RISKY HOBBY OR ILLEGAL ACTIVITY?
“You weren’t born to just pay bills and die”
There are so many forgotten and abandoned places that we even do not know that they have ever existed. They have been lost in the meantime, in our fast digesting of reality, in the absence of desire to save them from time cruelty. They are old and dusty, broken and demolished but their energy has never been destroyed. It is still there, like a burning heart of the young soldier, glowing and attracting the wanderers and admirers of beauty in decoy.
The urban exploration was born at the moment of people´s growing interest to research the lost places and the man-made structure that have been neglected and erased from the social memory. We are talking here about the industrial or medical facilities, deserted libraries and haunted castles or simply closed tunnels. Once upon a time, those places have been on light, full of life pulse and hope. Now, they are ruins in solitary, like a circus without public and performance, forever forsaken. However, this setting is still very interesting to some people, the modern knights that conquer the danger and get into the heart of lost kingdoms. Urban explorers are limited edition, they are somewhere between courageous researchers and adrenaline boosted hikers into unknown. For some of the institutional rules, they are outlaws. The truth about them and their mission could be found in parallel universe, far away from tabloids and malicious hoax, in the land of shadows merged with sunlight through the lenses of camera.
This kind of activity is not so much welcomed by many official authorities around the world since it is the activity that is usually organized without the permission for visiting or even photographing the abandoned or semi-abandoned facilities. The urban explorers try to reach their limits, to see the forgotten beauty in one new way, and to expose it again to the rest of the world. The efforts of urban explorers to access the structures that are restricted, colored them in some circles as criminals. Those people are everything but not criminals and they should be separated from the vandals that approach and violate the shunned property for their own selfish reasons. Urbex is a complete perspective, kind of mindset that beauty in decoy is still visible and must be protected from the hurricane of oblivion. According to one of urban explorers, it is like an unique life philosophy with rules to follow: “Explorers are not criminals. We have a great deal of respect for each location we visit, often doing a great deal of research on the historical significance and role the location once played in the community. We do not spray paint graffiti, we do not steal, and we do not break down doors, or smash through windows to gain entry. We are there to take pictures. We take only pictures and leave only footprints.”
We can find the different challenges for the urban decay admirers under the umbrella of the urban exploration. This means that they dare to research the ghost buildings as well as the old rooftops, drains, sewers, closed tunnels and disordered undergrounds. They are artists but also very fit in urban climbing, caving and trekking. Since the urbex is a kind of hazard activity, the people who are interested in this hobby have to deal mentally and physically with the risks of being hurt, caught or legally processed.
The simple place hacking is not free from the danger. It is never recommended to people to do that alone bur rather in groups, organized through the local clubs of those who share the same interest and who are ready to support each other if that is necessary. They prepare the trip into the deserted places through the phases. A multidimensional project consists of gathering the valuable information about the location and its legal, historical and security background. The urban explorers do not pick up the target and simply pop in over there, capturing the random moments and posting them on social media for a fun. They live through their exploration so they study the chosen object and its attributes. When the time is right, they get into the unspoken story and make it alive. Their contribution to the local history of urbanism is more as the potential damage they could possibly cause by their activism. One of them even admitted:”Urbex is not without some potential legal drawbacks. Depending on the location you are trying to access, urbex may be considered illegal activity (trespassing or mischief). Know the legalities of what you are doing and always prepare for a worse case scenario. Many times abandoned locations are patrolled by third party security companies or even local police. Though arrests are rare (fines are more likely), it is still best to know all of the potential risks involved. If you are exploring with only good intentions (we are just taking photos!), many times they will simply ask you to leave the premises. There may also be legal implications after you’ve shared your pictures online, so it is wise to look into all angles of this activity as well.”
The urban exploration is combination of sport, hobby, art and science. The urban explorers can’t reach the forgotten places without being fit to overcome the physical obstacles and they must be informed to escape the legal traps of being judged for something they aren’t. The pictures of the times that are gone, created by their camera zoom and signed by their soul passion are actually the portraits of the expired eternity. Through their tales, we live in the tiny particle of universal time, experiencing all over again the pain of those places and the people that have left them. This could be a virtual theater of tears and smiles, of betrayed dreams and embraced hopes. This could be everything and nothing but each time when we see photo of lonely and isolated place that cries in silence, kissed by the first ray of sun or by the soft flash of camera, we live through that piece of peace.
They have perfect feeling for the photos and their rhythmic. The urban explorers write the book with each of their frames. When they visit dark tunnel and follow the line of sewages, they catch the difficult life of homeless people that have left their traces. Photographing the old industrial facility closed in rush, they highlight the bite of dying economy. The places that have been known for their grotesque loneliness, nuclear hazard settings let us see the world at its worst shape, ultimate survival emptiness.
It is amazing that this kind of activity has empowered local history and its urbanistic perspectives. The modern Indiana Johns sense the decoy´s beauty in every single corner and through the anatomy of their discoveries, we are connected with the core of the places we live in or we strive to see.
The life is not about fighting to stay on light, it is about to bring the light there where the darkness is destined.
3 thoughts on “THE PLACE HACKING: URBAN EXPLORATION”
Sarah’s intriguing and informative article reminded me of ‘Psychogeography’; defined in 1955 by Guy Debord (1931-1994: French Marxist theorist, philosopher and filmmaker) as ‘the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals’.
Originally, Psychogeography was developed by the avant-garde movement Lettrist International in the journal Potlatch. The originator of what became known as unitary urbanism, psychogeography, and the Dérive was Ivan Chtcheglov, in his highly influential essay ‘Formulaire pour un urbanisme nouveau (Formulary for a New Urbanism, 1953). The idea of urban wandering relates to the older concept of the flâneur; theorized by Charles Baudelaire.
Following Chtcheglov’s exclusion from the Lettrists in 1954, Guy Debord and others worked to clarify the concept of unitary urbanism, in a bid to demand a revolutionary approach to architecture. At a conference in Cosio di Arroscia, Italy, in 1956, the Lettrists joined the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus to set a proper definition for the idea announced by Gil J. Wolman: ‘Unitary Urbanism (i.e. the synthesis of art and technology that we call for) must be constructed according to certain new values of life; values which now need to be distinguished and disseminated.’ In ‘Formulary for a New Urbanism’, Chtcheglov wrote ‘Architecture is the simplest means of articulating time and space, of modulating reality, of engendering dreams…’
Psychogeography become a device used in performance art and literature. In Britain in particular, psychogeography has become a recognised descriptive term used in discussion of successful writers. They draw upon a longstanding British literary tradition of the exploration of urban landscapes, predating the Situationists, found in the work of writers such as William Blake and Thomas de Quincey. The nature and history of London were a central focus of these writers, utilising Romantic, Gothic and occult ideas to describe and transform the city (e.g. The Dark Satanic Mills of William Blake.
Whatever the reality, humans react to their environmental surroundings; be they natural and or synthetic. It is an inclusive process…
Another intriguing article, Sarah !
This article is somewhat remindful of your article “The Dark Tourism” even though the thrill does not stem from the same idea. The common thread is that, in both cases, people are interested in areas or buildings that are no longer what they once were. Urban explorers, however, do not have any dark side to them as opposed to Dark tourists !
Urban exploration could be just as exciting as visiting a museum of antiquated artifacts !
It’s that sense of “old things” and the mysteries that enshrine them that mesmerize us and fascinate us !
Detroit is one such city, where there are many abandoned buildings due to economical reasons. In fact, you have discussed “Detroit” and its economical straits in your article about Detroit, Sarah !
I would love to, if it felt safe to do so, to go inside those abandoned buildings to discover what they are all about and relive that mysterious past that those buildings have witnessed !
Thank you Sarah for yet another article that lets the mind wander and dream !
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