Thursday, 29 December 2011

Another awesome longboard video - Winter Night Longboard

Sooner or later I'll get bored of longboard videos...but not just yet. Here's another fantastic video by Spanish photographer and filmmaker Juan Rayos. Featuring Ra, Nacho, Quique, Kati, Paula, Borja, Luis, Jorge y Guido of the Madrid longboard scene Rayos' exquisite footage shows them skating with the city traffic one winter night earlier this year.

Pure asphalt poetry! Just watch it!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Angels Dancing on Concrete Waves

Watching Max Esposito's beautiful short film of longboarder Amanda Powell I couldn't help recalling feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray's passage on angels in her book An Ethics of Sexual Difference:
These swift angelic messengers, who transgress all enclosures in their speed, tell of the passage between the envelope of God and that of the world as micro- or macrocosm. They proclaim that such a journey can be made by the body of a man, and above all the body of a woman.
The stakes of Irigaray's angelology are the unexplored possibilities of relations between men and women, but also between women, each other and themselves. For Irigaray the figure of the angel stands as a mediator that speaks on behalf of desire, and particularly on behalf of a specifically feminine desire that has learned to speak on its own account without reliance on masculine categories. But where is the link between language, desire and skating?

Back in 2001 the popular image of skateboarding had become inextricably linked with the prankish machismo of Jackass and their copycats. In the same year architectural historian Ian Borden released his book Skateboarding, Space and the City: Architecture and the Body which celebrated the potential of street skating as a 'performative critique' of the city. In sympathy with the analysis of everyday life offered by Michel de Certeau, Borden was inclined to view the performance of the skateboarder as a series of enunciative acts. Like someone using and recombining the elements of their language different meanings, the skater chooses between different locations and architectural elements to include in their 'run'. Through this spatio-temporal editing the skater 'tactically' articulates a desire their own desire, while simultaneously usurping the spaces and times of the city maintained for other purposes. So what is that desire?

Both Irigaray and Certeau were psychoanalytically trained against the French Lacanian background in which the maxim is held that 'desire is the desire of the Other'. As the 'Other' is equated here with the impersonal law or culture of the male patriarchal order this would imply, for Irigaray in particular, that feminine desire will inevitably be alienated within or co-opted by a social order structured around masculine desire. While it is true that this structure is also replicated within skate culture itself, what struck me about Espisito's film was the way it depicted how much more skate has to offer both women and men.

Shortly after finding Espisito's film I came across another wonderful longboard video, featuring the Longboard Girls Crew of Madrid, and shot by Spanish photographer Juan Rayos:

With hands reaching out to each other, and dipping to the asphalt...
They speak like messengers, but gesture seems to be their "nature." Movement, posture, the coming-and-going between the two. They move-or stir up?-the paralysis or apatheia of the body, or the soul, or the world. They set trances or convulsions to music, or give them harmony.
Sometimes I imagine a sorority of angels, riding concrete waves, and dancing as they go.

Possessed to Skate!

Suicidal Tendencies takes me right back...but I have to admit that I preferred the faster version on Prime Cuts.

Let's Skate!

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Spreading the word: V&A Failed Designs screen-printing workshop

Screen-printing at the V&A's Failed Design screen-printing workshop.

Last weekend Mark from Dancing Eye managed to get a little DE/UO propaganda out to the masses after being invited to participate the V&A's 'Failed Designs' screen-printing workshop (26 & 27 August 2011). This formed part of their Friday Late programme of events.

Screen-printing at the V&A's Failed Design workshop.

Visitors were able to choose from a number of designs and encouraged to print their own. Attendance on the evening was really good and plenty of people were keen to qeue up, have a chat, and print their own copy of the DE/UO design...spreading the word in true prosumer style.

Tote bag design for the V&A's Failed Design screen-printing workshop.

Designs for the event took inspiration from 'failed' designs within the V&A collection. Mark elected Joseph Paxton's plan for the Great Victorian Way of 1855 as his subject: a ten mile long arcade incorporating shops, residences and transport, intended to encircle central London, and roofed entirely with glass in the same fashion as the barrel-vaulted knave of Paxton's Crystal Palace.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Crack The Surface - Episode I

In the first episode of new series Crack The Surface the folks at, and promise to take the viewer to the heart of the UrbEx experience...both the good, and the bad.

While offering a rare glimpse into the cutting edge of the UK's homegrown scene, it also provides a global perspective, including interviews with explorers from other cities across the globe.

Erm...Don't try this at home!

Monday, 25 July 2011

Street Photographers! Stand Your Ground!

Back in June six members of the Shoot Experience team, responsible for organising the London Street Photography Festival 2011 this month, took to the City of London with their cameras. Instructed to keep to public land while photographing the area, their aim was to test the reaction of private security to photographers, and the state of policing of both public and private spaces.

In previous years it was the police and PCSOs who were criticised for harassing professional and amateur photographers alike through the misuse of stop and search powers afforded by s44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (documented on Urban Orienteer here). However, following the suspension of s44 last July this should not be an issue. As guided by Chief Constable Andrew Trotter of ACPO in August that year: 
  • There are no powers prohibiting the taking of photographs, film or digital images in a public place. Therefore members of the public and press should not be prevented from doing so.
  • We must acknowledge that citizen journalism is a feature of modern life and police officers are now photographed and filmed more than ever.
  • Unnecessarily restricting photography, whether from the casual tourist or professional is unacceptable and worse still, it undermines public confidence in the police service.
  • Once an image has been recorded, the police have no power to delete or confiscate it without a court order.
In the film above all six photographers were stopped on at least one occasion, though in each case this was initially due to the intervention of private security. On the three occasions that Police were called to attend they did not attempt detain, search or seize equipment from the photographer.

This is encouraging but clearly won't prevent photographer's being harassed by private security who then waste police time when they aren't satisfied with the result. It is likely that guidance provided by police to public and private sector organisations on security, counter-terrorism and crime prevention measures as part of their Project Griffin has been to blame.

While concerns over spending cuts on policing are being framed by the expectation of rising crime, perhaps we should be more worried by the 'rise' of private security with police powers and the prospect for the growth of informal policing that might be expected in the Conservative's new Big Society.

Remember though, it doesn't matter how big that society is if it's locked behind a gate. So why not get inspired in the last week of the London Street Photography Festival 2011, then head out with your camera and start reclaiming those streets back for the commons, first by posting them on the Londonist Flickr pool if nothing else.

via Londonist

Saturday, 23 July 2011

TED - Kevin Slavin: How algorithms shape our world

In this recent TED talk by game designer Kevin Slavin on the impact of mathematical algorithms on our lives. Here he argues that the increasing complexity and co-implication of the autonomous algorithms we have created to help run our everday lives is rapidly outstripping our ability to read or control them.
These are the physics of culture. And if these algorithms, like the algorithms on Wall Street, just crashed one day, went awry, how would we know? What would it look like?
Particularly interesting is his discussion of the idea that architecture itself has become 'subject to algorithmic optimisation' according to a 'machine dialect' which, as in his example of the 'destination control elevator' with no buttons, is built to the measure of the 'bin packing' algorithm written to run it, rather than to the needs of the humans intended to use it. Further, it is not merely the man-made environment but the Earth itself and the natural landscape that are subjected to this new 'co-evolutionary' force.

Brilliantly Provocative!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

RSA Animate - Choice

In the recent most recent instalment of the series RSA Animate Slovenian philosopher Renata Salecl discusses her recent research into the anxiety of choice in capitalist society. Following the argument of her new book The Tyranny of Choice Salecl argues that capitalism pacifies and prevents social change through its promotion of an ideology of choice and self-making.

In a lively discussion, which ranges over the reading habits of Yugoslavian communist party members and the sex lives of British journalists, Salecl develops a Lacanian critique of choice which is argued to generate anxiety in three ways:
1. We choose what other people are choosing because we are obsessed with the way the choices we make will be judged and validated by society, the 'big Other'.
2. We try to make an ideal choice which leads to dissatisfaction when what we have chosen does not match the ideal we imagined.
3. Choice always involves a loss which we seek to avoid even when this is not possible.

The result implied by Salecl is a society of subjects either totally overwhelmed by choice, or else busily labouring away, in both their leisure as much as their work, to satisfy and manage the unending and impossibly competing demands of the Other.

In order to accept the analysis as presented here the viewer would have to be quite charitable. As such the presentation is bset taken as an invitation to engage with the psychoanalytic (Lacanian) and Marxist (Althussarian) background that inform it. Without doing so it would be extremely easy to be reductive. For those interested in learning more a video of the complete lecture on which this RSA Animate episode was based can be found here.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Vertical Expectations - The Shard of Glass

Expected to reach completion in 2012 the architect Renzo Piano's glass Shard at London Bridge will stand unrivalled on London's skyline at an imposing height 1,017 ft or 310 m. By that time it will be the tallest building not only in the UK, but also in the whole of the European Union.

In this brilliant new film Simona Piantieri of Simolab combines a visual document of its construction with a balanced cross section of expectation and critical opinion concerning the aspirations, architectural or otherwise, that seek expression through the construction of this improbable edifice.

So ask yourself Crystal Palaces Cast No Shadows?

Great work!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Urban Exploration - Going Native?

Last summer Bradley from Place Hacking kindly agreed to join Urban Orienteer and others in the group exhibition Transparency and the City: Public Spaces or Forgotten Places? where he displayed his film Urban Explorers: Quests for Myth, Mystery and Meaning as part of his own Urbex crews installation. Having completed his ethnographic research he's escaped the pack for a while and gone Gonzo out West while he works out the story of their adventures. In his absence he's left us a brilliant new film on the innocent joy of trespass. No longer speaking to the intellect, it seems we are to be lured by other means...
It seems I am trying to tell you a dream--making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is the very essence of dreams...
[Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness]

...slowly going native?

Monday, 14 March 2011

RSA Animate - The Internet in Society: Empowering or Censoring Citizens?

In this recent instalment of RSA Animate technology commentator Evgeny Morozov seeks to expose some of the 'cyber-utopian' myths he associates with the adoption of online social media by liberal ideologues as an inevitable spur to the spread of democracy: 'if you have enough connectivity...democracy is almost inevitable'.

Following the argument of his new book The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate The World Morozov suggests that this liberalist assumption of the correlation between connectivity and democracy ignores important political, cultural and sociological differences and confuses the 'intended' uses of 'technology' with 'actual' uses. As indicated in the video:

1. Liberal democracies are not the only one's that engage with the use of social media.
2. Repressive regime may actively seek the engagement of their citizen's in policing social media through crowd-sourcing intelligence against online dissent.
3. As much social media is publicly accessible it is not necessarily the best means for propagating dissent.
4. The younger generation of 'digital natives' may not necessarily be inclined to use the new technology for civic engagement, political activism or dissent: 'some of them will go and start downloading reports from human rights watch but most of them will still be downloading pornography'.

I've always been rather sceptical of social media and sympathise with Morazov's point concerning cyber-utopianism. The use of online social media is not a sufficient condition for social change. At the same time we should avoid being cynical. Perhaps the crucial role social media do play is to communicate momentum through commentary once change has begun.

In a recent post 'Digital Dualism versus Augmented Reality' on the excellent Cyborgology blog the writer identifies the theoretical position of 'digital dualism' as a fallacy:
Digital dualists believe that the digital world is “virtual” and the physical world “real.” This bias motivates many of the critiques of sites like Facebook and the rest of the social web and I fundamentally think this digital dualism is a fallacy. Instead, I want to argue that the digital and physical are increasingly meshed, and want to call this opposite perspective that implodes atoms and bits rather than holding them conceptually separate augmented reality.
Digital dualists could be either cyber-utopians or cyber-sceptics, the common thread that links them being that they both subscribe to this bi-partition of reality. Morozov is included amongst a list of other digital dualists who are taken as subscribing to the view that:
...the problem with social media is that people are trading the rich, physical and real nature of face-to face contact for the digital, virtual and trivial quality of Facebook. The critique stems from the systematic bias to see the digital and physical as separate; often as a zero-sum tradeoff where time and energy spent on one subtracts from the other.
This of course is a caricature. Insofar as Morozov recognises the efficacy of crowd sourcing intelligence online we have to admit that digital dualists may admit varying degrees and directions of influence between the two realms. Indeed, politically speaking this might make all the difference. Hence the extent of theorists cynicism with regard to work with social media may prove to be a valuable index of their politics in an age coming to terms with the possibilities for augmented reality.

The video of Morozov's complete lecture can be found here.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The Tower of David - Vertical Urban Anarchy

The video above accompanies a remarkable story from The New York Times (via Archinect) about an unfinished skyscraper in the centre of the Venezualan capital of Caracas that is currently inhabited entirely by squatters. Known as the 'Tower of David' the 45 floor building is named after its financier David Brillembourg who died in the early 90s before it could be completed.

Following the death of Brillembourg and a banking crisis in in 1994 the tower fell into the hands of the government and remained empty for over a decade until its occupation in 2007. Without utilities or services the dangerous building is now home to over 2,500 so-called 'invaders' who have been unable to find accommodation elsewhere due to the failure of Hugo Chavez's socialist government to provide adequate housing.

While offering hope to some residents it has become a symbol of 'decline' for others: 
“They call me an invader and I work in the credit department of Banco de Venezuela,” said Mr. Hernández, referring to the state-owned institution that he says employs him. “Society hates us, and the government doesn’t know what to do with us. Do they really think we want to be living in the Tower of David?”
This story reminded me of the the building hijackings in Johannesburg's Hillbrow district which first came to my attention after seeing Louis Theroux's BBC documentary Law and Disorder in Johannesburg in 2008. Following up on the story I found this 2010 interview by Africa Business News with Moses Ka Moyo of the Friends of the Inner-city Forum:

Undoubtedly the contrasts between these two situations have as much to tell us as any ostensible similarities.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Tracing Angels - Satellites and Social Movements

What could be more luminous than a space traversed with messages? Look at the sky, even right above us. It's traversed by planes, satellites, electromagnetic waves from television, radio, fax, electronic mail. The world we are immersed in is a space-time of communication. Why shouldn't I call it angel space, since this means the messengers, the systems of mailmen, of transmissions in the act of passing or the space through which they pass? Do you know, for example, that at every moment there are at least a million people on flights through the sky, as though immobile or suspended - nonvariables with variations? Indeed, we live in a century of angels.
[Michel Serres with Bruno Latour: Conversations on Science, Culture, and Time]

It was a recent post on the Google Earth Blog that reminded me of French philosopher Michel Serres' curious angelology. The post relates to a Google Earth plugin that was created by a developer for Analytic Graphics by a developer called Matt Amato (visualised above). The plugin uses openly available data published by U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) relating to over 13,000 man made objects orbiting the earth, including active and retired communications satellites along with other assorted space debris.

Fascinating as this is it doesn't help us penetrate the sense of Serre's opaque invocation of angels. While orbiting satellites are absolutely necessary for the transmission of global communications, if we sit back and track the relays we actually miss the messages passing invisibly between them. How do you capture angels in flight?

Created by Technorama on behalf of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the visualisation above used a data set provided by the Flight Stats website that tracked the departures and arrivals of commercial flights from approximately 9,000 civil airports over the course of 24 hours. While we appear to see a time lapse of the actual flight paths it is important to note that successive positions of each flight have been interpolated from the data concerning arrivals and departures. What we actually see then is only one possible flight path.

Here it strikes me that the trope of the angel was introduced by Serres' precisely to throw such idealisations into question. In the course of his conversations with Bruno Latour the figure of the angel was introduced in the context of the need for a means of describing the fluctuations of global events precisely in a situation where the 'the widest relationality is possible'. His concern is that in a world of global telecommunication it is necessary to be able to provide global descriptions, but without abstraction, reductionism or falling into the imposible task of trying to explain everything:
A verb or a substantive chosen from the galaxy of Ideas, from the categories either in consciousness or in the subject, spawns systems or histories that are static, even if they claim to describe a process of becoming. It's better to paint a picture of relations and rapports - like the percolating basin of a glacial river, unceasingly changing its bed and showing and admirable network of forks, some of which freeze or silt up, while others open up - or like a cloud of angels that passes, or the list of prepositions, or the dance of flames.
It is through this self-consciously constructed modern myth of the angel that he seeks to promote a sensitivity to the multiplicity of messengers and messages that is often overlooked in the supposition of a single overriding message or meaning, and an openness or hospitality to the contingent events that the fortuitous encounters of those messengers and their messages bring about. For Serres the virtue of angels is that they are 'restless', unsystematic' and cannot be pinned down. Though their passing can be traced, their location remains uncertain:
I imagine that for every angel there is a corresponding preposition. But a preposition does not transport messages; it indicates a network of possible paths, either in space or time.
Above, below, before, behind, amongst, inside or outside; the number of possible prepositions correspond to the number of media. And multiplying the media is likely to multiply the number of mediators. One interesting example might involve the innovation of the Sukey anti-kettling tool. What is amazing about the Sukey tolls are that all of the technology is openly available and requires only a relatively small amount of technical knowledge to set up. Through the combined use of mobile telephony, the internet, and old fashioned word of mouth, it enables the Sukey team to crowd source geo-located information on police positions at demonstrations and relay that back to users so as to indicate police positions relative to the users. All this is achieved without disclosing the users' locations to the police force attempting to kettle them. Electronic messages are relayed between protestors, whose own bodies are a signal or message to the powers that be by virtue of their co-presence on the streets.

I wonder then whether Serres' thought might have something to contribute to an understanding of the role played by online social networks such as Twitter and Facebook in the formation of new social movements and particularly the events unfolding in North Africa and the Middle East right now?

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Gordon Matta-Clark

Couldn't resist sharing this great video about the site-specific work of urban artist Gordon Matta-Clark. Influenced by the French Situationists and their practice of détournement the artist became widely known for his modifications of existing buildings or 'building cuts' that he conceptualised as a form of 'anarchitecture'.

Filmed by Howard Silver the video features a walkthrough of a 2007 exhibition of the late artist's work by his widow Jane Crawford. The film is presented of part of a web series on the arts by Silver called Arts Into Production

Those intersted in UrbEx may also want to check out Silver's film Steve Duncan, Urban Underground Explorer. Readers may remember that another video on Steve Duncan appeared in an earlier post here.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Control Societies and the Subversion of Subversion

In this video Viennese artist Johannes Grenzfurthner of monochrom discusses the necessity of subverting subversion in contemporary society. Beginning his discussion with the transgressive performances of groups like the Vienna Actionists Grenzfurthner explains their diminishing impact in the shift from the Disciplinary Society theorised by Foucault to the contemporary Society of Control elaborated by Gilles Deleuze.

Grenzfurthner concludes that complexity of the emerging system must be matched by the complexity of the prank. Hence his advocacy of ‘context hacking’ and ‘weapons of mass distribution’.

via Boing Boing

Monday, 24 January 2011

Architecture & Utopia: Once composed...

In this short film artist Patrick Bobilin offers his own novel take on the architectural manifesto: "a manifesto between lovers in search of a reasonable paradise in the twenty-first century while living in the shadow of the structures and ideals of the nineteenth".

Inspired by the writings of Le Corbusier, Manfredo Tafuri and Siegfried Giedion who concerned themselves with the programmatic realisation of utopia, the female lover of Patrick's film poses the following question:
"Would utopia be composed of buildings? Once composed, would those buildings cease to be utopic?"
In the wonderfully poetic passage that follows his female lover elaborates on the aspects of everyday life that elude or exceed the neurotic concerns of an obsessive architectural programme.  As the aritst succinctly put it in a brief email exchange "things have changed but the buildings remain the same. Is the solution to rebuild, or is the solution to reorganise history?"

Shot in Chicago the film takes in the monumental forms of its 19th century skyscrapers before moving on to poorer outlying suburbs. When I asked Patrick about the project he told me that the writings of Walter Benjamin had been a significant influence, particularly Benjami's writings about Berlin, Paris and Baudelaire.

As for Patrick in his attempt to articulate his "own history of architecture", it is precisely by means of the experiences of others that we are able to distantiate ourselves sufficiently from the cities we already know, almost all too well, in order to be able to frame them anew. To this end another's writings, concerning other cities at other times, offer a compellingly affective route to the accomodation of these other experiences.

In this way the issues of gentrification, segregation, lack of civic responsibility and the loss of community that Patrick sought to explore were able to manifest in a way that may not have been possible before. In Patrick's film it is also key to the development of this new urban imaginary that these experiences are given another voice; that of his female lover.

Further details of Patrick's works can be found on his website:

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Undercity: New York

[Video - Undercity by Andrew Wonder on Vimeo]

In his most recent project filmmaker Andrew Wonder explores the infrastructure of New York City with 'guerrilla' urban historian Steve Duncan of Shot entirely with a DSLR while sneaking through the subways, sewers and across the bridges of the city, this film offers a highly compelling glimpse of the motivation behind this kind of Urban Exploration. As Duncan explains on his website:
I try to peel back the layers of a city to see what's underneath. From the tops of bridges to the depths of sewer tunnels, these explorations of the urban environment help me puzzle together the interconnected, multi-dimensional history and complexity of the great metropolises of the world.
While the film does not fail to romanticise UrbEx, what lover doesn't, it does succeed in striking an honest balance in depicting the fantastic excitement and many risks involved. 

For those interested in reading more about more of their adventures beneath New York with Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge I recommend the recent article The Wilderness Below Your Feet by Alan Feuer for the New York Times.