Saturday, February 19, 2011

Scarp

I have been tipped off (thanks Hayden) to the rather surprising appearance on Thursday's Newsnight of a piece about Nick Papadimitriou and the deep topography of London's Edgelands.  You can watch it here until Thursday 24 February. You can also see it on the blog dedicated to John Rogers’ film The London Perambulator, which appears to have inspired the Newsnight feature. The London Perambulator 'looks at the city we deny and the future city that awaits us. Leading London writers and cultural commentators Will Self, Iain Sinclair and Russell Brand explore the importance of the liminal spaces at the city’s fringe, its Edgelands, through the work of enigmatic and downright eccentric writer and researcher Nick Papadimitriou - a man whose life is dedicated to exploring and archiving areas beyond the permitted territories of the high street, the retail park, the suburban walkways.'


Yes, Russell Brand (who now gets his second mention on this blog) is an admirer of the way Papadimitriou  'sees magic in everything'.  He says 'it takes an interesting mind to look at, like, sort of say, oh I saw this power station in Middlesex and, like, thinks it's Kubla Khan.' Some further insights are provided by Iain Sinclair, who puts Papadimitriou in the 'very British tradition' of topographical literature, engaging 'in a really heavy duty way with a single piece of landscape and digging into it'.  Sinclair goes on to say that this kind of writing 'doesn't come with French philosophical baggage' - cue footage of the Situationists, which leads on to some discussion of J.G. Ballard and then Richard Mabey, interviewed saying that terms like 'psychogeography' and 'deep topography' are merely confusing verbal jargon.  We get to see Mabey both as he is now and in the documentary based on his 1973 book The Unofficial Countryside.  Looking through binoculars at the overlooked wild nature in outer London's industrial landscape, he looks like a long-haired version of Robert Macfarlane in The Wild Places of Essex (see my previous post).  It would be great to see this programme re-broadcast; The Unofficial Countryside itself has been republished recently with a new foreword by Iain Sinclair.  In a re-reading of it for The Guardian, Sinclair refers to Nick Papadimitriou as 'a solid invisible, tramping and haunting Mabey's familiar turf, the Colne valley: the canals, reservoirs and sewage farms of the Watford-to-Heathrow corridor.'


Scarp from fugueur on Vimeo.

The Newsnight feature mentions a 'lucrative contract' for Nick Papadimitriou's forthcoming book, Scarp.  This will be an investigation of the North Middlesex/South Hertfordshire Escarpment, which he says has been overlooked in landscape literature compared to the more famous escarpments of the Downs and Chilterns.  This book also features in Episode 3 of Ventures and Adventures in Topography, a series of broadcasts John Rogers and Nick Papadimitriou have been making for Resonance FM which looks 'at the rich tradition of early 20th century topographical walking guides to London and the South East and explores what use they might be to us today. Each episode takes a trip through the pages of a different book as if we are embarking on a wayward topographical ramble, and includes contemporary field reports from walks in the areas described in these classic texts.'  You can download these as podcasts (and while you're at it, you might also be interested in Resonance FM's  Edible Landscape field recording podcasts.) Their walks take them to Brent Cross Shopping Centre (prompting a reading from The Arcades Project), the buried and forgotten Philly Brook in Leytonstone, the lost pleasure gardens of Finsbury and Pentonville and the Southern Outfall Sewer: 'guided by The Lure and Lore of London’s River by A.G. Linney (1920′s) they perambulate the raised path that follows the final journey of south London’s sewage to its terminus at the sewage colony at Cross Ness Point, ‘the place where all things end’'.

5 comments:

Papierflieger said...

I enjoyed reading this post and watching the videos. In a way it seems to me that Papadimitriou cultivates an activity that we were engaged in as kids. We took possession of a certain patch of land and inhabitated it with our fantasies.

Anonymous said...

There was also a piece on the Today programme - with Evan Davis accompanying them....

Mike C. said...

Hmm, I just wonder if this is all getting a bit stale now, after decades of Sinclair and sub-Situationist psychogeography. However, people have clearly seized on the term "edgelands".

It's territory photographers have made their own, of course, going back to John Gossage ("The Pond", 1986) and Keith Arnatt ("Miss Grace's Lane", 1986/7) and probably further. Mark Power's 2007 book "26 Different Endings" ("26 photographs made from the edge of the London A-Z Atlas") seemed like an interesting contribution to an established tradition, rather than groundbreaking.

But the Hertfordshire landscape can never be stale...

Mike

Plinius said...

Know what you mean. Robert Macfarlane says in his review of 'Edgelands' by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts:

'The edgelands are all over late-20th-century English painting, photography, film (Patrick Keiller, Chris Petit, Andrew K├Âtting, who has even made a short called Edgeland Mutter), in children's literature (Stig of the Dump, The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tyler), in Richard Mabey's prescient classic The Unofficial Countryside and Kenneth Allsop's neglected classic Adventure Lit Their Star, and so on. So modish are the edgelands, indeed, that this summer there is a short-film festival dedicated to "liminal Britain" and "urban outskirts".'

Anonymous said...

Well, it would help if the language used was fresh; terms like 'liminal' 'edgelands' and 'psychogeography' occlude rather than reveal. To give Papadimitriou his due, he does avoid such usage. 'Deep topography' seems suggestive of something meditative and involved rather than second-hand and learned from art books and galleries. I think he is essentially a mystic of sorts. he has been practising for years and its about time someone recognised him and his qualities. I thought he seemed somewhat subdued on Newsnight and, knowing him as I do, I wonder if he was intimidated by the situation he found himself in.