by Fiona Ferbrache
A fortnight ago, Geography Directions reported on exploration and adventure in Geography. While exploration is often associated with ventures into the wilderness and unchartered territories, it is also very much about less physical scientific discovery and search for deeper understanding. This week, I introduce an alternative group of inquisitives: urban explorers who scale the heights and depths of abandoned or derelict buildings, landmarks and transport infrastructure as a means of rediscovering build environments.
The London Consolidation Crew is a group of urban explorers that physically explores closed or (usually) inaccessible urban spaces. The Guardian linked these often illicit and high-risk excursions to a celebration of capitalist space, while geographer David Clarke suggested that they were embodied reactions to increased control and surveillance over urban spaces. Analysis of these activities (the basis of a recent geographical PhD by urban explorer Brad Garrett), informs existing geographical research on contemporary urban exploration (Garrett, 2010) and advances theories that concern how places are experienced through the body: concepts such as affect, performance and embodiment.
Bodily experiences of climbing are described, analysed and theorised by Barratt (2012) in Area. While Barratt’s empirical research was undertaken among outdoor climbers more familiar with ascending rocks, his arguments also apply to urban explorers. Barratt argues for an understanding of climbing as a complex assemblage of body-material-environment relations i.e. that the experience can be understood through interactions between body, clothing and kit, and the place or surface where climbing is practised. Barratt’s paper offers a more-than-representational approach to this leisure activity, and thus provides a framework to reconsider urban explorers’ engagement with their environment. From this perspective, not only do urban explorers inspire new ways of discovering spaces, but they also provide a context where emerging theoretical ideas can be refined.
The Guardian: Shard explorers seek out new targets after scaling London landmark
Place Hacking: Explore Everything
Barratt, P. (2012) ‘My magic cam': a more-than-representational account of the climbing assemblage. Area. 44.1, pp.46-53
Garrett, B.L. (2010) Urban Explorers: Quests for Myth, Mystery and Meaning. Geography Compass. 4.10, pp.1448-1461