Sunday, 19 October 2014


The latest update for Adobe Photoshop provided, for a change, a genuine surprise. It wasn't a new tool or feature or tweak to the layout, but instead the choice of ident for the splash screen. Literally three seconds of googling later and a raft of content was displayed promoting the work of the image's creator, Kylli Sparre- or Sparrek.

Sparrek specialises in highly stylised, manipulated photographs with heavy overtones of fantasy. What proved seductive, had less to do with the surrealist manipulation of the photograph and more to do with the central performances of each framed view. Sparrek's background in dance and choreography suggests an interesting jumping off point for the creation of performative space... for me, anyway.

Sunday, 12 October 2014


Riding a bicycle around a foreign city presents many challenges. The language of road-use differs from place to place: the toot of a horn, the flashing of lights, the nuance of a suggested manoeuvre... these are not universal, they are idiosyncratic... or to stretch the linguistic metaphor, they are idiomatic. I am a foreigner trying to fit in: my tongue is tied, my accent is dreadful and when I say the wrong thing I can be crushed beneath the wheels of a Bia Huế truck.

The roads I negotiate (usually) with the single-speed beast above. It's a different animal to what I'm accustomed- it has no cross bar, has heavy mudguards and is completed by an only very slightly useful basket on the front.Some time has passed since last I rode free-wheel and I'm rediscovering its charms: the peripheral (though perpetual) threat of death on the road is tempered by the joy of coasting through traffic or accelerating around a bend on a slight incline. Sun setting over the Perfume River in rush hour, wind in my hair... I revel in clichés as a pig in shit.

Yet the emphasis on steady flow as opposed to stop and start coupled with the anarchistic approach to traffic management (rules are there to be obeyed... if it suits you to obey the rules) somehow makes Huế seems like the ideal place for fixed gear cycling. I miss my bike. I wrote a short piece about my 'discovery' of fixed gear cycling a few years back (curiously, it concludes with a similarly clichéd take on the experience of cycling over a bridge) and still believe that riding fixed is an excellent method of topographical investigation. The yellow velo died a death, I'm afraid (my collar bone was fractured in the incident) but was replaced by a bomb-proof trick/track hybrid that I have abandoned in Babylon.

My failure to investigate Huế's geography in a meaningful way is in part a consequence of my adoption of the bicycle as primary means of getting from a-b. Getting from a-b... there's the problem, right? With fixed ideas of where I begin and end, the space and time in between become nothing more than a series of minor obstacles. Fleeting moments of sublimation (cruising over the Perfume River, wind in my beard) are just that- ephemeral, transitory... passing. They occur when the traffic opens up, the roads widen, the sky opens and the threat of imminent annihilation seems to pass- or at least seems irrelevant.

Whilst cycling, the experience of the city is nested within the experience of the ride. Conversely, walking nests the experience of the walk inside the experience of the city. Previously I had considered these differing experiences in purely spatial-temporal terms: the volume of space traversed increases at the expense of the time needed to appreciate it, thus the city becomes a backdrop to the experience. Having eschewed pedestrian transport  since arriving in Huế an awareness of the social aspect of the derive has grown, one I had not really considered before. A walk through a city that lives and breathes possesses a soundtrack comprised of human voices as well as the voices of the machines they manipulate. Half-heard eavesdropped conversations and the sing-song chants of pedlars are augmented by direct exchanges between the walker and the others... polite exchanges, the kissing of teeth... sometimes even genuine conversations. I have been remound of the interactive element to psychogeography. It is an active, not a passive pursuit. That said, it's worth noting that conversation is not precluded by the mode of transport one chooses to use: often am I accosted by interested locals as I pedal to work, riding their scooters beside mine and asking a series of questions about what I'm doing and where I'm going.

When you're the stranger who's come to town, it's impossible to be A Man in the Crowd. Ultimately, I'm a tourist... and I will forever be marked out as such by my height and complexion. My pursuit of efficiency on the road, racing from job-to-job, has all been part of a semi-conscious desire to blend in to get on with things. This is not how a city is appreciated or investigated. Perhaps we all need to start behaving more like tourists.

I'm going for a walk,  

Friday, 10 October 2014

COMING SOON... CHAINROCK: USERS' GUIDE alluvial island in the Thames Estuary, recently.
Never go back, they say. They say a lot of things, however, and it's best to lead by example. It's best not to lead at all in fact. Going back is not necessarily negative, it depends what way we're facing. Going forwards, looking backwards.. or the reverse... this is dangerous.

We cannot go back. We can revisit, but it's different. It's not the same. So when I revisited Canvey Island for my final project at Greenwich, I found myself redoing the project in its entirety. Predictably, I made many of the same mistakes in execution as I had the first time around. The process was no less rewarding. Repetition is, after all, a form of change. In Leonard Cohen's novella Beautiful Losers the mantra is "I change, I stay the same... I change, I stay the same..." a Leonard koan?

A ship at rest, at last, on the muddy banks of the Thames Estuary.
 Setting process aside and looking at product, two Canvey projects left me with a bundle of loose ends and untethered threads. There is a certain mindset that obtains enormous pleasure from untangling knots. It is not a mindset that I possess: I lack the patience and am insufficiently conscientious. However, I'm proud of some of what was produced and would like to share it with others. There are enough ingredients to put together an interesting meal. But this is not fine dining, and instead of neatly contrived courses it is more likely to resemble a one-pot stew, possibly with some bread to soak up the juice.

As a quick recap, the (second) project was concerned with the reclamation of Canvey Island's Occidental Jetty ("Chainrock") by a group of convicts in order to create a self-sufficient self-governing penal colony. The armature performed the role of conduit, connecting land and sea, and as vector for the landscape processes responding to the prisoners' hierarchy of need (water-shelter-heat-food etc.)
Shipbreaking: not the redemptive power of forced labour, but a necessary subsistence strategy in a new colony.

The concept of the "users' guide" was initially explored as a framing device for the detailing of the project: since the project did not lay out an immutable final design (the site would be continually undone and remade by its users), the "detailing" would consist of helpful suggestions for the site's occupants (i.e. biotopic filtration beds, reclaimed furniture templates, improvised fixings etcetera). Chainrock:  Users' Guide was thus intended to faithfully recreate a document that might exist in the fictional universe of the project.

Time constraints meant this ambition was not realised and ...Users' Guide joins the other confused Canvey concatenations. Of all the unfinished projects it may have the strongest individual case for completion, but in a plebiscite it would win a plurality, not a working majority... I cannot ignore the needs of the other parties and their constituencies, and instead we must enter some kind of coalition.

Hence the one-pot meal approach. By first of all accepting that whilst the initial concept of ...Users' Guide may well have been realised in one version of the Chainrock universe, it exists as a partially finished project in this universe. Likewise, the project exists in multiple forms, in this and other universes. A new realisation of ...Users' Guide might thus serve as a portal into these parallel worlds and also as a psychocartograph of the creative processes that led to the various realisations of the Canvey Project.

In conclusion, the text Chainrock: Users'Guide is currently under production. It may/may not be available online and/or offline any time soon.

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