It seems that the main interest lies in spaces at the periphery of normal experience, most of us have visited a city rooftop at some point in our lives, and I am certain that the overview of a familiar landscape, gives us a greater understanding of that particular condition.
However day-to-day experience occurs within a pretty set stage of operation. Buildings at the extremities of their lifespan, either during construction or during demolition offer an added sense of danger that feeds the insatiable need for an adrenaline rush, but inhabited buildings also attract unauthorised visitors with a desire to infiltrate and go unnoticed.The urban explorer is determined to escape from the set pattern of inhabitation. Recent Accounts published by Jinx magazine through their website, Jinxmagazine. com document a visit to the roof of Grand Central Station, which culminated with the staking of a flag carrying the universal “danger” symbol on the statue of Mercury. Certainly we understand that Grand Central Station has a roof yet most people are happy with the experience viewing it from beneath.They are not prepared to risk a charge of trespassing, to open closed doors and travel in freight elevators in order to experience a view that would certainly threaten the tourist traps of the Empire State Building, and World Trade Centres, if it were easily accessible. People rarely look up, and if they do (even in New York) they give no heed to someone scrambling over the statue of Mercury flag in hand.
It is precisely this apathy towards the surrounding environment that urban explorers do not comprehend.The question of whether this activity holds any relevance to a discussion centring architecture needs to be addressed. Urban Exploration does not hold any artistic goals in its actions. It is an experiential activity, which while documenting its work does not propose the documents as any more than proof that these forbidden places exist and have been discovered. Parallels within the art world do however exist; The Work of Jane and Louise Wilson, in their video installations of Las Vegas Casinos.Rather than `documents of places that are physically cordoned off, the eerie quality of the work comes from a temporal displacement.
The Casinos, inhabited by large numbers of people twenty-four hours a day are displayed in a deserted state, a situation that would not normally occur. This temporal displacement strikes us directly with the question, Where are all the people? Has there been some instantaneous tragedy. Nevada is one of the key sites for U. F. O sightings, these images maybe the result of an unexplained mass exodus.A similar example that I have personally witnessed involves a Steel Cable Factory, in Musselburgh, Edinburgh. The factory was the one of the main reasons behind the development of the local community. Being the largest employer in the area, and subsequently undertaking the development of a Theatre and other art based programs for the town’s residents.
During the summer of 1997 the factory was closed down. One year later a group of architecture and art students were invited into the sprawling warehouses, to take a look around, and indeed to take anything that they felt they could make use of.Armed with numerous rolls of photographic film and a white transit van the expedition began surrounded by a state of anticipation and excitement, even though we were invited guests this was the beginning of my vocation as a trespasser. When the final bell had rung, at twelve noon the staff, instead of taking their lunch breaks as usual, left the premises. No preparations had been made in terms of re-consigning documents, finishing orders or even tidying up. On entering the buildings, it was evident that nothing had been touched, no pages turned since that hapless day a year before.The time punch-cards for employees still remained in their racks on the walls, the clocks themselves frozen as the power was shut down. Time had indeed been suspended within this hermetically sealed environment.
An instant museum had been formed, without the display cases but with the familiar connection to the essence of a mausoleum. Cans of Irn-Bru half empty were dotted throughout the complex. Machines halted mid-flow, in-trays containing matured documents, and filing cabinets, their open draws offering an insight into the workings of this industrial magnum.This description is only a tiny portion of what we were able to salvage. Video evidence together with Installations of displaced material, photographic documentation and diary exerts from three weeks of exploration, formed the basis for the final year exhibition. This was truly our, and indeed the dedicated local communities own personal development of Robert Smithson’s ‘A Provisional Theory of Non-sites’ “Everything between the two sites could become physical metaphorical material devoid of any natural meanings and realistic assumptions”.