Friday, 23 February 2018

Whitecross Road

By Trent Dunlop

Winter – cold, icy rain, damp air and mushy cardboard on the ground. I am walking home to my council flat after work at night along a path besides the dual carriageway. To my right cars whizz past as the traffic lights change - a 40 mph speed limit rarely kept at this time. Memories surfacing to mind, police stand (shielding a crumpled car), a squeal of brakes, a child's body flying in the air, a human chain protest and a pelican crossing is built.

To the left side of the path in the woodland of the local park, a banging noise starts, slowly at first then becoming increasingly louder. I look around. No-one else is near. I am on my own. What is it? A poltergeist? A noisy spirit? A mechanical pump? Looking past the belt of litter and moonlit silver birch trunks into the dark beyond, I cannot find an exact location or think of a rational explanation for the source of the sound, although I feel sure that there is one. Part of me wants to investigate but I decide to carry on home.

Whitecross Road Council Estate was built around the same time as the dual carriageway, in the early 70's when Warrington started to become a New Town. It has a bad reputation: a poverty premium landscape at the bottom of the never-ending austerity policy. A confusing maze of flats and houses, with narrow alleys, blind corners and jumbled numbers where postmen get lost. Designer tracksuit-wearing teenage gangs smoke skunk in the subway: ‘too cool for school’, living for the moment. An aura of hopelessness and defeat compacted in a screwed up lottery card a few metres away from an overpriced corner shop. Too bleak and clichéd for some, a difficult, mundane and ordinary area.

Morning hailstone frozen onto car windscreens, the texture of Whitefriar’s glass, the yellow triangle of a wheel clamp in a back alley. Closing the front door a flutter of panic and a pocket check for my keys. A frail looking old-aged pensioner with gold teeth and wearing a thick camel covered overcoat is struggling to put out his wheelie bin. Using the brick wall for support, he slowly makes his way back to the warmth of his flat. I wander on to the shops on Lovely Lane.

This is a multi-cultural area and is reflected by the types of shop on the lane. Full English breakfasts, pies and sandwiches, pizza, kebabs and halal takeaways, Philippine and Indian food, a Continental Bazaar. A canine and feline beauticians, a launderette (the front of which looking to me somehow hipster authentic reminds me of the trendy cocktail bar in Manchester that disguised itself as a launderette). Further down there is a church and an Islamic Centre. A teenager in a red hoodie is talking on his mobile phone. A Hells Angel mounts his bike and rides off. ‘JUST EAT’, a lurid sign seems to threaten, but I have lived in the area long enough to feel at ease in the place. An industrial clothing shop with a window display of hi-viz jackets.

Lovely Lane was once a country lane with rose-covered thatched cottages in this part. An old map from 1851 shows just 11 buildings situated in the lane, the lane dating back to at least to 1775, with Sankey Hall and an ancient water mill. Change feels slow, with people just going about their daily lives. The area still feels the same as when I was a child, time steadily ticking by, but it is happening constantly and I remember climbing the fresh sticky banks of earth as a child when the road was being built. The old Pavilion cinema (now used as a carpet shop) seems to be the most obvious sign of history. A survey of 1465 describes the Whitecross district as a suburb. Will the area become inner-city in the future? My mind projects the White cross into the middle of the giant roundabout with a funeral procession stopping there to rest at a time when burial grounds were not so numerous, the grass on the roundabout being the only reminder of Sankey Green.

The local pub once called The Mad Hatter has now been shortened to The Hatter, losing its Lewis Carroll connection. It used to be full on a Friday night, with workers from the nearby cake factory called Memory Lane. The cake factory itself now only existing in peoples’ memory and replaced by houses. ‘Will the city of culture bid make any difference to the people here and what art and music do they like?’, I think as I walk on. “Man critical after attack”, reads the headline of the weeks local paper. A gang of six of teenagers arrested for allegedly attacking him in the park and leaving him fighting for his life. Back home I wake up after falling asleep whilst reading a book. It is dark inside and outside the room, but by the sound of the traffic flow I can tell that it is rush hour around 6pm.

Later at night sad news comes over the radio that Mark E Smith the lead singer of The Fall has died. One of my favourite groups, I remember when they played the old Carlton Club in Warrington in 1979. I was only sixteen at the time and frustratingly not able to get in. Also I remember missing Joy Division at Eric's in Liverpool, as my friends did want to go that particular week, Karma coming to them the following year when U2 cancelled a gig at Salford University. On the radio the tributes start to come in and a quote by the late DJ John Peel stays with me: The Fall "always different, always the same ".

Friday, 2 February 2018

'Let Me Tell You a Story' by Fenella Brandenburg

Let Me Tell You a Story: Presupposed actualization and the discourse of architectural development plans.

By Fenella Brandenburg.

Limited edition: only 10 available.

This essay is by the academic Fenella Brandenburg who is well-known for her appearance as keynote speaker at the Fourth World Congress of Psychogeography in September 2017 at Huddersfield University.

  • Published by Urban Gerbil
  • Size: A5
  • Pages: 33
  • Black and white images: 2
  • Colour images: 3
  • White cover with blue text

Abstract of essay:
This essay discusses how architectural development plans form a narrative that tells a story of the future space being proposed. This story, embedded in a discourse that is circulated by those in authority in regard to the project’s manifestation, has two main effects. Firstly, it changes the subjectivity of those involved in the decision-making process and, secondly, the ideological structure surrounding the development makes the anticipated project, in the minds of those involved, exist in advance. These effects are known as presupposed actualization. By providing an example of a development project carried out in the UK in the 1960s - and by using theories around narratology, ideology, discourse and representation – the author demonstrates how this comes about through the telling of a story and because of the material actions undertaken by those invested in the project.

You can buy your copy here for £3.45

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Hiding the Bodies: Geographic Repression in Higher Educational Space


This article critiques the way that universities have acquired and developed campus space since World War II. Prompted by the need to increase student entry, British universities grew exponentially, with a demand to expand the campus in order to provide more teaching space and student accommodation. This article looks at the side effects of this expansion by providing a case study that demonstrates that land acquisition can have a deleterious effect on local residents. Using theories from urban studies, postmodern geography and cultural theory, this article presents the case study through a transdisciplinary lens, offering an original analysis of the heritage of an inherited cemetery.

Keywords: campus planning, social history, capitalism, urban regeneration, burial land

You can read and download the article for free here: Space and Culture Journal

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Foucault Does Las Meninas

This week I was teaching spectatorship (and looking, seeing, viewing, the gaze and scopophilia - from a cultural perspective) to the MA students. As well as looking at the usual suspects, like Laura Mulvey and John Berger, I also included Michel Foucault, since we had briefly looked at him the week before when discussing discourse analysis.

I decided to use Foucault's analysis of Las Meninas (Velasquez 1656) in The Order of Things since it famously appears in an advert by the Spanish department store El Cortes Inglés (see below), and these are Fashion Enterprise and Society students after all. Foucault's Las Meninas lends itself well to a critique of lines of sight from both an art history and contemporary fashion advertisement perspective (although I was surprised, following a quick bit of research into published articles, that this model of Foucault's had not been used in advertising - maybe more research would reveal that not to be the case, though).

I spent a while reading through Foucault's essay - it's quite challenging and interesting to mark the lines of sight down on a printed copy of the painting. I had done it before, a good few years ago, now, when, as an undergraduate I was studying Foucault (I actually found my old printout of Las Meninas in the book itself). I started again, however, and worked through the first few sets of lines of sight, and colour coordinated them. I also marked in the text itself where they are explicitly defined by Foucault, and numbered them in order (although it is a little bit more complicated than that).

Anyway, I have included the slides below (which in the original Powerpoint, are animated), in case anyone would like to see them (sadly my narrative that accompanies them is missing). The first image shows the first few lines of sight that Foucault mentioned, including the triangle (see yellow). I've also highlighted some of the 'frames' he signifies as being important, and the lines of sight connected to them.

The slide below includes the three significant 'positions' in the image, and what Foucault describes as the "three 'observing' functions [that] come together in a point exterior to the picture". I won't include 'the spoiler', but have a go at reading through the text and creating the lines yourself. It's a great read. You can also try and work on the spiralling lines that he mentions: "This spiral shell presents us with the entire circle of representation". I didn't include that as I was concerned about overwhelming the students. However, this was a breakthrough week for them and they definitely got it, as when I presented them with a Gucci advert to analyse in the workshop after the lecture, they did really well.

If anyone would like the slides, or would like me to do a lecture on it for their students, let me know. It's very interactive and its easy for the audience to place themselves in the position of observer (within the regular dynamics of a lecture theatre), and it is as if they are really looking at the painting itself - as if they are Velasquez or, indeed, Foucault...

Saturday, 30 December 2017

The Existential Degu Teaches…Close Reading 101

This is the first of a series of guest posts from Jean-Paul Sartre the Existential Degu (JP). Sister Moonshine carried out some dérives (psychogeography trips) with me in the past, and it is not until now that JP has carved out his own niche in helping me with my research and teaching.

How to Carry Out a Close Reading

We will be starting off this series, of applying analytical methods to interpreting texts and images, by undertaking a very basic close reading of a short sentence. The above image was an Xmas present to Tina (my human guardian) from a close friend. It’s a make-up bag/pencil case. The bag is pink and white with a zip, and has an image on it of a silhouette of a degu (you can see it is full of stuff and already being used by my human). We will be doing a close reading of the text on the bag:

“The more I learn about people the more I love my degu”

STEP 1: Read and Highlight

Read the sentence through a few times, allowing oneself to ruminate on its meaning. Highlight the key words:

“The more I learn about people the more I love my degu”.

Carry out an interpretation/translation of these words:

Learn = to acquire knowledge or understanding of a given object, process or situation

People = generally considered to be humans (aka primates)

Love = affection, attachment, keen interest, bonded relationship

Degu = an exceptionally cute (often misunderstood) rodent, sometimes called a squirrel or rat, but more closely related to a guinea pig (can sometimes be a ‘pet’)

STEP 2: Read and Translate

Now you have looked more deeply into the meaning of the key words you can re-read the sentence. Take into account your newly acquired knowledge and situate the key words within the other words of the sentence. Ask yourself such questions as:

  • Who is the ‘I’ in the sentence? Is it the sender or receiver of the gift, for instance? What can we say about this person? Is it a more generalised ‘I’ that could apply to a number of persons?
  • What does ‘my’ mean? This word implies ownership, but, also, it can mean an association with. How can we establish which is correct?

So, if we were to do a straight forward interpretation (just using different key words), we could say:

"The more I understand humans the more I am attached to my pet rodent"

STEP 3: Context and Reinterpretation

Context is very important for undertaking a close reading. The more one understand about what is going on in regard to the text, and what surrounds it, the more one can understand it. For instance: circumstances, history, the socio-political milieu, and so on, should all be taken into consideration. Here are some facts, that as the degu being discussed, I am privy to. They are also things we would not know, outside of this post, and form the context of the situation:

  1. My human believes that animals, while not ‘human’, are ‘people’ (in science the term is ‘personhood’ and some scientists and philosophers now believe this is the case, although plenty don’t – see the Nonhuman Rights Project for discussion on court cases in this regard).
  2. The ‘I’ in the text is my human guardian and the ‘degu’ is myself.
  3. My human owns the make-up bag.
  4. And, more importantly: My human has named me after an existential philosopher who was famous for saying “Hell is other people”. This is often taken out of context and misinterpreted (even though, in the context of the situation under discussion, it works quite well). What the quote is actually about (very simply) is our relationship with the Other and the subject/object dichotomy that comes into being with the gaze.

So, having done our research (understood the meaning of the words, translated the text, and got to grips with the context), we can now (perhaps) understand it to mean:

"The more I understand about my place in the world and my relationship with others, the more I appreciate how unique my connection is to Jean-Paul Sartre the Existential Degu"

Well, thank you for checking out my post, humans. I am planning on doing a basic deconstruction in the next ‘The Existential Degu Teaches…’

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Review of You Are Here by Matthew Watkins

Review of You Are Here: An accelerating history of Canterbury from the Big Bang to noon August 15th 2014 by Matthew Watkins 

Matthew Watkins book You Are Here is, to his own acknowledgement, about many things: it starts with the physical and biological beginnings of the cosmos, but it’s really about the social and historical evolution of a Kentish city, Canterbury. How can these two be connected, you ask? Well, quite well so it seems, and Watkins has done this quite cleverly and stylishly by using lovely illustrations* to take us from the big bang (13,798,000,000 to 11,000,000,000 years ago - and Watkins should know since he is a mathematician and physicist) to his first mention of Canterbury (in 800 to 230 BCE), or at least the place it was eventually to become known as.

However, the book is also not just a history of Canterbury, it’s also a psychogeography of Canterbury. We can see this transition - from the accounts of social history, to Watkins own personal explorations of the city - when he starts to focus his discussion on its more urban aspect, 2004-2006. By the time we get to 2014, Watkins’ book has turned full-blown psychogeographical in his journal-type entries, which are oriented around his discoveries, made through walking the actual city itself. So, since this is a psychogeography blog after all, I will include a couple of the extracts that I particularly enjoyed below, one of which appears to come from a single dérive that lasted well over 24 hours - Guy Debord would be proud!

9:22 on 12th August to 00:31 on 13th August 2014

On my way back home from Rough Common I decided to walk the labyrinth below Eliot College. Its Portland stone was a bit more worn in now, I noticed, with some lichens and mosses having taken up residence. As I sat in the middle reading Jung’s analysis of physicist Wolfgang Pauli’s dreams and drinking a bottle of ale, two middle-aged women wound their way in and joined me. We talked about the soullessness of the University and ley lines. They described themselves as “semi-local”, out for an evening walk, one of them explaining that she was trying to mentally process actor Robin Williams’ recent suicide.

11:53:48 to 11:55:03 on August 15th 2014

Passing the City Arms pub, its A-frame blackboard on the pavement featuring the city’s coat-of-arms: three choughs (Becket’s family heraldry) and a golden leopard in a posture known to heraldry enthusiasts as passant gardant. Two men and a woman were sitting outside enjoying late morning drinks. I turned to look at the admission price for the Roman Museum across the street: £8 for adults. I wondered if my local Resident’s card would get me in for free. A few steps further, Club Burrito. The idea of a burrito suddenly appealed. I’d been walking for hours. But as well as being on a mission, I reminded myself that I wasn’t too well-off financially at the moment. This involuntarily triggered the execrable band Simply Red’s 1985 single “Money’s Too Tight (to Mention)” in my mind, which in turn produced a memory of a party in Whitstable in autumn 1988, the highlight of which was a drunken working class man who’d torn this record off the stereo while a couple of middle-class drama students were dancing to it shouting “You’re all living a lie!” at the stunned revellers.

Watkins journal entries end, in a way, like the book begins, with the physical laws of the universe exerting their influence on space and time - since they are what makes the universe what it is - and Canterbury, too. We count down - in the tiniest cosmic clock level increments - to his last entry, which is hand-written: “the barrier between worlds loses resolution, fragments, and all perspectives collide and fuse together”...

Sketch of Stewy’s ‘Robert Wyatt’ Graffiti

*Illustrations by Matt Tweed, Carol J. Watkins and Juliet Suzmeyan

Friday, 3 November 2017

Slutchers Lane

by Trent Dunlop

The haulage lorries have left, the security has gone, the building is empty and the demolition has begun...

I have noticed the comings and goings of the Spectra warehouse on walks around Slutchers Lane. Slutchers Lane is an interesting place to visit, located within easy walking distance of Warrington town centre. It is a long straight road, about a mile in length, leading to a dead end. It cuts through the middle of the edgelands and margins, surrounded by the River Mersey.

In 2016 the deputy leader of the borough council called for the name to be changed after telling the executive board that in an online urban dictionary Slutcher meant ‘filth, dirtbag , and whore’. He was ridiculed on social media and it was commented that he was a ‘Muppet’. The name stayed the same.

A road to my right leads to Bank Quay Trading Estate. Colourful signs point to scrap yards, back street garages, a martial arts club, an animal welfare centre, and a go-karting warehouse. The road leads past Arpley Meadows railway sidings, under a railway bridge, ending at a path leading to an industrial landscape of chemical plants and the hidden transporter bridge.

I walk past the station overflow car park and the futuristic 1980s small business units. To my left is a restricted road leading to Centre Park, a bland generic business park with equally bland hotels and landscaped pond. The autumn leaves from the trees are covered in warm shades of rusty orange and yellow along the road. Coming to the gates outside the Spectra warehouse, two yellow Cat demolition diggers are parked inside the gates (covered in various warning signs), with a barbed wire fence on either side. All is quiet, with no signs of life this Sunday morning. The road fizzles out at a barrier and another set of locked metal gates, beyond which is an empty overgrown field surrounded by a bend in the river. To my right is a narrow path which leads between the field and the railway line, leading to a footbridge over a viaduct. I walk down this path and turn left onto the overgrown field and start walking across it to the far end. Two mounds of rubble on an oblong concrete patch are the only traces left of what was a golf driving range, along with a few half buried golf balls in the field.

A dip takes me down to the back of the warehouse, Am I trespassing? I have not had to climb over any fences or walls. The demolition is going quickly and the warehouse is vanishing fast A massive patch of concrete is covered in fresh rainwater, the surface reflecting the sky, and looking as if a new lake has formed overnight, giving a strange effect of walking across deep water.

I enter through a hole in a wall underneath a semi-destroyed roof and start exploring. To my left, as I enter, is line of machines looking like a robotic involuntary Picasso sculpture. I alter the settings on my camera as I enter the darkness, trying to get a few sharp photographs. There is not much left inside and this would be called a ‘Derp’ in Urbex language: an empty space with not much of interest. But it is not just about photographs, and thoughts start to percolate, random images, plus memories and the history of the area.

In the 1970s Warrington was an industrial town and this was part of Thames Board paper mills, employing at its height over 2000 people. I remember it had a large wharf on the bank of the river. The river was biologically dead and the most polluted in Europe, with warm water, factory effluent, chemicals and poisons killing the wildlife. The water was foul smelling, a dark claret colour, with a white foam on top which would blow around the street and Bridge Foot on a windy day. A time when workers were looked after by the company with a living wage, holidays and a Christmas bonus, with parties for the children, and a ‘do’ out to a club, like the Golden Garter in Wythenshawe, for a meal and to watch Bernard Manning. The clang of steel in the night, smoke stack chimneys, shops shut and a day of rest on a Sunday. A town of many industries, before closure in the early 1980s, followed by the days of sitting at computer screens in call centres and offices and 24/7 culture.

I walk through massive empty workshops, up gloomy staircases, bare offices, and smashed toilets. Twisted metal is everywhere, the silence is eerie and I lose track of time. Clusters of fire extinguishers have been put to one side ready for removal, and an architect’s framed sketch is next to the exit ready to be salvaged. Glass and tiles crunch underfoot, sounding loud and exaggerated, before a siren of a police car or ambulance travelling down Chester Road, signals that it is time to leave.

Today the River Mersey is a success story: with seals, otters and salmon recorded in the water, and itself the star of a television programme presented by Jeremy Paxman. But time keeps moving and wildlife is again under threat as Warrington plans to become a city, with loss of green belt and part of a nature reserve, and residents fighting against the council for the future of the area.

I head home with a camera full of instant history and another part of my A to Z map out of date...