I have been a stranger in a strange land. A vagabond amnesiac, Walter Benjamin might claim. In I-creation* Hackney Wick had transformed into a semblance of an antique excavation, with ruins, a sacred place with an entrance to the underworld. Viewed through my lens, this vast playground regained something of the original terror; or as Benjamin has noted: a track that carried with it associations of the terror of wandering. In my mind associations or traditions upheld by urban flâneurs and many great photographers both past and present allowed the residual power of a photograph a place to linger somewhere between the past and the future on the edge of the great beyond.
Frame 5 depicts an empty field, a static car and a well-worn path. I am reminded of Richard Long’s show ‘Heaven and Earth’ at Tate Britain in 2009. I too often embark on long solitary walks, losing myself briefly but continually documenting the process on film. Not just places but points in time are captured on a single roll of film and exist like a tangible trail of white pebbles in the forest or a way in and out of my memories.
A desire path is powerful. As a social concept it is capable of repressing urban alienation and social estrangement by commanding a following with the comfort of little resistance. On this day I contemplated the inhabitants of Hackney Wick and a city too rapidly transforming to comprehend in traditional terms. In retrospect my observations seemed to foreshadow a site now virtually unrecognisable as the Olympics approach. But in the present that was, I merely concluded that the creatures that lived here were only intermittently human and therefore transient by nature. Where could this car take you? A journey through a wormhole to another dimension perhaps. I turned back the way I came and continued my quest for physical clues and an understanding of the social conditions of Modernity.
This was April 2005, it was a cold day in springtime and the snails were fruitful. They increased abundantly and multiplied and waxed exceeding mighty and the Eastway was filled with them. As traffic spun out crossing the A12 their individual details were absorbed into a larger constellation of sight and sound. I couldn’t help wondering what this mass molluscan exodus meant. Where were they all going with so many homes tethered to their backs? I walked on, through certain tribulation and mindful of the gaps.
Meanwhile back in the beating heart of Hackney the Outlaws and Rig Doctors** confronted our corrupt and decadent society. On bank holiday weekends the airwaves were often highjacked by pirate broadcasting. These transmissions seemed to provide shelter for the transient and the disconnected. In the distance a man was breaking vinyl with his sledgehammer. To his right, the biscuit tin, still warm with inspiration and the battle cry of Modernism. It was CRCA and they have considerable powers of confiscation. They take music, the most tangible and residual form of urban alienation. I wondered what the future of pirate radio was, the last bastion of analogue communication. And I saw connections between my solitary walks, their solitary voices and vehicles that transcend space and time whether symbolised in the journey of a snail, a burnt out car, or materialised across the airwaves.
I no longer know the way back to Hackney Wick. Probably because the path keeps changing – more rapidly than a man’s heart, the type of change Baudelaire’s lamented many years ago, mourning for his lost city, Paris. But I can remember this day and my journey through the frames on this roll of film by the process of spatial dissolution. I can find the old entrance to my old studio on Wallis Road and the way through the gate, the small doors, the workplace, the corridor, the room and up the ladder and into the rafters. I can remember my studio was warm from the incineration below: warm like the biscuit tin. I can remember the drone of the music from the party on this little island and how I just about hung on. Looking back maybe I was dreaming but the sound of my camera dropping like a pound press on that table still resonates and the morning after remains. It was Good Friday 2005, so I walked out into the light.
April Kool’s Day: April 1st 2005 Hackney Wick, 2005. This was the name of the bank holiday party advertised on Kool FM.
Some years ago I had a studio in Hackney Wick. What I remember most vividly about that time was the pirate radio stations and the bank holiday parties often connected to them. Kool Fm would interrupt the BBC London frequency and I would wonder what happened to the world I knew. It was like time and place had disappeared. My studio was in an industrial park and in a joining building a party was spinning out of control. When fleeing promoters fell through the rafters of my space I found myself tangled up in the onslaught. My camera still bears the proof as an officer shacking out the contents of my bag back onto a metal table back at the station.
*i-ration. pron.(i-rai-tion) 1. Rastafarian term that emphasis subjective involvement in universal creation. 2. The Rasta way of using the word creation. The letter i is used to refer to god, and all people. In Rasta culture i is used to denote god, you, me, and everyone or i, i, i, and i.3. The Rastafarian state of mind, from which, one is absent of the world, but within the self; only to be achieved by inhaling holy smoke.
** Rig doctor. n. 1. Someone that builds pirate radio transformers, often hidden when placed outside in biscuit tins.
Emer O’Brien is a Canadian artist who lives and works in London.