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.