"There’s something enigmatic about the very concept of a journey. From fleeting thoughts to momentary reflections, it evokes a multitude of emotions. Its mystification lies in its transitions, its ability to create a space in time." Kimberley Goes, The Urban Explorer
We're true believers in the mantra that it's not necessarily what you see, it's how you see it. So we fell head over heels for The Urban Explorer, a project which encourages us to see our surroundings through new eyes. One grey Winter's day No Fixed Abode met the project's creator Kimberley Goes, and took ten 'triggers' for a walk to challenge our perceptions of the places around us. From free-writing in French to cranes with rhythm , here come Kimberley's recollections of what we found...
The Urban Explorer Workshop, 13th December 2015, Hackney Wick, London
The practice of psychogeography largely depends on favourable weather conditions. Having scheduled the workshop in the month of December, the unpredictability of London (not just winter) weather was something we remained quite wary of.
The gloomy Sunday morning of the 13th of December brought rain and an impending sense of doubt. Should we have rescheduled, we pondered. Over time and the forecast of better weather for later in the day, the doubt was eventually replaced by a sense of excitement. I wasn't going to let the weather cast a gloom over the first Urban Explorer Workshop.
Introducing ten triggers part of the Urban Explorer Guide to the participants; the purpose of this workshop was to collectively document our psychogeographic journeys. To experience and record the urban environment we were surrounded by; it wasn't as much about the results to be produced but a step towards provoking a sense of place.
All aboard the Alfred Le Roy docked at the Queen’s Yard, Hackney Wick, the first few minutes revolved around introductions between an eclectic mix of participants ranging from architects, writers, engineers, urban designers and a baby. Yes, you heard right, a baby! Sipping hot spiced apple drinks, the conversation moved on to the Urban Explorer Project and a viewing of the books on display. What followed was an informal presentation on the project; the triggers and the ways in which each could be documented. The group then sifted through the pile of blank pocket books to choose a trigger they were most fascinated to test out.
The idea was simple - to pick a trigger, then set out individually or in a group to document the surroundings through the trigger chosen. In order to maintain a control over the unpredictable drift, a time limit of about 40 minutes was set. We were to look beyond the usual, into the details and the often overlooked aspects of the urban environment.
We rushed out with a sense of curiosity and excitement, following our instinct to wander and observe the area we were surrounded by. Industrial buildings in the face of redevelopment; graffiti paint splattered intentionally across brick facades, a colourful array of writings on the wall - Hackney Wick was nothing short of the ideal urban environment to be explored.
Upon return, each of us took a minute to present our documentation and experience of the practice. From the documentation of the familiar everyday bicycle wheel as an object to the observation of the repetitive rhythm of cranes; from drawing the natural surroundings using [earth] pigments as colour to a visual narrative of words in the environment, each documented trigger provoked a sense of wonder and led to a string of discussions.
Eva presented drawings of bricks and their varied placements, shapes and colours in the area she explored. Thought experiments and questions arose - ‘Would it be possible to count these bricks?’ ‘Could these be classified according to their characteristics?’ Inigo who viewed and captured the environment through an irregular perspective, suggested it as a possible new trigger! Nastassia, an engineer who took over the challenge of free writing communicated the difficulty in penning down her thoughts. Although her exploration resulted in a discovery of a wonderful postcard by art students in the market; it also led to a realisation and discussion that not every trigger could be mastered or practiced over one attempt. Free writing, for instance, required practice to absolutely surrender to the art of writing without hesitation.
On the whole, the workshop successfully sparked a sense of curiosity and even raised questions on the further use of the documentation. Suggestions were made on the possibility of taking the results forward - through either improvements in the area explored or the creation of a documentation database for further use. As the light gradually faded at dusk, conversations drifted to the holidays and other visual musings.
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Thanking all the participants for the testing and feedback which has been significant in paving a strong way for the development of the Urban Explorer Project.
Photography by Kimberly Goes, Ronit Mirsky, Cristina Salvi, Eva Koehle, Rosanna Vitiello and Nastassia Basil.