Monday, December 19, 2011

Disposable Culture


Away from the cultural node, there exists the space between. The cultural wake is a spatial memory, breathing the ripples of historical details. The information found in this space can be seen in its dissipation, rising to collect in an unkempt mash, and fading back into space of cultural activity.

Trailing behind the most vibrant life inhabiting the cultural node, the cultural wake is full of half-dead objects, vestiges of industry, community, and the humanity within them. These objects and structures still stand before there complete extinction, they stand as reminders to a near past, and formula for an unavoidable present environment.

A drifting man sees more than one circle or sphere. From the rooftops to the tunnels, traveling to all extremes I look for lost space to remind me from where present reality is born. In the shadows, brightly shine the corners of past intensity. These spaces are lightly decorated by the whimsical and transient touch of impermanent visitor memorabilia. Vandals and vagrants leave their records on the rabbit holes I gaze into. 

You must essentially distance from the cultural node in order to understand it. This is an experiment that begins with the search for lost space, that which incites confused and unclear emotion. This gesture works towards disorientation as well as a general search for nothingness and obscurity. It is a sense of both physical and mental distance from clearly defined space; that is the goal of the search for lost space. Once proper distance has been established, you must find an observation anchor, a stopping point from which to view this landscape of nothingness. This comes usually in the form of something completely subtle or lacking in character; a pebble or a small weed, something totally insignificant serves best to use as the observation anchor. Vacant lots, quiet streets, and empty parking lots, all seem to provide ample lost space.

From this point there is a sense of self-erasure that is sought as the beginning of proper exploration of the cultural wake. You must stand out in the middle of a space, relatively devoid of character, even that character of abandonment, and look out across both the life and death of society. See apartments, streets, trains, factories, churches, and the people within, all on a continuum. 

Once at this perspective, self and personal memory dampened by the emptiness of the lost space, you can begin to move, a few steps at a time, like an aggressive yet cautious hound sniffing out past half-dead human relics. Bits of pulverized trash on the ground, mini graffiti monikers on crumbling unrecognizable concrete forms; any aged human detail speaks a faint voice of past life, the first oscillations towards the cultural wake.  

Rising from the dirt, vines, and a general organic accumulation, steel peeps out and hints at structure. Fences emerge and protect something. A harsh sense of unwelcoming ambience suddenly assembles from various broken details. A hole in the fence says in so many ways to keep out of this place, but the hole exists, representative of another space.

It is imperative to approach the chain of events in spatial exploration, detail by detail. In this case, to simply look through the chain-link, seeing the dilapidated building beyond it, you would forget and never see the moments necessary to arrive standing directly before it. The debris on the trail to the structure is equally as important as the structure itself, and creates a much deeper narrative to the cultural wake represented by the space.

From the hole in the fence a path meanders through the undergrowth, beaten into the ground by the phantasm occult. Corrugated roofing panels lay over parts of the path, pushing back at the ever-entropic force of rising weeds. Another step forward arrives from unwelcoming to rising curiosity. A folding chair stands before a deck of sorts. Beneath the deck you can gaze into a dark and almost unimaginable space. Damp and foul, it is a battlefield of the most oppressed feeling objects. Much like the muddy space under a porch, it is inhabited by rejection and oppression. The people rejected by society, the phantasm occult discard their refuse in this corner of the city, and here is festers. In the most objective sense, it is a health hazard, different than perhaps those of chemical or industrial origin, those you might typically fear in such a space. It is human in origin, full of excrement and dirty clothing. 

Stepping up on the creaky folding chair, I pull myself up onto the deck and am thrust into a completely different and hidden space. A loading dock, many years dormant, it is vast and empty, with bay after bay fading into the distance on my right. To the left there extends a thin precarious platform with a blown out peaked glass roof, eerily reminiscent of a salad bar. One could imagine cranes, like human hands reaching under to grasp at product, and neatly place it in the freight cars, like plates waiting at its side.

Directly before me stands a collection of objects, immediate and peculiar; a bucket full of clean water, a milk crate, a stack of paper with pens, and a book. The objects stand as a lonely vestige to the recent presence of phantasm occult.

Behind a factory door you can find a water damaged, curled up note, in cryptic hobo code, a kite, communicating a completely unknown story, one that can only begin to be told by the spectacle of this space.

Bic pen ink stains out into blue lined paper pages, spread thin with portraits. Garbled and faded to yellow, spots on the paper distract from a message. “Providence 2011 Jeso” stands alongside the freehand portraits, but the cracks give way to the bricks beneath, constantly erasing the unsanctioned marks of those passing through.

Light like freight trains and dull as the razor wire surrounding, these gestures left here contradict the intention of these massive forms, our frames of objective production. The factory is a beast of efficient design, with clean and straight lines it looms above the nature surrounding. Cubic and long with a forced victorian motif, I wonder what is at the very top. Toggle time, and look forward 5, 10, 20 years, what will be there? In that spot will there soar a skyscraper? Will this city have crumbled into desolation?

One evening I sat up on the loading dock, like many times before, surrounded by the graffiti and detritus. Completely alone and in the shadows, I sunk into the surroundings like yet another reclusive entity of the space. I was just like one of the millions of bricks in this massive structure, looking out from the loading dock, over the train tracks, across the south end of the city. It was at this point that the nature of my investigation flooded back into focus in the most overwhelming way.

Having begun with the intention of finding the cultural node, I found myself completely immersed in the cultural wake. I was far away from the people possessing our current culture, but I delighted in an intense perceptual moment. I had suffered social alienation for my obsession with decay, and physically the dangers of such condemned space had worn me thin on many occasion but gained me an individual view of the city.

It is difficult to look at decay, and not feel its overwhelming reality. It is representative of death, rejection, and that which is defined by darkness. However vital one may be, constant exposure to these scenes begins to cut deeply to all the existential matters of being. If one can suffer through this distance from prosperity, one is afforded a greatly profound sense of awareness.

In my habitual isolation from the current people and streets of the city, I had reached a crucial sense of consciousness. The people of the city are a direct product of its history.

The cultural wake of the city I explore is full of abandoned factories, a constantly evolving landscape of concrete and steel, not designed for human individuality. Rough, cold, and left behind, these structures directly reflect the personalities dominant in the cultural node. They are aesthetically born of modernity in their rectilinear design, and in this visual language stand as symbols of powerful and ambiguous capitalism.

At this point is it necessary to make a contextual and narrative injection. Taking from Dostoevsky’s ‘Notes from the underground,’ I believe the concept of the Underground Man, and achieved ‘hyperconsciousness,’ to be central to my derive exercises, particularly the psychology of walking. Only through ‘withdrawal’ and ‘isolation’ was I able to specialize and purify my approach to walking. Complete immersion in lost space and the cultural wake erased my muscle memory, giving way to a blank canvas of body and mind to be reconnected in a refined and purposed way.

The Art of Urban Walking

(Preparation: You must perform characterflage, eliminating all the personal touches and signs of identification. You must fit into the most ambiguous and generic uniform of the street, showing little of the face, wearing mostly dark colors. But, regardless of all preparation and technique implemented, nothing can fully protect you from a dangerous person or situation. )

At the very center of a walking artist, exists the aura. It is the character, disposition, and intent. Aura can both speak presence and sit in a subtle benign layer. For the purposes of my investigation I have pursued an aura of strength, rhythm, and stability.

You must walk without hesitation. That is the way of the armored ambulator. It is to create a human tank, with perceptual lens as a weapon. You as the driver look out the barrel, firing gaze onto the details and allowing the information to reflect back onto your internal archive. The essence of this psychology in an urban environment is that of militancy as a means of safety and disarmament. This manifests in a strong, quick and rhythmic stride, complimented by a mystic visage of skepticism. Foot and face work together to ward off predators, and give cadence through any scene. The mentality manifests as a physical show of blinding confidence.

Once comfortable in the presence of the armored ambulator, I felt the sense of hyperconsciousness take over in a seemingly out of body sensation. My sense of time would distort as my body slowly moved down the sidewalk, a snail-like fortress, extending my mind out like a periscopic probe. Only behind these fortifications could I look into the anxious eyes of a passerby and simultaneously see the memory of a no trespassing sign located miles away amongst a forest of razor wire.

Looking down at the ground I focused on a crack in the sidewalk. Weeds poked out along a seam that led like an extension cord up to where a building began. The front of a store, plastered with advertisements screamed an overwhelming number of messages, all begging me to come inside and buy something, but effectively confused and deterred me. The next crack in the sidewalk to catch my attention ran from a signpost to a depressingly empty square. A rusty grate remained, having once clasped the base of a tree; it now sat off-kilter on a splintered stump, shrouded in a plastic grocery bag. A speckled halo of cigarette butts emanated out into the shoddy surrounding turf.

I stormed on, with this flow of imagery spinning through me as I searched for the cultural node. Patterns of trash like oil spills flowed all around me, and collected in corners up against walls, sliding into gutters. Information mixed to mud, and I felt it slipping away. I needed to re-center in an objective way, and thus executed an interspatial dive. I tucked into a small fried chicken eatery on the corner of Main and Irving. I sat down and looked out into the social soup buzzing in front of the store.

People huddled around various fixtures, lampposts, hydrants, fences and the like. I was drawn inside the store by some unknown force and the cultural node suddenly unfolded right before me outside the window. The harsh expressions on their faces, the defensive glare in their eyes, and the rapid exchanges between them all concentrated in a mass. Whether returning from church, or arriving to buy drugs, people interacted as a spectacle formed in the ephemeral collision before me. The industrial ambience from the furthest corners of the city melted together in front of me as an object, human production as a banal existence. Just like the low quality possessions produced in factories everywhere, people of a new commodity-obsessed culture milled about outside. It seemed like a bastardly cultural fashion show. Everybody admired each other’s objects, eyes darting everywhere wildly, from screen to screen, pressing buttons and explaining why the previous version was shit, corroding somewhere in an e-waste dump in Asia. A culture of disposability flaunted itself glamorously before me.

Dumbfounded, sitting in the booth of a fried chicken restaurant, I closed my eyes and desperately groped out into the philosophical ethos of materialist critique. Like nerve gas penetrating deep into my sinuses, images vibrated my consciousness from the center of my skull. Locked down like Alex in Anthony Burgess’ dystopian novel, ‘A Clockwork Orange,’ I sat helplessly, while material objects streamed past my paralyzed psyche. I first felt the comfort of the spectacle; I internally grinned at the chrome adorned vehicles, and the brand identities decorating our clothing. I drooled over the smartphones, and the elegantly designed packaging for preserved foods that I could eat at an instant.

But slowly the sensation turned. Herds of people stared at the possessions of their corrupt and nefarious idols, completely blinded by their shiny glossed exteriors. Bellies bulged and cellophane crinkled as pupils dilated in the glow of miniature screens. In the pursuit of individuality, it seemed that everyone here had been vacuum-sealed into a package. Immediately available in a vending machine, they waited around exchanging pretenses. Nobody looked into each other’s eyes for any extended period of time, and conversation was limited to compliments and hateful banter. The discomfort of this impersonal ebb and flow agitated me to a state of dysfunctional desperation. I had come this far to find the cultural node and sat in disbelief. Deep in the cultural wake, the subtle and quiet remains of industrialization confronted me, but now in this moment I was completely surrounded by its human products. Hardened by survival in a depressed post-industrial city, these people interacted with the tormented duality of a last breath, both intensely desperate and extremely weak.

“Are you ok?” a voice wavered in. My eyes snapped open to see a hand wave out of the blur in front of me. “Hey man [... bunch of bullshit about meeting his girlfriend and child on the other side of town…] think you could spare five bucks for a cab?” The same guy, on the same block, had fed me the same line multiple times before. I didn’t give him any money.

I stood up from the temporary paralysis and almost fell over immediately. I hovered out the door and though my eyes were wide open to the cultural node, a feeling of elation spread over me. Though moments ago I had been destroyed by the spectacle, I now walked calmly through its violently gnashing teeth in a state of acceptance. However unbearable and frightening it had been to achieve this consciousness, it had resulted in an invaluable sense of understanding.

In the flattest way, before I undertook this investigation I could have described the city as I saw it externally, as a space of decay, but only through my exhaustive process can I truly understand it culturally.

I gazed down the sidewalk at a couple of old women having an animated conversation as they tenderly gawked over a child. One of the women dropped her empty coffee cup on the ground. I continued along my way and stopped methodically to give change to a barely coherent man on the ground. As his hand extended, my exterior seemed to fade away. The armored ambulator was no more, replaced by another person gliding down the side of the road, avoiding piles of trash and trying not to trip over the cracks in the sidewalk.


Cultural Node
Cultural Wake
Edge Jump
Interspatial Dive
Observation Anchor
Phantasm Occult
Upland Coordinates
Walking Artist