Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Consumerism Camp

May I draw your attention to Infinite Thought's recent and highly successful metamorphosis into a mordant photo-blog (London, Trieste, Ljubljana): particularly the brilliant series on North Greenwich and Bluewater. In Derek Jarman's The Last of England (clip) North Greenwich is one of the two main locations, along with (on the direct opposite side of the Thames) the vast, desolate Royal Docks. In the baffling cut-ups, montages and superimpositions Jarman builds up a post-apocalyptic picture of a zone of paramiltary activity, summary executions, atavism returning to the blasted sites left by the simultaneous demise of Fordism and Social Democracy. In one moment, the carcass of a factory beside the North Greenwich gas works looms into view while a deafening chant of 'SIEG HEIL! SIEG HEIL!' echoes through the chaos of the film's sound design.

North Greenwich has become a moderately successful tabula rasa - certainly the 'regeneration' is proclaimed a success in the New Labour mailout that came through my door the other day. All is subordinated to three seemingly conflicting projects: the botched proto-eco town, Millennium Village (fourth phase nearly ready, young professionals!), no less than three strip-malls, and of course the Millennial Dome, or the O2 as we must now call it. Anschutz knew what they were doing. Pack em in, lowest-common-denom, Take That, Spice Girls, Tutenkhamen, some restaurants on 'Entertainment St', bosh. The Dome hasn't become a Zone because it makes no concessions to any notion of the public sphere, won't have to beg for government funding unlike all those 2012 monsters in ten years time.

Yet around the area, unlike in the Isle of Dogs - London's most complete, most terrifying example of the total erasure of a place's past as a place of proletarian work and a place of desolation and blight - industry holds on, in strange depopulated pockets. The gasholders and silos you can see in I.T's photos, or the remants of the Angerstein industrial rail line. One photo taken in the 1890s shows the Angerstein line as a prophecy of Metropolis, its lines whizzing and criss-crossing straight into and through buildings. Now it's distinctly subordinate to the Alsop Jubilee line station processing people into the greying teflon tent, with its Grand Theft Auto deco decor. The gigantic arena has, hurrah, 'worked', but the echoes of Jarman's machineguns and stormtroopers are faint but noticeable.

What Jarman could have done with Bluewater. The actual shopping centre isn't nearly as terrifying as Sinclair and Petit's London Orbital implies: a generic large mall with bizarre psuedo-historical dressing and a baffling attenuated Crystal Palace at the front, surprising only to those who never leave Hampstead or Hackney. What makes it so unnerving is the way that the site is scooped out of an old quarry (ah, the creative re-use of industry), so that the shopper is surrounded on all sides by a motorway at an unreachable height. Bluewater is a camp waiting to happen. Suddenly Jarman's vision of a future London is quite plausible, given the right political impetus - a fusion of Belmarsh and Bluewater into a gigantic carceral space, with the cliffs around the shopping centre trimmed with razor-wire and flanked with snipers.


Blogger roger said...

I've been happy with IT's pic-mordant caption thing too. And I'm always glad to see references London Orbital, although your sentence unfortunately implies that Sinclair never leaves Hampstead or Hackney, which I don't think you mean. I'm waiting for the London/UFO itinerary. Surely UFO design had a large effect on post war modernism - or is it vice versa? Form definitely follows function in the look of those saucy craft, but function doesn't seem to follow form, since apparently the UFOs never really do anything but moon around and startle motorists. Although I do like it when the birddog jets - those crazy xtraterrestrials know how to have fun.

I suggest following the trail of Lord Dowding, the Air Chief Marshal during the Battle of Britain, who revealed the truth about UFOs to a paper in 1943, just before the V-2 rockets rained down, and was rather gently detached from his more important duties.

Now, there's a truly Sinclair-ian quest.

5:08 am  
Blogger Addictive Picasso said...

Great post. Everything about Jarman - to me at least - is about apocalypse and post-apocalypse (The Last of England one of my fave films...) I knew the Greenwich Peninsula well, before the regeneration came. And it was apocalyptic. What I see when I pass the area now - and you seem to have picked up - is that one form of apocalypse has been replaced by another. The soundtrack has gone from Joy Division to Girls Aloud.

6:43 am  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

I was recently on a bus in an enormous traffic jam made up almost entirely of Take That fans in cars, dragging all the way down to the Blackwall approach, and that felt pretty apocalyptic...

Roger - it's not quite what I meant, but I genuinely think something like Bluewater is a totally alien landscape to Sinclair, but an entirely mundane one to most people in Britain. This of course means that his take on it is rather more interesting, of course...

UFO Brutalism! I'll bear that one in mind...

12:17 pm  
Blogger Murphy said...

UFO Brutalism? Niemeyer?

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