Research Project: Invasion

vacant space

 

Athazagoraphobia, the fear of being forgotten

Gunkunjima, a forgotten coal mining island on the Nagasaki sea. At one point the most populous place in the world, now it’s deserted.

Rural Invasion is a project that will consider a broad range of ideas from city planning to social practices – setting out how communities and societies can thrive with clever intervention and new interesting habits. I want to explore both how a community can flourish as well as how to redeploy people back into the spaces that were left behind.

In rural places, long-term survival can be more of a challenge, especially when human traffic need extra effort to be diverted. For those that choose to leave cities for the country, it’s a steep learning curve.

Perhaps it’s best to start at the beginning, with the question “why a society?” Why strive for a community? What is the essence of wanting to be in a community? What attracts a community and what repels them?

How can a community create a sense of belonging and address the fear of being forgotten?

Occupied

Carla Grauls wrote the play Occupied in 2012 after a journalist internship in Romania. At that time, Bulgaria and Romania were entering the European Union and nationalist fears were flaring up in Britain.

The tabloids became her inspiration as absurd news stories surfaced of Romanian’s occupying the vacant spaces. A home left by a British family on holiday, an empty garden shed and a public toilet became prime property for the invasion. Britain was at risk of being ‘used by someone else’. The fear was validated in these news stories but with an absurd twist; as one family returned from holiday, the new occupants offered them tea; or the man in the shed offered a coca cola to his landlady on his discovery. These human interactions sparked Carla’s curiosity into what occupation actually meant between the two cultures.

The play is about two Romanian’s who kidnap an Englishman to learn how to be ‘English‘, whilst living in a dilapidated public toilet. British values are confronted by Alex, the Romanian character. He wants to live the British dream.

He relishes the coverage of Romania on the front page in the daily tabloids (despite the news being negative). Alex’s joy of being noticed, part of the national conversation and his congenial manners towards his hostage contradict the Englishman’s idea of what is proper.

But what is the right way to occupy?

Is there any right way to occupy?

When you invite a guest over, there is a general consensus is that you receive them with the hospitality in accordance to how long you want them to stay – a value system.

When inviting immigrants, a host country considers what is the exchange. Is it cheap labour? Is it access to factories in their home country? Will these exchanges provide limited rights of citizenship, thus protecting home citizens and their culture? Perhaps all the above.

The transaction is based on what each country wants. To maintain a position of power, the occupied country fabricates the ever-present threat of invasion and risk cultural dilution.

Someone who doesn’t know our culture.

Someone who doesn’t abide by our laws.

Occupying spaces comes up against two sets of obvious conflict, one is territory / ownership the other is questioning the relevance of culture and heritage. Neither conflict is easy to resolve.

Entering into a highly populated city like London, not only shows that a disused Victorian toilet is still the host’s territory, but that their makeshift shelter is liable to eviction from others whilst remaining a neglected site. A claim of ownership over something unwanted.

The Romanian characters also exist in a mental state that is incomprehensible to publicly perceived civility of the host. The violence in Ceausescu’s Romania translates to the violence living on the London streets, transfers to the violence they bestow on their kidnapped victim. Their reasoning is based on prolonged violent treatment, and their solution for change comes in the same form. Their trauma becomes a form of their resolution to survive in a hostile territory.

But when has a revolution ever been easy?

Britain has avoided the trauma caused by revolution, unlike many of it’s European counterparts, namely because they negotiate compromise.

However, can compromise always repair faults in the status quo? Any suffering caused by government policy can be repackaged as the responsibility of the invaders, outsourcing blame. When all the rights of immigrants are gone, along with those seeking opportunities, Britain will be left for the British.

 Who will be to blame if these long-term social issues remain unresolved? Will culture revert to a ‘stiff upper lip’: the concept to accept hardship without question as duty for your country?

Is suffering for good citizenry more palatable than suffering because people have the same needs as you?

In delegitimizing the voice of “invading hordes”, uncomfortable introspection was neatly avoided.

Perhaps it would have been wiser to engage directly the difficult task of untangling territory and cultural issues that came into question. In retrospect, the EU immigrant issues were minimal to their collective contribution.

In these times of fast law revisions on this island, I feel perhaps putting one’s culture and nationality aside and engaging with people as people may have been better, than succumbing to the fear ‘of being used by someone else.’

You purchase the published play here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Occupied-Modern-Plays-Carla-Grauls/dp/1472587928

 

Invasion

What is the right way to invade?

What makes people fight over places to live, whilst other spaces drive people away?

 

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 adjective1.

(of a building, seat, etc.) being used by someone.

“only the ground floor is fully occupied”

Oxford dictionary

People space

The biggest problem we created was moving our livelihoods away from our homes. We separated work from life.

Jaime Lerner Urban Acupuncture (pg 63)

The quicker an abandoned lot is occupied, the better, and preferably with something even more attractive or lively than before…so as not to break the continuity of urban life. Continuity is life.

Jaime Lerner Urban Acupuncture (pg 38)

Big cities face terrible circulation problems and deterioration brought on by excessive concern with the automobile… The solution for rational mobility is the integration of all means of transportation… not to allow [different modes of transportation] to compete with the same itinerary.

Jaime Lerner Urban Acupuncture (pg 80)

Jaime Lerner is an architect, politician, and all round societal Nostradamus. He has an innate understanding of how society works. He is also a member of the board at the World Resource Institute, something I never heard of until 2021 and it has been around for 39 years trying to figure out… well, ‘resources’. 

I first heard of Lerner he was giving a talk about his time as Mayor of Curitiba in Brazil. Whenever you hear the word ‘Brazil’ the media will have you associating soccer, big Jesus and favela with that location. The good news that came from Curitiba has less impact simply because it is good news, and it challenges the performance of other cities.

Curitiba’s introduction of a ‘speedy bus’ system, closing off public roads in the centre of the city, and elongating the centre to reach the wider community, revitalised Curitiba.

Lerner’s team worked over one weekend, to pave over the roads in the city centre. A huge project that required speed, continuous labour and good planning. When the Monday came shops saw greater influx of consumers on foot. There was no opportunity to complain about the vanishing roads because the benefits were immediate.

Cars and roads used to be a bridge for commerce. However, the more cars in built up area, the more this mode of transport becomes a blockage, either creating a barrier for pedestrians or slowing down and isolating each individual that sits alone in their car. Cars have become the regressive element in with flourishing cities.

But what of those areas that are losing their population altogether?

The problem is not occupied spaces for Lerner but unoccupied spaces. In ‘Urban Acupuncture’ an empty building threatens to break the continuity of city life. The break in this continuity can become much more troublesome to restore, if it’s left abandoned and neglected. Lerner argues these spaces should be filled immediately with temporary markets, pop up stores, anything to continue the life of the city.

I think about this when I live in Dundee, aware of the empty buildings and the damage they are doing to this city every day they are left vacant. I think about the H&S issues stopping any action to make these buildings part of society again. Bureaucracy is money, health and safety becomes paperwork and someone, somewhere is getting paid. If they don’t get money, nothing happens and a hole appears in the neighbourhood, leeching outward.

To keep a community’s vitality is to keep buildings occupied, using different methods to promote social interaction. A colleague commented on a local market place in Dundee that had been shut down years ago, as we drove past the complex with a roof caving in. He felt saddened by the loss of community he felt in that market.

The Tay river is the most breath taking site in Dundee and building works have begun to create spaces for people to spend time at the waterfront. The introduction of the V&A museum and a larger garden and cafe layout provides the space for people, not in the pursuit of consumerism (as a busy shopping street might provide) but just to be with each other.

However the 4 lane motorway offramp cuts off direct pedestrian access to the water. The large body of water is further dissected by a stone wall, no pier or effort to engage dynamically the Tay. These become invisible barriers, creating a feeling of being locked off and contained. Despite this criticism, the gardens have come a long way from the derelict vacant plots that were keeping pedestrians away from the sight of water altogether.

There is hope that post-pandemic will make these areas so social buzzing spaces that the old market had been. Since Covid, people have become starved of each others company. Perhaps when lockdown ends people will find more attraction in spending time with each other, outside, instead of jumping in their cars to reach some far off ‘business park’ to buy endless things.

‘Urban Acupuncture” Jaime Lerner https://www.amazon.co.uk/Urban-Acupuncture-Jaime-Lerner/dp/1610917278

Clean space

 

Curitiba … solved its waste problem in deprived areas by encouraging residents to exchange their garbage for bus tokens.

Jaime Lerner Urban Acupuncture (pg 56)

We’ve seen from the litter trail documents that litter has been recognised as a signal of a very real danger – the threat of invasion.

Shirley Keeping Britain Tidy: Litter and Anxiety pg 37

In terms of its ability to signal enemy invasions, or alternative illicit activities, or cultural transgression, litter can be associated with danger. The phrase ‘dangerous pathway’ is more usually associated with coastal paths which are being undetermined by erosion and it could be argued that a different form of erosion is taking place here, the erosion and it could be argued that a different form of erosion is taking place here, the erosion of accepted forms of ownership.

Shirley Keeping Britain Tidy: Litter and Anxiety pg 38

When Covid was first upon us, Britain locked down into a frenzied habit of deep cleaning. During that time I was stacking shelves in a supermarket. Right at the beginning of the pandemic, the shelves were being decimated by desperate shoppers buying toilet paper, hand sanitiser, pasta and flour. 

Flour? Were they going to bake themselves out of a pandemic?

My university shut down and had a ‘deep clean’. I understand from my upbringing, through my travels, and from my previous employment that ‘clean’, like ‘art’, is highly subjective. Clean is not something you are born with – it is taught and therefore very closely linked to the ideals in your cultural heritage. 

The word ‘Clean’ comes from old German / Dutch, to mean get rid of impurities (both in the soul and in the world of dirt). The Dutch heritage considered cleaning a part of their religion, and when the religion disappeared from their culture, cleanliness remained very much part of their identity. My partner is from Limburg, Belgium and attests to ‘Cleaning Sundays’ a day when everyone would clean their house.

In South Africa the unsavoury practice of keeping a ‘Maid’ during apartheid meant the house was always spotless. Most white families had a maid. My mother felt uncomfortable with someone in the house that ‘was family’ but was not ‘family’ a weird double standard that racist societies have. She decided to clean the house herself. She trained my sister and I to clean the house from top to bottom, on a Sunday (no relation to the Dutch practice).

So when Covid started and ‘deep clean’ was bandied about on the media, I expected a step up from our household chores. I expected fumigation and the white suited figures I had seen from the Chinese news. I expected every last bit of dirt lifted and scraped clean.

This was not the case. A ‘deep clean’ was the same clean we had practiced as children. A scrub and wipe down with a sanitiser was the norm, there was nothing ‘deep’ about it. The other day my house mate (from India) asked if I was ‘deep cleaning’ the flat, when I was performing my bi-weekly house clean. 

There is definitely a very notable difference each culture has in the relation to cleaning. Why is this important?

Simply because it not only performs a relatable function in different cultures that have the same preferences, it also creates anxiety, outsiderness. Those that ‘litter’ in a park become those outsiders, not part of the system, a threat. 

During my interview with the founder of Studio Kura, Hirofumi said the biggest issue with the local residents in the Japanese rural town was the garbage disposal. Japan is extremely strict with how you dispose of your garbage and there is very few public bins. You are expected to be responsible for yourself and your belongings. It also relates to this cultures lack of waste and disinterest in clutter. Everyone thought Kondo was a craze, she is merely the cultural norm of a society that has difficulty keeping clutter because of lack of space and strict social compliance.

This is not saying Japan is the greenest country because of their waste disposal system, they still burn everything, just at different temperatures.

Each culture considers its way of cleanliness the right way. However the real challenge comes when you try and build common values around cleanliness. 

If Covid has done anything, it has created a global standard of cleanliness. The bottom line to stop spreading diseases.

But cultural cleanliness remains a very important topic, because it allows us to be empathetic to each other’s spaces. Compatible cultural cleanliness builds trust and enables integration. 

When I started this year I came into my new shared studio and scrubbed the sink.

 

 

 

 

deserted city space

 

One Crown Place Challenges the Perception of what a City stands for.

 

“Inspired by industrial era design, this is a place that has style and substance at its heart.”

God save the Queen
Send her victorious
Happy and glorious
Long to reign over us

Ceremony  – an act or series of acts performed according to a traditional or prescribed form. (Google it)

Ceremony like Conquerer comes from old French, the remnants of when Britain was last invaded. The fear of being reinvaded and a self-defensive belief in the ‘strength’ British culture is somewhat an oxymoron when the very etymology of the word comes from the conqueror.

This example is one of the lesser used meanings of the word ‘ceremony’ and yet I cannot think of any other way to describe culture. The more ancient a culture is – the more impenetrable the reason for its creation. A culture of survival morphs into a culture for living well, which again transforms into a culture of pleasure and enjoyment. Culture is a living and changing thing, a practice of a series of acts, and a learned behavioural trait of a society.

 The fundamental principles of a cultural practice and its origins in Britain are so obscured by a long heritage that the impetus becomes a mystery. However we should be grateful that the culture of necessity and survival is not part of British life at the present moment.

Culture is the way a society adapts to change. Once a successful adaption takes root, those ideas become a ‘way of living’, a ‘new normal’ we have bandied about so often during Covid times. British heritage has developed over centuries of winning (after losing badly to the Normans). It is that winning that has made the cultural ‘way of life’ seem like the ‘right’ choice, and subsequently there has been somewhat less raping and pillaging. 

However this winning can become the argument against change or adapting; against disobeying the order of the leaders who had thus far saved Britain’s bacon time and time again – as their monuments attest to. The culture of winning is embodied in those stone leaders and generals that remind us only of the glory of being right, not the pain, anguish and questioning which considered which type of ‘right’, was indeed right. With battles often fought far from home, there is no proof that this kind of ‘right’ was ever wrong. 

British culture is easily hijacked by these fancies of historical Empire, by ‘Greatness’ which was the label attached to foreign cultural initiatives in those far flung countries once ruled by Empire. To win a battle you need the confidence to know you are right and that confidence comes from a cultural identity that considers itself superior. This would be fine if Britain continued to subjugate foreign lands, however it doesn’t seem to play out quite as well on home soil. The locals are baffled at seeing these slogans adapted from British culture past and put in place in their back yards.

How does this relate to the ‘rural invasion’? Because right now I’m looking at empty buildings in the middle of London. Something I find unfathomable in such a densely populated area and something that is happening precisely because of the changing meaning of words in this culture. 

London is building at a fantastic rate. When I first saw the high-rises, soaring above the normal 3 to 4 story buildings, I was happy. Now was a time when the people that run London can get a home closer work. They won’t have to complete a 60 hour week and still face delays and transport issues, travelling to a home they can barely afford. Central London was becoming a place where where people could not just work, but live as well… because, well, just look at the size of those buildings. Look at the number of flats, there are so many, they must be knocking a dent in the housing crisis… Right?

One Crown Place Challenges the Perception of what a City stands for.

If the ‘Crown’ – the very leadership fabric of this country says so, it must be true! A very exciting way of making communal living seem the ‘new normal’. The last time Britain had communal living like this, they were called work houses. It gave families separate shelter to keep them working 6 days a week. 

Park Central West boasts, without a hint of irony towards the workhouse days. It offers a studio apartment for 1,774 a month. And after a series of reference checks, you must be found to earn over 30 times that in your annual salary to live there. A single person must earn around 54k to buy a room with a kitchen in it.

“An exclusive Zone 1 development, in close proximity to key transport links, and the best of the creative, cultural and social experiences London has to offer, The Boulevard has been designed to reflect and enhance the unique character and iconic heritage of the area.”

Bla bla bla ‘culture’ ‘heritage’ bla bla bla.

After a few months of living in Elephant and Castle, I noticed these flats were becoming the new waste land. There are 3 reasons I considered why. The obvious one is the price, they are too high for any local that has been vacated from this area could afford to buy back into it. They may be bought by an overseas investor hoping to park their money or as a second home. Or the occupants are simply working too many hours to pay for the flat they can barely exist in. 

With more living space, more flats and more room came less opportunities for people with lower income and the removal of the previous locals. I don’t blame the council, they have been systematically underfunded for years. However the jump between social housing and private rent shows just how unsustainable the current living culture has become. And this culture has not changed. There is no ‘new normal’, just the same capitalist trajectory that started in the early 90’s accelerated in the 00s and continues under a new bunch of words that we have been culturally conditioned to obey.

Nobody mentions the ‘B’ word anymore. Brexit has become a thing of the media’s past. Lack of petrol, lack of deliveries, lack of building materials for these incessantly feeding beasts of construction are “because of the pandemic”, because there are no HV-whatever drivers, we are accepting and adjusting. The stiff upper lip has clicked into place and we don’t dare mention the idiocy that got us here in the first place. Because we have to be right, we simply cannot be wrong.

These fortresses built will be full of immigrants half the population voted to keep out. Except these will be the rich immigrants, those who have the funds to lobby laws and occupy spaces that the cleaners, and ground workers in the city once used. 

But we cannot simply be wrong. 

Brexit was staged on a battle of words, ‘to take back control’ is a particularly good war cry if I ever heard one. One particular political member who was all up for taking back control was Nigel Farage, who now owns a finance company that calls for investors to “fight for their financial freedom.” Brexit was a collision of war mongering words harking back to a time of winning, but do we really need to revert back to the wealthy demanding more autonomy.

The culture of this society has long outlived this type of rule, yet because of cultural references to British Heritage, society was easy to manipulate. Now is the unwelcome lesson of learning how to lose, but let’s not make it anymore painful than it has to be.