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.


Margit Neuhold said...

Hi Stephen,

I enjoyed reading through your blog!
Since I could not get hold of your e-mail I decided to post.
I'm currently researching projects around the Olympic Site for my MA and included your project in my writings. I'd like to include two of your images (Cutting Edge / Depollutant Drone) and I was just wondering if it is ok, to hijack them from your blog. Or do they exist as physical prints, if so, are they entitled differently?
I'd be happy to introduce my project to you and of course send you a copy once finished.

My mail:


Nikki said...
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