I don’t want to change the world, I’m not looking for new England

Unlike many of my more social networking savvy friends, I haven’t felt the need to blog about my life and work. However I now feel that an online voice can be an important tool in the development of a body of work. Part sounding board, part reflective journal.

The purpose of this blog is to document the development and production of my practice based PhD, currently in it’s early stages at London College of Communication. At this early stage, I still don’t know how the blog will develop, but the intention is for it to work as an online sketchbook. It will be a place to post the contextual work that I’m looking at, a place to write about the wider themes surrounding the research. It will also be a place to publish early versions of the work, to canvas opinion and feedback.

The title of the Blog ‘Driving Thru Wasteland’ is taken from the working title for Paul Simon’s song Graceland, which I feel sums up some of the intentions of the work. For me, Graceland is a song about pilgrimage, being drawn to places that you can’t always explain your attraction too. The lyrics speak of driving through the cradle of the civil war, and being haunted by ghosts and empties. Paul Simon is not just talking about the personality of the place, but also the psychogeography of it, the layers of history that haunt and mould our landscape.

The album of the same name was recorded in the townships of South Africa, using an ensemble of local musicians. Paul Simon was drawn to the country through first hearing a cassette of local music, and felt that it was important to record within the area to capture the personality of the townships, highlighting the beauty that existed within them, which was often at odds with the views of the wider world. I consider the album to be a piece of site-specific art, which allowed itself to be informed by a community and embraced the individuality of the location.

The images conjured up in the song writing of people like Paul Simon, Billy Bragg and Karl Hyde’s Edgeland album conjure up images of the locations that inform them. This lyrical quality it something that is often cited in contemporary landscape photography and attributed to a new wave of photographers like Alec Soth that are informed by the work of the new colour movement of the 1970s and 80s. In my notebook I have described this as the poetics of space, taken from the Gaston Bachelard book.

The research project itself currently titled, Edgeland exploration: Photographing spaces left over after planning (SLOAP) and archipelagos of interstitial ground surrounding the British motorway network. It is focused on the visual (photographic) documentation and representation of the complex spaces that are formed in the areas in-between infrastructure and planned development (SLOAP).

In his essay Desert Islands Gilles Deleuze states that there are two forms of geographic island, Continental and Oceanic. Continental islands are accidental, born of disarticulation, erosion and fracture. They survive the absorption of what once contained them.
Geographically they are similar in development and structure to our urban edgelands, spaces between urban and rural that fall out of consciousness. These urban archipelagos might be our last great unexplored wilderness.

This body of work sets out to photographically explore and document these urban archipelagos, left over after large planned architectural and infrastructure projects. Very little photographic research has been undertaken to investigate individual locations in visual detail. Existing research in related subject areas such as architecture and geography has aimed to define key features of this land and to look at how it could be used more effectively within the wider community. This project will build upon the work of Marion Shoard and current architectural theorists to develop new photographic perspectives on visual documentation and (re)presentation of these spaces, through the creation of a photographic survey and anthology of site specific studies of a series of locations. Rather than setting out to re-appropriate SLOAPs into the surrounding landscape I hope to identify key characteristics and investigate access, use and representation in these unique habitats.

I intend that by working on multiple geographic locations informed by the work of architectural theorist and critic, Ian Nairn, on his book ‘Outrage’. I will create an archive and anthology of publications that will allow these sites to be seen and discussed as interconnected phenomenon, hence the term ‘urban archipelago’ which is adapted from a previous AHRC project on Indonesia and the term for isolated democratic or republican pockets in American cities, that are at odds with the local environment.. Through using a series of location based studies informed by the work of DATAR to explore the character of the spaces and their importance to society. I feel that these spaces are at an interesting turning point and need investigating now. By bringing together disparate bodies of research within this blog and ultimately the thesis, I hope to produce a definitive viewpoint on the space, moving away from a visual typology.

I hope that this acts as an brief introduction to the project, and I look forward to fleshing out this blog and my ideas over the next 3 years.


3 thoughts on “I don’t want to change the world, I’m not looking for new England”

  1. Hi,
    This sounds like the beginnings of a very interesting project and I look forward to seeing how it progresses.

    Im actually starting my 5th Year Architecture Dissertation and have wrote a brief that has some similarities to your thesis. Im looking to explore the potential for left over, awkward, ‘in-between’ spaces, in cites, that could create an opportunity for imaginative individuals to turn these remnant parcels of land into something of worth.

    Just wondered if there is any material/books/precedents you have come across that may be related to my project that you could recommend I look at?

    If you haven’t already, may I also suggest looking at a book called ‘Finding Lost Space’ by Roger Trancik. It sounds like It may be very relevant to your thesis.

    1. Hi Dion,

      I don’t know which uni you are at but Manchester School of Architecture run a unit on Edgelands and from my view it is very Sloap orientated. the unit leaders wrote a paper on it for a conference at Lincoln. The link to the PDF is http://visit.lincoln.ac.uk/C18/C9/CDL/Document%20Library/Theoretical%20Currents%20II%20-%20Full%20Paper%20-%20Amy%20Hanley%20and%20Rick%20Dargavel.pdf

      it is a good starting point, and they are very happy to talk about their work.

      1. Thanks a lot for this link. I read it and have found it very informative and useful. I wish you the best in your future endeavours.

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