Monday, 15 June 2009

Good Friday, 2008.

So, this was the end. It's more than a year now since this, my final trespass. I didn't really know it at the time, but the time has now passed and even if it weren't for the 5,000 volt electric fence now being constructed as a replacement to the blue hoardings, the project would still have been finished on that night.

By now I had given up hope of ever reaching the stadium. I had tried several times, once down the canal towpath that leads into the site from the edge of Fish Island, next to the abandoned Big Breakfast house, on that occasion I had easily slipped through the first fence but found the second towpath barricade impassable; and once approaching it from the south again using a canal towpath within the site itself, but being warned off by the ominous barking a dog which started up as soon as I got within scent-range. But even if I were not going to get to the finishing line I was convinced I could easily get deeper in, further from the safety of the fence than I was used to going, and to ground that I would not have trodden since before the fence went up. The new, temporary bridge over the Channelsea River that I didn't cross before being chased off the site a couple of months back was the obvious entry point, so on a drizzly Good Friday evening I perched above the Greenway, looking down on the completely deserted site. I had picked a good night.

In spite of the silence I stuck to the now customary wait for the security patrol. Eventually it swung past and I immediately dropped over the fence and scurried along the familiar mote edge, across Marshagte Lane, and straight for the near side of the bridge. Over the past couple of weeks I had been working on a new costume addition to the project, stitching the words ARTIST IN RESIDENCE in white caps onto the back of the black snowboard jacket that I usually wore. The letters were covered in a velcro-ed patch, which could be easily torn off pre-pose and re-stuck. I stopped before crossing the bridge, ducked behind a barrel and decided to bide my time to be sure that the coast was indeed as clear as it seemed to be. I tried using the jacket for a photo: standing in clear view of the fence disused floodlights to my left and a section of concrete tubing on my right, but with the long exposure the letters came out blurry

I folded the tripod and strolled across the bridge. The space it opened out into was a landscape in the midst of reconstruction, hundreds of tons of topsoil had been shunted about into heaps at the side of each of which lay a dormant yellow sorter, their diplodocan necks stretching skyward. The place was unbelievably peaceful tonight, even the traffic and trains seemed a very distant rumble. Two ducks squawked low overhead, in my head they were discussing how much the place had changed. This area was unrecognisable by comparison with my last visit here, when I had recorded the hum of the substation, the creaking of metal in the wind and hugged a giant cable reel. All signs of previous inhabitation had been swept into neat piles, most of which removed already. Even the trees had all gone, and over near the railway sidings was the evidence, a mountain of chain-sawed chunks and boughs, sorted from the other debris. A sad sight. I tried a couple of shots, nothing dramatic or strenuous tonight, just standing among the sorters, looking out into the distance, or peering into their inner workings for curiosity.

The drizzle gained some force, slowly adding to the slimy puddles collecting on the flattened ground, I trudged about in search of shelter, happy to take my time tonight, to take advantage of the quiet, to not be nervous checking my back every minute. The security patrol would not come through here - this was digger territory, no tyre marks, only caterpillar tracks, and inhospitable as hell to my trainered feet. I found a container and squatted down next it and smoked a cigarette, contemplating the unruly stack of galvanised fencing and knotted steel rods in front of me. I guessed that on my last visit the same spot had been occupied by a massive pile of those S-shaped metal fixings that hold down railway sleepers, I had held one aloft, trophy-like on top of the pile, trying to feel heroic. Tonight I tried to stand in what I hoped was the same spot, this time keeping it simple. At it turned out it was hard enough just to stand safely in this ball of spikes. I perched awkwardly, hand outstretched for support and tried to maintain stillness for the full sixty second exposure in spite of the horrific images of impaling accidents that ran through my head.

Behind the next mound my path was blocked, not by something climbable but a stagnant stream of churned slurry stretched out over the next hundred or so metres, flanking the railway sidings and beautifully reflecting their bright lighting. I was determined to capture the scene, though it was impossible to tell how thick the soft mud was before solid ground began. I set up the camera pressed the shutter and ran forward sinking ankle deep in the ooze, I had chosen the wrong route and on the way back managed to negotiate the puddles with ease. It was worth it for the picture though.

Feet now sodden I decided to start retracing my steps back towards the fence. It had been a lackluster evening's trespassing, I had stopped feeling excited about the whole process and felt as if I was running out of material. Even if the territory changed every month, as it has done to this day, I needed to find new ways of interacting among it all if the project was going to maintain its interest, there was no point in repeating the same actions over and over again. As time has told, this moment's inkling, these minutes of doubt proved enough to bring the activity to a halt. I just never felt the need to return inside the fence after that. In retrospect I wonder if this time marked the end of the demolition, the clearing of the site, and that it was this that I felt the need to be a part of. Once the construction began it just didn't have that magnetic attraction over me.

On my way out, still thinking that I needed to find a way out of the creative dead end I had felt myself occupying on that night, I tried something new. Comedy, deliberate comedy. A spool of blue underground cable ducting was slung onto a protruding metal pole, I decided to improvise a chair from it, a seat from which to look out towards the horizon, the bright lights of Canary Wharf. Off the back of that, I tried another visual joke, jumping into the cab of a steamroller that had been left at the end of a wide strip of fresh tarmac, hands on the wheel, ready but going nowhere fast. And that was that, my final exit from the site was uneventful, I climbed down that familiar tree and never returned.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

29th February 2008

My penultimate Olympic trespass was on the night of February 29th 2008. This was the last time that I went over the fence from the towpath, and far and away the most difficult climb yet. Talking about the project I am often asked how I get in, "You take a ladder?" "You have an accomplice?", well no. I have always used trees, the same trees. But by now whether as a direct result of my own actions or due to a more widespread trend someone had cottoned on and the tree in question had been neatly boxed off, enclosed into the fence. There remained a tiny chink in this blue armour: a small hole just less than a foot from the top of the fence, which at full stretch of my jump I could manage to get a handhold on. Trying this several times over I quickly realised how out of shape I was, a one-handed pull-up, just enough to get my other hand a few inches higher onto a protruding branch proved an impossibility. The more I tried the more my muscles ached and the shorter my reach became.

Frustrated, I gave up on this method and began impatiently stalking the towpath in search of an alternative. Not far along I came across what seemed to be the only possibility nearby, a remnant of a previous breezeblock wall that had been incorporated into the new structure, its mortared joins might just provide enough grip for my shoes if I could get my hands over the top. After struggling with this for several minutes I managed to haul myself up more through stubbornness than strength, and hastily surveying the area clambered down. Inside, safe, calm down. Buoyed up by my eventual success and the previous ease of movement in this part of the site, I started to explore in the manner of someone returning to an area in which they used to live. I can't remember when I noticed the hut, but I do remember thinking it had been a stupid oversight as the guard stood outside on his fag break. Clearly the boxed-in tree had not been their only precaution; about ten metres further along from its base, a brand new sentry point, and manned.

Crouched behind a spare container I watched, getting into the rhythm of the place. Between the old self-storage building and the site of the fire was now a colossal mound of earth. Tonight it was being scraped and shaped by a lone digger, working in irregular loops, its powerful floodlight drifting in and out of view over the crest of this mud hill. Between myself and it a few yards of open space and the squat, ragged footings of a building, for which I now headed. Up and over the remaindered brickwork I found myself in a trench of concrete massacre, a handy hiding spot I decided, raised up enough to have a good view of the hut behind me, but entirely sheltered from view if needs be. One shot, another cuddle this time and on almost the exact same spot as the first warehouse hug several months ago. This time considerably less energetic, more forlorn. I slump around the base of a destroyed pillar.

I retreated from view to the camera and cast my gaze up and out towards the mud mound. I lay still for several minutes, trying to get a sense of the timing in which the JCB above was working. I decided to try a dash into the open. I wanted a wide shot, this whole unimaginably desolate sprawl and me, a lone out of place figure. Set up tripod, timer settings, press shutter, run - counting: 1... 2... 3... 4... 5... 6... 7... 8... 9... 10 and freeze. I stared up at the crest, still counting - this time the exposure, about half way through I saw the ominous floodlight loom towards me and turned scrambling back to my hiding place, grabbing the camera on my way back down. The image turns out a blur of light and shadow - useless.

I decided to head along the length of the trench towards the soil cleaning facility that I had visited on my last incursion to this spot, where I might be out of the way of both scanning floodlight and security hut. Slipping through a gap in the mesh fence that surrounded it, I crouched again and began hunting out a composition in the mess. A large concrete block could form a decent plinth for a statuesque shot, to the right the conveyer belt leading up into the guts of the depolluting machine. I am sure everyone must at least once in their life have opened a cupboard looking for something particular and not been able to find it until the person behind you notices you are looking right at it? What is this perceptual malfunction we all experience of staring past the obvious? Dead centre of the composition I was scheming, not more than ten metres away was a car, not a black car that was hard to spot in the half-light, but a white car, like a beacon for all to see. Shocked into stillness I quickly got over my idiocy at not having spotted it from a long distance and started calculating risk. If a driver were inside he would only have to glance out of the passenger window to spot me, and he might well already have done this - I had not been keeping quiet.

The car lights were turned on. I ran.

Back towards the fence, not looking back. Whether the driver had seen me and decided that rather than confront me he would try to scare me off, or whether it was all coincidental I will never know. I stopped rounding a corner remembering the new hut. I wasn't being pursued so assumed I hadn't actually been seen and decided to keep my head down in the trench for a while, recoup and try again. I watched the security guard come out for another fag break, stub it beneath his boot and go bak into the hut. Noticing how well lit the fence was from this angle I setup for another shot here, a kind of two fingers to the new security measures. Look I can still get in. Several attempts at clambering over boulders and twisted steel. By now I am feeling near invincible, continually managing to evade capture in spite of the increased presence, so I head deeper in. Scamper across the open ground away from the fence into the shadow of one of the few remaining buildings. It's in an impressive state, a buckled corrugated awning laced with dangling pipes and struts. I perch awkwardly on the wall at its side worrying about the foreboding creaks above my head. The image is unreal - orange clouds rush down behind the roof, whose relative stillness makes the edge look like a digital cut out.

Looking back at the picture now I am enticed inside the building, and regret that at that point I chose to call it a night.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Depollutant Drone

If you've been reading a lot and know the area well then you may by now have worked out that over the time of these trespasses I became a creature of habit, only venturing into two areas of the site once the fence was up. One near where the main stadium now stands flanked by the Greenway, the other alongside the canal. These choices were pragmatic, I had two tried and tested entry points and with the ground changing so fast there was no need to try to cover the whole terrain. Sufficiently terrified from my last jaunt on the Greenway side (see two posts down) I opted to return to the canal side, where, by now, two windows had been cut into the fence to allow the passers-by to glimpse the transformations afoot. My trusty tree was still standing so getting in was no trouble.

Since my last visit to this area all of the demolition work had been completed, all that remained of the burnt out site of the fire were three skinny monoliths, the surrounding ground was eerily flat. The water tank that had been the site of my first Olympic Site field recording was still intact, graffiti-ed teeth and gums wrapped around its galvanised drum. There was no activity to be seen anywhere, so I was feeling considerably calmer than last time and wandered around at ease with these familiar surroundings. I tried a series of shot with limited success before rounding the water tank and focusing my ears on a constant drone that wavered in the air around me. Climbing the slope it grew constantly in volume, until I could see its source. In the ten or so weeks since I had last been here a large, yellow industrial installation had sprung up. Now within metres of its fence the drone filled the air around me, shifting subtly in pitch and overtone structure as I moved around it. Once again I cursed not having recording equipment. Engulfed in this intense sound there was no need to creep around, there was no chance of my being heard.

I have since learnt that the installation was one of many soil treatment works, steadily sorting, sifting and cleaning the horrendously polluted earth. I could only assume that the sound it was emitting indicated it was still on, and bright lights glowed from its centre, so I worked on the (false) assumption that someone would be here to watch over the machine. The site was hemmed in on all sides by a thin mesh fence, but my attention was drawn first to a bank of scaffolding along its right hand edge. This provided an all too rare opportunity to get off ground level. I took two shots clambering among the scaffold poles, throwing my body into rigid shapes that mimicked their geometric netting; glancing constantly into the lights for fear of silhouettes. I now figured I was alone and decided to breach this little fence and head for the source of the sound.

Once in among the yellow hulks of metal, the drone became brash and forceful, losing all of the subtle detail it had had from a distance.I felt like a child in an adventure playground however, I had jumped the moat, scaled the battlements and could now explore the castle. I strolled leisurely through it, struck by its beguilling functionality. A sprawling machine so purposeful and yet so mystifying.

On my way out I noticed a strip of orange plastic gauze trailing up a heap of rubble near the fence. On the other side of the canal the Velvet Underground blared out of the open top floor of a light industrial building which was clearly now home to yet another group of artist-pioneers, preparing the ground for the property developers one decade hence. I stopped for one final picture.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009


Looking through the archive of this project I came across a couple of rare photos taken from outside the site on the night discussed below. They were shot from the Greenway while I waited for darkness to fall so that I could get in unnoticed. Before entering the site I usually 'case the joint' each time, especially if there is a vantage point nearby. Although at the time setting up my tripod in full view seemed crazy, in hindsight there must be a fairly constant stream of photographers both amateur and professional doing the same, from exactly this position.

I am writing this to give you the reader a clearer picture of the space I described below, especially for those of you who are not familiar with the area. I have stitched the two photos together, and they handily provide a complete overview of everything I mentioned in the previous post. On the far left of the image you can see the pavement of what used to be Marshgate Lane, and it's from here that I entered the scene. The first image below, with the bleached out rubble, was shot just beyond the large yellow digger in the centre. The second just this side of the same JCB: you can see the blue tanks and even the puddle which feature in it. The last shot was taken on the rubble in the foreground, in front of the right-hand brick hut, which was the last thing to be demolished in that particular area, probably because it contained part of the power supply to the building. In the distance, beyond the two bright floodlights, you may just be able make out two green portacabins. This was where the silhouettes of security and workmen were hanging out, and it was from here that I was spotted.

I'm not quite sure why I've written this post, it feels like I'm trying to offer you proof of my credibility, or trying to rival the ODA's own assertions of 'transparency'. Perhaps it's because I was briefly taken with this virtual tour that the official London 2012 website offers. In fact, in recent times the official website has been on something of an imagery charm offensive. They have installed an array of webcams, and despite the fact that are only uploading intermittent stills from them, have done some stitching of their own, creating this time lapse video in August last year. I can't help feeling slightly depressed at being so thoroughly beaten at my own game by the official image merchants, and in a delusionally self-important fashion slightly responsible for the sudden onslaught of real photographs that have replaced the emphasis on virtual impressions that dominated early on.

The thing which disturbs me most though is the comment section of the blog posts, which are chock full of enthusiastic well wishers damning the sceptics and the cynics. I can't help but feel suspicious of the near propagandist tone of the comments. Yes, I know, probably just me being paranoid again. I'll return to the normal post format soon.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

A Moth Among The Floodlights

The 5th of January 2008 was probably my most brazen and possibly foolish trespass to date. Since my last visit to the Greenway side of the site, two new temporary buildings had been erected: though they looked rather as if they had simply been plonked down on the surrounding mudscape; and a moat of sorts dug between them and the fence - which was now a murky puddle. That evening the lights still shone in some floors of the buildings, and beyond them, across old Marshgate Lane was a large floodlit area which was still, after dark, a hive of activity. I had my sights set on the temporary bridge that now spanned the Channelsea River, providing access to a narrow strip of land between two canals that I had not been able to visit since before the appearance of the blue fence. Although towards the stadium site was a sea of orange swirling lights, the traffic didn't seem to be venturing down to the bridge, getting to it however was always going to be tricky.

Over the fence and quickly along the embankment that flanked the swampy trench, here I was exposed - in view of the buildings, the road and probably the workers on the other side. Reaching the roadside I paused, briefly out of sight, head twitching nervously around, down beneath the Greenway bridge from which the dreaded dog-unit-land-rover could appear at any time, it did not and I scuttled across the road, into the full glare of the floodlights and threw myself among an uncomfortable heap of broken bricks. I lay still, catching my breath and surveying the territory. From here I could see the bridge and a quick dash would get me across it, were I to venture across though I would have no choice but to return by the same route, and being on the bridge itself I would be far more enclosed than ever before. Fear of being cut-off from my escape route made me pause and consider lighting. Over the bridge, darkness prevailed, and even with a minute long exposure I would struggle to get a clear image, but here, where I was now cowering the area was bathed in stark light, even a twenty second exposure might suffice.

I glanced up toward the source of the lights and could pick out a number of portacabins and a few workmen or security guards silhouettes mooching about, I would have to be careful. I looked around, searching for a composition amongst the rubble, a spot where I could set up the camera and tripod in safety and then dart into the open at an opportune moment, timing now was everything. Propping my tripod amongst the concrete boulders and glancing up and around anxiously, I prepared for a first attempt. I had planned where I would stand in the frame but the pose I ended up striking (and have since often emulated) was a product of pure fear. As the thirty seconds ticked by slowly in my head I could see people going about their nightly business, and was stood in the bright glare of their lights. I was dismayed to find the resulting image burned out across its left hand side.

I spent the next twenty or so minutes scampering like a hunted rabbit around this small triangle of territory, most of it hunched out of sight in corners, trying to calm down, but also managed to get two of the most vibrant photographs from the whole project to date, thanks to the sheer wattage of the lights. In the second of these I resisted the paranoid leftward stare that resulted from this particular evening's events. This image, shot on the site of the old artist studio building demonstrates a key irony of the project as a whole. Whereas in 2006, my entry to this site was prevented by the razor wire that now litters the foreground and the CCTV, whose signage remained intact, the fence in the background now granted access evenly across the whole site.

I poked my head up too fast from what must have been my fifth hideout tonight, and as I did so saw a silhouette's head in the distance swing round in my direction. We must have briefly looked directly at one another before adrenalin and instinct took over, hurtling me back across Marshgate Lane to wards the fence. I made it just in time. I was within a few yards of the fence by the time the Land Rover pulled up close to where I was spotted. I briefly imagined being chased by man and dog, my trouser leg snatched between canine jaws as I tried to get my leg over the fence, but that most only happen in cinema, they could see that I was out of reach. As I jogged along the fence back to my entry point the vehicle swung road and drove back to its base, parallel with me, separated by a wide patch of canalside wasteland.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

The Cutting Edge

The scene opposite the burnt out shell of the last post proved too enticing a proposition and the very next night (my camera tells me this was the 18th November 2007) I was back shinning up exactly the same tree, but this time with my sights set on the towering, tumbling concrete structure which flanked the railway lines. Now half-torn, lights glared straight through its exposed structure. Back-lit by electrical blue. This particular semi-demolished state appears to have near universal appeal, not only among those like me that routinely seek and find beauty in such scenes, but across a broad sweep of the population. I once watched two towers of council housing being blowndown by controlled explosion and witnessed the tangible, audible even, elation among the crowd at the site - perhaps the fascination with shredded concrete stems from the same urge? It was this stage of the process that the official imagery peddling chose to represent the 'demolish' part of their DIG.DEMOLISH.DESIGN slogan: "the world tallest building muncher, a veritable celebrity among plant machinery, has been specially shipped in from the continent to complete the job", accompanied by pictures of the thing in action, jaws spread, rubble flying. I felt I had to at least try to put a different spin on this stage of the process.

I wasted no time getting to it, I had no intention of investigating the site any further tonight, this single building would do just fine. Entry was as simple as always of late and the ground between fence and target was clear and unguarded. Two pairs of the much-lauded munching jaws were at work on this building, the first I came across were at rest, their diplodocan neck curled downwards, nose touching the ground, the backdrop being as it was: four open storeys of unravelling towerblock, the blue hued lights from the railway tracks creating a cold interior glow; I could not resist performing what would be my final plant cuddle, imposing some human scale on this scene. Pneumatic grease smeared my jeans once again and I jumped down and scuttled into hiding.

Inside most the of building remained intact, including stairways and a vast amount of metal racking which arranged in obedient ranks across whole floors, the remants of epic clothes storage? a production line? I could not tell. I tried clambering around the frames, freezing for shots, but none of them really worked, still the interior provided not only good cover but a vantage point from which to spy approaching guards so I continued exploring. I tried a few shots in the buildings interior, but quickly realised that it was the frayed edge of the building: the point at which building becomes rubble that was of interest. Walking around to the side of the block I found the spot at which another muncher was breaking through the walls, it's jaws left locked around four inches of reinforced concrete, but from the vantage point of my portable tripod this intrusion was indistinguishable. Peeking out of a nearby window I spotted a security guard returning from a lone foray down to the fence, torch in hand. I ducked out of sight until he's passed and decided to call it a day.