to Beckton and beyond. It is one of those marvels of London life that such a vast stretch of (regularly interrupted) purely pedestrian access even exists, and it's all thanks to an enormous sewer which runs beneath it carrying East London's faeces seaward, or wherever it goes. It is a popular hangout for young moped-theiving joyriders, and the carcass of a torched bike is all too common a sight.

It borders the Olympic Site on the west, and now serves as the best vantage point from which to view the development progress. I have wandered this small stretch numerous times in making this project. The first expedition on the Greenway had a specific and simple goal: to hug the diggers in the rubble sorting area in much the same way as seen in the Old Arsenal Stadium below. Access was easy, you could just veer off the Greenway through its overgrown border and straight across the mounds of broken bricks. Diggers and sorters punctuated the landscape like dormant dinosaurs. I spent a while clambering on them smudging my clothes with clots of engine grease and posing for the camera until I swung the lens around and took one shot in the background of which loomed an impressive white building, lit-up as if fully functional.

Two conveyor belts stretched in or out of it and in this remarkably un-built-up area it rose above most of the surroundings. I was enchanted instantly, and fast getting bored of the (probably neddless) repetition of the JCB hug, made it my target. Getting in was easy once again: tread lightly across a flat roof and lower yourself down the plywood fence. A gangway ran alongside the conveyor belts straight into the hull of this bizarre vessel. Inside I quickly began to feel like a post-industrial archaeologist, the function of the heavily corroded installations were a mystery, puddles of pink covered the lowest floor and a thick layer of grey-green dust shrouded the imposing metal structures. This was not a space for people, narrow vertical ladders and meshed platforms provided access, but it was a claustrophobe's nightmare and very difficult to get enough distance between myself and the camera for a satisfying shot.

I climbed through the structure stopping in each level for a photo, until my route led me to through a door to the outdoors, at this height the wind was suddenly chilling and my muscles beginning to ache from the exertions. Climbing the final ladders to the roof I began to envisage disaster, what if I fell? The idea of spending the night with a broken leg up here, to be found by the workers the next morning did not appeal and I tried to put it from my mind. When I reached to the top, all such thoughts had vanished, and I was awed like a tourist who had never before seen the London skyline. The night sky stretched into the distance, tower block fluorescence still burning bright. I took one final shot, aping the tourist in front of the camera, only turning my back (at this stage I was still concerned with shielding my appearance) and spent a few special minutes just gazing at it all.

On my ride home I passed the dump mentioned below and realised the dreaded dog had finally gone to sleep. Slightly shocked at my own tenacity in the face of exhaustion I u-turned and parked up again. The dump was easy to get into, I had been planning this particular incursion for months, and soon I was stood at the bottom of the junk pile, looking up at the digger perched on top. The ten second maximum time delay that my camera has proved difficult here, and it took several attempts running up the mound of rubbish to learn the fast and secure footholds that would get me to the JCB in time, but finally I succeeded and, my clothes still broadly smeared in cement dust from the night's escapades, the roof slats flapping loudly in the wind, I got the shot I had been wanting since I first scouted this location.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Highbury Digger Hugger

This episode in pictures: I tried to cuddle every bit of 'plant' on the site of the old Arsenal Stadium, I failed.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Trespassing Bristol

I have, as usual, rushed into things and need to take a quick achronological detour before returning to the Olympic Site. The first stop on this quick backtrack is Bristol.

Bristol, Horfield to be precise, was the second stop in developing the trespassing practice. I was spending a weekend with old friends and thought I would take advantage of the city-break to test my trespassing mettle against a less hostile metropolis. I had researched (google earth again) two convenient locations: the substation and water plant local to my friends' house (I was at the time a little obsessed with energy politics) and even 'drawn' a little map of my intentions. Walking through Bristol, however, I passed the site of a recent demolition, nothing epic, probably a housing development. The benefits of doing research on foot rather than from a virtual bird's eye became immediately apparent (and I have stuck to this strategy since).

I returned after dark, and getting in was easy, squeezing between the ill-conceived corner fencing and hopping over a stone wall. Mud and rubble everywhere churned and piled by the ubiquitous yellow diggers that punctuated the landscape. This trip was instrumental in setting a couple of standards for many of the later trespasses. Firstly some aesthetics: desolation, street lighting (and the myriad of unreal colours that it conjures in what is grey-dull-brown by daylight) and the sense of vast landscape (peaks, valleys, lakes) in a small area. Secondly an action which recurs frequently in the following months: the HUG. Cuddling JCBs, snuggling up to rubble, a few industrial leg-overs. I guess on hindsight this oddity was initially a compositional choice, I wanted to put the digger in central frame and had, therefore, to place myself in relation to it.

There's a bit of an ideological duality which, in the adrenalin of the illegal moment I am sure did not occur to me but which, in hindsight seems fairly apt. The images are reminiscent of Swampy era anti-road protests (ironically I was nicknamed Swampy on one job a couple of years earlier) all that's missing are the slogans and the chain. But where the 'hugness' of the action comes across I am seen embracing the vehicle of change. It is this lack of a single clear ideological position which, for me, makes the action interesting in itself. Even if my ideological position in the eventual Olympic project is all too apparent, I am trying to actively and critically engage with this process of development which is so universally heralded as a benefit by our politicians, rather than simply damning it from the sidelines.

The Bristol trespass was a success, not least in the quality of the images that I captured on my first night-outing, time for the capital.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Sidings and the Substation

I return the same day after nightfall having picked what seems an easy spot: a narrow strip of land between Carpenter's Road (one side of which has by now been cleared of buildings) and the Channelsea River. The towpath runs right down one side of it and it's protected only by a flimsy six foot fence. The space is home to railway sidings but I've not seen a train there yet.

The dogs are out in force (well, there are two of them). Both kick up an almighty racket as I approach their respective territories. The first, at the dump, scampers energetically to and fro next to the caravan which I presume houses its owner. I have often wondered about that caravan - the idea that someone could live out here and not in one of the traveller communities but alone, with a stinking mound of twisted junk for company and thick layer of industrial dust stripping the moisture from his skin.

I lock up my bike and make my way down the towpath on foot, soon enough the second dog starts up, a large Alsatian on the opposite side of the canal, it stands still and barks rhythmically. I make fairly quick if ungraceful work of the fence, using a small tree as a foothold. The mesh flops beneath my weight, depositing me in a pile of nettles on the other side. I am going to have to get better at this.

The area is strewn with fairly typical industrial junk: empty oil barrels, oversized cable reels, large stacks of plastic tubing. I begin to improvise a few photos, finding a composition that captures the sense of the place and then working out where to put myself. My presence in this project is never by implication, behind the camera, but active and actual. I am in every image, but I could be anyone (at least any-unauthorised-one). I overstretch my hamstrings trying to hug one of the cable reels for the full fifty second exposure. My scavenging impulse kicks in and I scour the ground for useful bits of metal but soon abandon the idea of taking a trinket - this work is clutter-free, it's just me, the place and the camera, I have set the limits and intend to push them.

Before long I notice a continual deep hum in the distance and wander cautiously towards the source. It turns out to be a substation, an impressive array of high voltage transformers, towering pylons, neat stacks of ceramic insulation all ringed with the usual three-prong fence. I circle the substation a few times, listening to the subtly changing overtones. My fascination with the sound provokes me to return here a couple of months later. The drone is not so magical the second time around and my microphone not quite up to the challenge at the distance enforced by the fence. Nevertheless the fence itself proves remarkable once bowed and along with other sounds from this location makes up a large portion of the Lament mentioned below.

The droning substation has lulled me into a sense of security and I amble about the site calm and unhurried until an approaching helicopter shocks me back into unnecessary paranoia. I run for cover, quite literally, ducking into the shadow of some shapeless mound, where I pause and consider just how ridiculous the notion of a helicopter patrolling a wasteland actually is. I try another shot, striking what I imagine to be an Olympian pose atop the heap, and then wander back towards my entry.

On my way back over the fence my trousers get caught, ripping the entire back portion of the thigh off, so that's for tonight, with pants and leg bared for no one to see I return to my bike.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Casing the Olympic Joint

When I return to London I am armed with camera, tripod and hooded dark clothing. At this early stage the project is both easy and difficult. Easy in that I can legally traverse the entire site. In fact the numerous canals cause greater problems for access than security: they chop of the land into slivers making east-west movement possible by only a couple of major routes. Difficult because while the businesses are still operative, many of them remain protected by high fences, barbed or even razor wire, and dogs. I have aways hated dogs. The situation now could not be more different, it's easy to get where I want to be (because anywhere inside the fence is fair game) but it's very hard to move around unnoticed once inside.

I wander the streets, tirelessly looking for gaps in fences, natural leg-ups, any chink in the rusting hotch-potch of industrial armour. It is still a hive of activity and I don't go unchallenged. I am glanced at with mild suspicion by the workers in the skip yard, apprehended by a security guard in the car park of the evangelist church and again by a Turkish gardener on the allotments. The most (aesthetically) desirable locations are for the most part the best protected. The gas bottling plant at the top of the Eastway has strategically placed CCTV cameras, the most impressive (and best-lit) business on Marshgate Lane hasn't a single boy-sized gap. Even at the dump there's a dog that sounds like he would happily rip out your gullet.

I spend a whole day traversing the site in all directions, acquainting myself with the layout, unaware of just how fast this will change over the next few months. I have done my research, printed off the public access maps of the twelve or so compulsory purchase order zones that make up the future Olympic Park, transposed it all laboriously into a single enormous birds-eye view with the help of Google Earth (a perspective which has already passed into obsolescence). I am saddened that it is the open public spaces that are the first to go. The Arena Recreation Ground and Eastway cycle circuit which comprise the northernmost corners of the site are now ringed in cheap fencing and patrolled by dog units. What are they protecting? and even more to the point what are they protecting it from? Between this makeshift fence and the towpath a group of Italians have set up a temporary home in a family tent, eeking out the last possible days of squatting that the area has to offer.

Bored of traipsing the now well-trodden roads I squeeze between some dilapidated fencing onto a decommissioned towpath that runs almost the whole length of the zone, in the hope that it will offer me easy access to places that make a show of security at their front gates. No such luck. After pushing my way through the overgrowth for what seems like half a mile I suddenly happen on an empty building. The hoardings have long since been torn away, as have the window-grills. Inside are all the signs of a party that once was: paint-pen scrawls line the stairwell, crushed beer cans and then on the first floor I am transported direct back to my first experience of this place. On the wall, in huge black and red lettering the name CROSS-BONES is graffiti'd, and all of a sudden I am tripping over pasty-faced ravers, pushing my way up the staircase, slouching through treacle thick basslines, head soaring through the ceiling. I briefly recreate an ebullient dance move for the camera and return to the outdoors.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Trespassing Totnes

At the end of the summer, 2006, I moved to Devon to study and it's here that the project takes root in my mind and is formed into the current practice. Thinking back over the activities described below, the unwitting performativity that ties them all together, all of a sudden this is enough. The need to invite an audience to some neglected spot, to perform a series of planned actions, to be equipped with props, all vanish. I am left with the act of trespass alone and it is this which is interesting. Once this breakthrough is made, decisions come quickly - they seem obvious.

1) No domestic property (just too garden-hopping), in fact...
2) No private property.
3) No government or military installations (the work may be akin to activism but I am no saboteur)

That doesn't leave much.

I decide to focus entirely on transitional space, the three Ds: dereliction, demolition and development. Living in Totnes my options for a test run are limited (although if it were today then the abandoned Dairy Crest factory would be the perfect location). I settle on the industrial estate, specifically an aluminium fabrication plant, it is the most urban location in a small rural town. Of course I will immediately be breaking the second rule as I am sure it is privately owned but immediate self-contradiction suits my thoughts on artistic integrity these days: no dogmas, few principles.

I set off, armed with digital camera and portable tripod. It's Sunday, the industrial estate is deserted so I squeeze between the fence (being a skinny runt will continually prove a great asset to this project) and clamber around the site, a big kid refusing to leave the climbing frame. It all goes swimmingly until I make it onto the roof of the warehouse and am immediately spotted by a couple of elderly Sunday strollers from the adjacent car park. They stand and stare. I stop my clamberings and try to photograph my unexpected audience but the adrenalin kicks in too quickly and I forget to change the self-timer settings. The picture comes out a grey-green blur and I am gone pronto before they manage to tell anyone.

I am pleased with the images I get from this test-run, and buoyed up by the overall success of the trip. Getting spotted won't be such a problem in London - people just aren't nosy and if they do see me most wouldn't risk a confrontation, and anyway I won't be trespassing in daylight. Plus I am thrilled by this new perfomer/viewer relationship: the accidental audience, an incidental performance. A performance practice which is desperate to avoid attention.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

A Rude Awakening

One afternoon, spelunking for sounds around Stratford, outside the current park perimeter on the other side of the A11, I come across a large warehouse. Not a single window remains intact on any floor, and the boards that barred entrance on ground level are hanging loose. I slip inside. The ground floor is dominated by a industrial duct, wrenched from its fixings on the ceiling, it dives across the space; empty gas bottles litter a small buddleja-crowded courtyard. On the upper floors, the light pours in, the edge of the space littered with large shards of glass - the sport of local listless kids, I imagine. The building has been reclaimed at some point, the second floor has piles of human faeces at regular intervals along two of its sides.

I spend some time collecting broken glass and laying it out in a square in the middle of the space, looking a little like an abandoned arte povera piece. Mic in hand, I pace slowly around it, gently shifting my weight and recording the resulting cracks, scrapes and pops. Suddenly I become aware that I am not alone, I glance up nervously and meet the blank, silent stare of the building's sole inhabitant. Worst case scenarios reel through my head. We look at each other for what seems like a minute, but neither of us say a word, then swiftly and calmly he turns back through the door from which he must have come.

I cannot continue recording, despite his lack of concern with my presence. Every sound I make is now amplified ten times in the knowledge I am not alone, his silence is emphatic and my invasion of his derelict privacy all too awkward. I head back for the stairwell and peep through his doorway. He has made the toilet his bedroom: the only domestically scaled space available. The top floor is surprisingly homely: empty food wrappers, beer cans, palette-furnishings and an improvised washing line slung with damp tops. I am shocked by my own continued voyeurism. I scarper, quietly.

Thursday, 3 April 2008


As ever the first sign of changes on the ground is the surveyors. Roaming around Carpenters Road and Marshgate Lane (I guess this must have been late in 2006) I come across them all time, trios and quartets of men, clad needlessly in hi-vis jackets gazing through their mysterious camera-less tripods. These are the new daily inhabitants of the Lower Lea Valley, they seem to be trying to ignore the import of their job and the interest they attract from the local workers: the mechanics eye them with territorial suspicion. They are the pioneers. The first wave of hi-vis site clothing.

With them arrive the first hoardings. I think they were navy blue (or maybe purple), the all-over cyan branding of the five-mile nine-ply ring has yet to be chosen. Public relations optimism is channeled through community projects. Local primary schools have been enlisted to draw athletes and sportsmen (you can't argue with the vision of a five year old) and the products are displayed proudly, gathering industrial grime on this first partition. And not long afterwards, the first road closure, my instinct is to climb it, but it is daylight. Using the handily placed road-block bollards I get a better view and look down on a large marquee, I flash back to breaking into a festival the summer before, landing directly beside the security tent creeping out of its shadow, straight into a cluster of guards on their fag break, not to be repeated. I give this spot a miss when I return after dark.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Learning to Play Fences

My first solo trespasses are purposeful rather than symbolic. I had decided to make a sound-portrait of the area, a typically over-ambitious project to document the changing soundscape over the five year period in which the site will be transformed. This idea is soon curtailed and transformed and eventually completed in about nine months, resulting in Lament for the London Olympic Site a field-recording composition broadcast through the Radia network, on Resonance FM and a dozen-odd other (mainly european) independent radio stations in the summer of 2007. Luckily the project is completed before the blue barricade prevents the easy transportation of audio equipment into the site.

For a while though, on every visit I went equipped with microphones, headphones and mini-disc recorder. At this time the pre-olympic zone was a field-recordist's dream (perhaps with the exception of the large amount of freight traffic). Abundant wildlife existed amongst hulks of resonant metal, trains rumbled above marshland, the wind activated everything. Removed from the extraneous background noise of the inner-city, here was contained all the sonic potential of both urban and rural environments. One night, using a discarded tyre as leg up onto the fence, I clamber from the Arena Recreation Ground (at the north western corner of the current cordon) into the yard behind what I assume is a recycling plant. Pressing my ear against the galvanized side of gigantic water tank, on which a bemusing NO SNORKELING sign is pasted, I can just about discern a steady drip. Using a palette to close the gap to the bottom of the ladder and climb to the top. I lie there for half an hour, microphone suspended inside capturing the reverberating drips, staring at the stars, cold. And this is my first tentative intervention, exploring here is no longer a hobby. I am captivated by the place.

On a later (post-fence) visit to the same place the tank has been adorned with the largest and best work of the proficient 'teeth' graffiti artist, enormous exposed gums and pearly-white molars wrapped around it's steel. This is the point where my suspicions that I am far from alone in disregarding the cordon are confirmed, which makes me happy, on the way out that night I notice that the top of the fence where I am climbing shows the signs of its abuse, a dirty patch where it has been scaled, not just by me. Here's where it stood:

The sound hunting gathered pace from that day on. I kneel outside Pudding Mill Lane station, two contact mics attached to a towering lamppost, filtering the all of the nearby activity into a metallic drone. One Christmas day I crouch on a towpath recording the groans of corrugated sheet hanging from a lone strand, sounding like a detuned cello. And I start to bow fences. This discovery soon takes on a life of its own. I become fascinated by the acoustic properties of the city's protective barriers and conceptually enamored with the re-appropriation of these hostile, divisive objects as musical instruments. They contain a seemingly endless range of frequencies and timbres beneath the thin coating of zinc. In a short time, numerous recordings are made under the pseudo-scientific banner of Attempts to shatter steel with sound. But up to this point I remain blissfully unaware of the role fences will continue to play in my life for the next three years.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

This is not a Brownfield Site

One of our windswept sunday jollies took us along Waterden Road. Something had changed, I was perplexed - unable to visualise what had occupied the space previously. Opposite the old self-storage warehouse, in the shadow of which a shack-like greasy spoon had long stood, there was a new gap towards the horizon. A freshly tarmaced road led straight as a die into the distance, seemingly serving nowhere and nothing, the distance looked barren and building-less. We ventured onto the road, fully aware that this looked forbidden territory. Sure enough, drawing alongside a porta-security-hut one of a number of black men who had been huddled inside listening to one of the local African pirate radio stations appeared and turned us back, friendly. I never really got the place out of head (and still haven't).

Once this project was off the ground (my attempt at chronology ends here) it was one of the first places I headed for. The security hut was gone, probably long ago and replaced by the ubiquitous railway-siding style fence, not very well - they had left a large gap beneath it. I had scouted the unknown territory via Google Earth, and was amazed to find it even more barren than was imaginable at ground level. An enormous expanse of mud opened up in all directions just a couple of hundred metres down this road to nowhere. This area must make up at least one third of the current Olympic Park development site.

I squeezed beneath the fence with ease, having to do it twice for the sake of posterity. Off to the left there was a brightly lit area and the sound of a generator droning away. I have by now become used to the fact that lights and gennys are left to burn all night long for no reason, but, at the time, I assumed this indicated human activity, so crept slow and low along the bridge section of the road, until I could hop over the crash barriers onto a grassy bank which would keep me well hidden for the rest of the open stretch. The mud was cracked, looking a parched lake. There was one building and outside it to my shock, a land rover parked. Trespassing does not help my natural tendency towards paranoia, and wondering why anyone would leave their car here, behind a locked fence, in as much the middle of nowhere as it is possible to be in London, I again predicted disaster - this must be security. Hurriedly I looked for a dip in the plain and ended up charging down a bank and ending up next to the railway line. I stayed here, calmed down and took some more photos.

The area was so empty that I struggled to improvise composition without the usual industrial props, I had a torch though, so tried walking across the frame in the long exposures, then just sat on a nearby cable-reel, and watched the trains pass. Back up at road level, calm but cautious I skirted around at a safe distance from my phantom security van, looking for the bridge which i knew led to the northern half of this wasteland. Crouched beside it and peering into the underpass beneath, I could make out a Eurostar ticking over, strange as I thought the extension to Stratford was not complete, but this is where they will end up. If only the arriving tourists knew what was above them as step off the glossy white and yellow carriages: not the bustle of a capital city, but one of the only areas of the city on which nothing has ever been built, one of London's few greenfield sites, ironic that it's so brown. Except that by the time any tourists do alight at Stratford the virtual Olympic village will have become reality. I venture no further that evening, which I regret now and on my way out I discover the lights and generators indicate nothing yet refrain from standing among them for another shot, which I also regret.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Fuck Seb Coe

Sometime in 2005 our household began the semi-regular activity of industrial tourism: sunday jaunts around the post-industrial urban wastelands of east London. We visit Beckton Alp, Woolwich and the Thames Barrier and, of course, the Wick. By this time the shocking news that London had trumped Paris has broken and interest in documenting the Lea Valley as it stands is beginning to peak. It's days are numbered, community groups are mobilising, but the awareness that the unstoppable juggernaut of urban progress is finally going to wipe away this forgotten backwater could not be keener.

Over the next few months I return, both alone and accompanied, to absorb the details. We pass other pre-Olympic tourists on the towpaths, clutching the variety of imagined maps and landscape schemes that the Bid has produced, trying to marry up the overgrown present with the .pdf future. Anger is in evidence everywhere. FUCK SEB COE is scrawled on the footbridge over City Mill River and local businesses have teamed up to produce banners protesting their compulsory relocation.

It's in the sloganeering that the transference of ownership is first revealed. As site visits by the Olympic Commitee are announced the dissenting voices are quickly painted out and slick Olympic graphics replace the angry block caps banners. The same strategy of erasure is now being used, not only wholesale across the landscape itself, but on the blue fence against all the grafitti for which it openly begs.

Photos by Martin Lewis, thanks.

Monday, 24 March 2008

The Removal of Fridge Mountain

Four years after acquainting myself with the hinterland of Hackney Wick by attending it's illegal raves it became part of my daily routine. I got an agency job working in Stratford, doing six hour shifts renovating tube trains, and cycled from Homerton every morning at dawn. My route took me down Carpenter's Road, past the taxi hospitals and breaker's yards.

On the other side of the road was the area's biggest landmark: fridge mountain. Towering about 20ft into the air, a monument of domestic appliance waste, the biggest heap of fridges in Europe. The mountain was the first thing to go, as the Independent on Sunday reported:

"The Hackney fridge mountain is already gone. Can the cooking-fat recycling plants and the kebab-meat factories on Pudding Mill Lane ... be far behind?"

It's strange that what most of the population would consider an eyesore caused quite so much nostalgic reflection. A fridge is a fairly ugly object, but thousands of the things, their doors gaffer-taped closed, seemed to resonate with the area (though I'm fairly sure to the taxi-mechanics on the other side of the road, there was no such sentimentalism).

The Google Earth images of the area have since been updated and although they cannot possibly keep apace with the development currently underway, these two do provide a nice microcosm of what has been happening in the last nine months across the whole 1000 acre site.

An Early Incursion

Climbing the fence into what used to be Manor Garden Allotments, long before the erection of the blue fence. There is a slideshow of pictures from this project here, which is updated fairly regualrly.

Keverything Begins with K

I thought I may as well try to do this chronologically, though I'm not sure how long I will be able to keep that up. But anyway - here goes.

My first memory of what has now become the site for London 2012 took place about ten years ago in 1998, just after I left school, moved back to London to go to art school and soon discovered the pounding underbelly of the capital: the squat party scene. Hackney Wick was once the centre of this grimy underground culture, with one of its warehouses being appropriated as a rave space almost every weekend, and a building on Waterden Road (now of course demolished) was one of the longer-standing venues. I (hazily) remember two parties there, among the more homely atmospheres, with little of the nagging threat that has become so common at the events, or perhaps I was just naive.

Finding the buildings has always been half the fun, and on this particular evening I remember pricking up my ears as we traipsed along the Eastway, keen to discern that tell-tale thudding that emanates from all parties, no matter what the DJ is playing. The area was deserted and having not ventured so far into London's industrial hinterlands before I was struck by the amount of sky, the openness of the space. A few minutes later we squeezed between the chained fence, handed over our £3 each and joined the thrall. At the end of the night I took as a memento a sticker from the door jam which read "Keverything begins with K", not a motto to live-by, but it did capture something of the zeitgeist.

I am not an expert on the law regarding squatter's rights, but I guess this was also the first time I had trespassed in London. The impact of this activity on my current practice of scaling the Olympic fence cannot really be overemphasised. From that evening onwards I became ever more convinced by these parties; not just as places to drink, dance and take drugs without the unwanted attention of bouncers and excessive door charges; but also in their transformative use of forgotten spaces as autonomous social hubs, often for a single night. Squat parties are not without their problems. I have also attended one rave, not far away, at which someone died of an overdose, and sadly muggings are not rare: this is the world we live in . But when the organisers succeed in keeping out the crack and the greedy, they are setting an example of anarchy that works, a self-regulating party where people can enjoy unlicensed entertainment. It tastes different.