Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Presupposed Actualization Wobble and the Rhizomes of Doubt in the City of Culture

By Trent Dunlop

Warrington, the market town between Liverpool and Manchester, is changing fast and daily, with the past, present and future existing at the same time: mixing, weaving and colliding together as it continues the story from town to City of Culture. A soup of instant history, spin and regeneration is taking place before your eyes as you walk the streets, and at the same time in cyberspace and on social media. I pick up my camera, notebook and pen, and hit the streets for another walk and update, ready to immerse myself in the narratives.

Walking past the chemical works, over the railway bridge and into the town centre I come to the Golden Gates in front of the town hall, Warrington’s ‘Jewel in the Crown’. Such a big fuss is made of these gates, with so many photos snapped and posed that I find them boring: a tourist type area, bringing pride for those who can see no wrong in the town. Some think of it as a rugby team to get behind and support with a ‘you are either with us or against us’ mentality. I walk past shops, and bars now start to appear as I approach the centre.

Two articles have appeared recently in the local press that indicate something is afoot and I want to find out more. The first, a letter from a reader entitled "Why I am worried about Warrington's Time Square". The second, a rant by a local journalist, which in my opinion feels patronizing, instructing us to "Give Warrington a chance" (to roll up our sleeves), and ending with a chilling Orwellian type message: "Remember negative thoughts can lead to negative outcomes". I turn left and into the Cultural Quarter.

I walk past The Lounge Bar, it still has Viola Beach written in chalk on the stonework where the shrine to the local indie band used to be. I pass Springfield Street Post Office and the ghostly figure in the upstairs window, and Palmyra Square with its interpretation boards and public spaces protection order signs. Also, the Parr Hall where the Knotty Ash big bass drum would bang every year when Ken Dodd visited: Diddy Men, jam butty mines, chuckle muscles and tickling sticks.

This is the upmarket area of the town. Posh restaurants and pop-up artisan food stalls, Dan Price and the embedded City of Culture bid. The local libraries saved by the public, 1848 the first town in the United Kingdom to open a rate-supported public library. I walk on towards the new multi storey car park.

The car park is a massive new structure covered in brown and gold hexagonal cladding, at present completely dwarfing the surroundings - the shock of the new and the shape of things to come. "We call it the Beehive", a man whispers in my ear as I stop to take some photos. It is up for a Peoples’ Choice Building of the Decade Award on BBC North West Tonight and has made the shortlist. One local journalist has promised to show his backside at Market Gate if it wins! It represents hyper-capitalism to me, and I wonder if it will become a design classic like Preston Bus Station or the National Theatre.

Opposite me is a large empty space surrounded by a ring of steel where the market used to be - the skeletal steel frame of the new multiplex cinema rising from the ground. The word ‘multiplex’ now feels dated, bringing to mind thoughts of action films and romcoms. What a wasted opportunity, we could have had a good arts centre instead. The whole area has been rundown, looking like 1970s ‘slum clearance’, with the buildings in Bridge Street looking so grotty that people have started photographing the top floors. Pound shops, cash converters and charity shops: there are now more coffee shops than ever, ready for the changing of the area into an entertainment zone. The only places busy in this area at the moment are McDonald's and Burger King: reassuring comfort food in the time of ‘austerity’.

But something has gone wrong, spending has plunged and growth plummeted to its weakest levels in more than five years as the ‘Beast from the East’ storm blew in battering the high street. Shop footfall nationally fell by 6%, mixed with a second wave of shop closures. I think of Fenella Brandenburg's “presupposed actualization”. And, yes, the new buildings do already exist but schizocartographic rhizomes of doubt have grown and spread, causing a presupposed actualization wobble with the illusion of the story unravelling. The city is a failure with the new buildings empty. I walk to Market Gate, seeing the dystopia that now exists. A budget of 1.8 million has been found to promote the town.

Market Gate is the centre of the town/city a crossroads with a bland circular water feature and the infamous skittles. Characterless 1980's style American Mall ornamentation, robbing the area of its roots and identity, embarrassment comes to my mind as I walk past, heading home.

Maybe it is a generational thing with the online shopping and click-and-collect revolution, but I do feel a bit nostalgic and sad as I walk past another pound shop, my memory superimposing the red Woolworths logo that used to be there. I see the newly empty Marks and Spencer store, unavailable, now, for people to pop in and buy a few groceries and comfortable underwear. The town is not fit for purpose if you can no longer buy what you want, I think to myself. I don't know whether I’m in a town or city anymore. A strange thought occurs to me that I need to regenerate myself like Dr Who!

I have always enjoyed catching the train and the excitement of visiting cities: will anyone want to come here? I walk past the remaining wall of the old Victorian Public Baths were I learnt to swim as a child, remembering happy times. Switching on the radio later, back at home, the news comes in that 450 jobs are at risk in the local Marks and Spencer Distribution Centre as it closes down and moves to another part of the country. The Trans Pennine express train will not stop here soon.The story continues...

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Hannah’s Dress: A Very Slow Dérive Down ‘A Quiet Street in a Nice Neighbourhood’

“It’s an ordinary street”
At the beginning of the year I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of this beautiful looking book in the post: Hannah’s Dress: Berlin 1904-2014 by Pascale Hugues (Polity Press 2017). ‘Is it psychogeography?’, I thought, ‘There is a picture of a woman walking in the street’. Upon further examination, it became clear that while it isn’t overt psychogeography (if there is such a thing), neither is it not psychogeography. It is the story of a street through the eyes of the author and the other street residents, past and present. So, in a way it is a very slow dérive of this Berlin street, albeit one that lasts 110 years and one that enters the homes and hearts of its residents.

Where’s the psychogeography bit?
By examining the material culture of a particular space, the book examines the history and aesthetics of place. While it does incorporate the opinions and emotions of others, it is also subjective in the way that psychogeography is: the differing individual responses to place (affect, if you will) are all valid and acknowledged as such. It also makes reference to popular culture, which is a common reference tool used by the psychogeographer, too (as well as telling you about the place under examination, it also orients the reader in regards to the psychogeographer who is writing).

Who’s the protagonist in the story?
The protagonist is two-fold, it is both Hannah’s dress and the street itself. I won’t spoil the poignant story of Hannah’s dress by revealing it here – but the book dedicates a chapter to it, which I would recommend. However, I will say more about the street as protagonist in the story, a character who is a hybrid of the people who have lived there during its history. This idea reminded me of Jonathan Raban’s Soft City (1974):
For at moments like this, the city goes soft; it awaits the imprint of an identity. For better or worse, it invites you to remake it, to consolidate it into a shape you can live in. You, too. Decide who you are, and the city will again assume a fixed form around you. (1983, 3)

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Three Upcoming Book Chapters: Pink Floyd, Anti-Production, Urban ‘Situations’

Hey You: Subjectivity and the ideological/repressive state apparatuses in Pink Floyd’s The Wall

This chapter examines the representations of Louis Althusser’s state apparatuses in the album lyrics and film of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. By considering Althusser’s discussion on the repressive apparatuses (for example: the army and the courts) and the ideological ones (such as the family, education and communication), the author critiques how, in The Wall, they operate on the subjectivity of the protagonist Pink and how this leads him to an existential crisis.

In his 1970 essay, Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses, Althusser provides us with a useful allegory to explain how the individual becomes a subject by offering us a situation whereby a person in the street is “hailed” by a policeman. “’Hey, you there!’”, the shout rings out, and the hailed person turns towards the call: “By this mere one-hundred-and-eighty-degree physical conversion, he becomes a subject” (Althusser 1970). However, Althusser explains that the individual is “always-already” a subject and that “ideology has no outside”, providing us with the example of the child in the womb who will be assigned the surname of her/his father even before birth (ibid.).

In The Wall we are not only taken through Pink’s life in flashback, but we are also made aware of the various repressive and ideological structures that have formed him as the individual we see in front of us. The Wall provides us with an insight into Pink’s psyche, making connections between the state apparatuses and their influence on him. Pink’s journey – his attempts to unshackle himself from the apparatuses and his ways of coping by creating repressive structures of his own - demonstrates the tension between conformity and freedom, leading the viewer/listener to question if anything that resembles a free subject can ever exist. This chapter discusses Pink’s subjectivity in the context of these apparatuses in regard to ideological recognition and the consequences of a rejection of that interpellation.

Book: Pink Floyd: A Multi-Disciplinary Understanding of a Global Music Brand

Psy(co)motion: Anti-Production and détournement in affective musical cartographies

This chapter discusses the musical compilation series Psy(co)motion in the context of a schizocartographic analysis. It introduces the set of psychogeographically-oriented CDs within the mix-tape/CD phenomenon while situating it as a form that challenges ossified systems of power. Considering concepts such as aesthetics and affect, the mix CD series uses Félix Guattari’s theories concerned with production, singularization and reterritorialization. The chapter goes on to discuss whether Psy(co)motion manages to successfully recuperate itself through the molecular creation of the object, and via its virtual and physical dissemination.

Book: Non-Representational Theory and the Creative Arts

Creating a Situation in the City: Embodied spaces and the act of crossing boundaries

This chapter addresses the history of what appears under the general term of ‘urban critique’ in its many incarnations, such as the flâneur, psychogeography, place-hacking, DIY urbanism, guerrilla urbanism and urban exploration. Going back to the late 19th century flâneur of the Paris arcades, there is a lineage of urban critique characterised by the act of placing one’s body into the space under examination as a way of understanding the dynamics that operate on both a material and abstract level. Urban space is a mediated space that enables a form of reflexivity to take place when the individual engages with it in a critical way. This affective process allows a form of rewriting of the space to occur, such that it is momentarily changed to fit the subjectivity of the specific individual who is placing it under scrutiny. This process can be undertaken and expressed in multiple ways depending on the approach taken by the person or group. Nevertheless, what is consistent across these alternative methods is a challenge to the taken-for-granted view that urban space is just empty space surrounded by the built environment – something that is immovable, and yet also innocuous.

By providing examples of the different forms of contemporary urban critique, the discussion will focus on how some people actively seek to question the way urban space is manifest and why it appears the way it does. It will examine the methods used, the types of questions asked and the different outputs of the practices themselves. By providing examples of contemporary practices and forms of urban critique, this chapter will look at their underlying philosophy and will review how successful they are in their objective.

Book: The Routledge Companion to Urban Media and Communication

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Round About Town: a new book by Kevin Boniface

By Kevin Boniface

Round About Town was almost eight years in the writing: the accumulation of noteworthy observations made in the course of delivering the mail in the West Yorkshire town of Huddersfield between August 2010 and February 2018.
Further down the road I got talking to the woman with the low maintenance hairstyle and the perhaps inadvisable vest top with no bra. She was telling me about the house she used to live in when she was younger. “Where was that?” I asked. She waved an enormous arm in the vague direction of half of Huddersfield and said, “You know, number 23 do-dah”.
I began making notes about my environment in the late 90s when I joined the Royal Mail. Walking the same streets at the same time everyday gave me a new perspective; things were changing and I didn’t want to miss them: hats, bathrobes, children’s names, fashions in dog ownership, garden ornamentation and the accrual of patina thereon, the comings and goings of migratory birds, the taxonomy and distribution of litter, the degradation of animal faeces, Cars - Mr Briggs alone changed his car three times in one 12 month period during 2003/04...
Mr Briggs pulls up to tell me he’s off to Oldham today. He pauses, then says “Actually, I tell a lie, I’m off to the office, then to Meltham and then to Oldham. I’m working on the precinct there, it’s a right bastard to park”. That’s all he says, then he gets back into his Suzuki Carry and drives away.

I wanted to make sense of all of this.

I was determined.
There are unencumbered and determined grey-haired men in navy blue fleeces pounding the streets. Teeth gritted, they march up hills, arms outstretched for extra balance along uneven nascent desire lines—past the stalled mums with their hoods up against the drizzle, pushchairs and retrievers in one hand, they reach out for their straggling toddlers with the other.
In an attempt to eradicate any prejudices, I employed various techniques. I made lists of observations at preordained times of the day, I avoided adjectives and adverbs, I even attempted meditating on the day’s events in an attempt to clear out the crap and get to the REAL: the REAL tangerine in the gutter on the Tuesday after the storm. I don’t know if I was doing it right or whether I was becoming so open-minded my brains had fallen out but I carried on, honing and tweaking. I made films at random, took photographs, made drawings.

My writing style evolved.

I was researching something or other.
Results of an hour spent researching what to wear in the countryside at this time of year: knitted beige lurex cardigan - no sleeves, tied at waist; brown hoodie; green overalls; green anorak with hood - North Face; black and navy woollen jumper; hi-vis coat - green/muddy; pink polo-neck jumper with black gilet; navy blue overall/shop coat; fleece jackets - various and sundry; blue cagoule - torn; green zip-up raglan cardigan; light blue cotton shirt; t-shirts - various and sundry.

In 2010, a mate of mine, the artist Jared Szpakowski had started a blog ‘to keep his eye in’. He’d resolved to post a picture every day for a year. This seemed to me the perfect medium for what I was doing; how better to document the cumulative effect of everything on everything than by building up an accumulation of blog posts?
Next door, a three-foot-high pile of rubbish has accumulated in the garden and there are now fourteen sycamore saplings growing from between the joints in the cracked concrete paving flags. On the drive, the old Vauxhall Vectra has six nodding bulldogs wearing cross of St George T-shirts arranged across its parcel shelf.
Recently, I’ve been working with Uniformbooks to publish Round About Town, a beautiful print version of the blog, it came out in March and I’m very proud of it.

Round About Town
Kevin Boniface
ISBN 978 1 910010 18 1
128pp, 234 x 142
paperback with flaps
2018, £12.00

Further details and to order direct: Uniform Books

Kevin Boniface is an artist based in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. After graduating in art and geography in 1993, he joined the Royal Mail as a postman which has influenced his artwork ever since. Over many years, he has also produced zines, exhibitions, artists’ books, short films, audio recordings and live performances. His previous publications include Where Are You? (2005) and Lost in the Post (2008).

Thursday, 1 March 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