Place Hacking: tales of urban exploration (Ph.D. Research)
I am enticed by what is behind the functioning façade of striated city space. Behind the scaffolding covering a building that appears to be only a promise of something, I find solace. Underneath the park where memories hide in disused bunkers, I encounter ghosts. Beyond the liminal zone of black hoarding that surrounds a derelict factory like a wagon circle, secrets reside. When the sun goes down and London goes to sleep, I might crawl into those places quietly, taking some pictures, shooting some video, scribbling some thoughts, sitting in silence; capturing little pieces of utopia, writing myself into these hidden histories as I watch their materiality mutate slowly like a rock moving through soil, assisted by the foliage we thought we had eradicated from the clean streets out there. Little green shoots crumble brick.
In fact, this is what entices me about every place where humans once resided – what was left behind and forgotten; what can be experienced; which transmutations can be anticipated. There is no one here to arrest this decay; no one to tell me how it should make me feel.
My research is a visual ethnography of urban exploration, a practice which involves the exploration of derelict buildings, mines, subway tunnels, underground facilities, atomic bunkers, sewers, drains, cranes and catacombs, among other things. These activities, depending on the group of people involved, might be labeled as creeping, crawling, building hacking, reality hacking, infiltration, UrbEx, UE, urban spelunking, urban caving or draining. I like to call it place hacking.
My research has taken me from London to Birmingham, from Paris to Berlin, from Camden to Clapham, as we search for new experiential playgrounds. My work has excavated layer after layer of memorial stratigraphy – a sort of psychological excavation that never hits bedrock.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
-T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding