Saturday, 31 October 2015

small picture post 1

I haven't had time to do bigger posts for GIR (but I do have big plans) (my life looks like it's made up of doing 1% of 100 different big plans)

Here is a small post with some loose pictures from the past year

Rotterdam Central Station, February 2015

I'm pretty sure this was valentine's day
I like to make these small gifs because they capture moving moments in a kind of flux
it's the intersection between motion and immotion
I also want to do a blogpost on screens and moving images in the city
we are saturated with them
Nesselande, November 2014

Small bridge. In this case what I like is how I always set my handycam on auto and it always surprises me with bizarre and surreal white balance. This was taken a while ago though, and it was taken at the twilight after sunset. Maybe the colours really did look like that. It is now November again. I should go back.

Spijkenisse, November 2014

Entrance to pedestrian/bicycle underground passage. These pillars have multi-coloured huge marbles embedded in them. The whole underground tunnel section has marbles in their walls too. 

Near Luchtsingel, November 2014

Concrete stumps with tops painted yellow. I wonder if their positions map out some astrological sign? They can be used as stools, but also they seemed very appropriate to practice parkour on. I also really liked that snake and I wanted to do a blogpost on the Serpent City, looking for signs and symbols of snakes in Rotterdam. I might still do it, but I think this specific snake is painted over with new graphics now.

Swan Market in Van Nelle Factory, Februrary 2015

Blurry image of the Swan Market so as to not violate anyone's privacy. There is good food at the Swan Market. The Van Nelle factory is also an UNESCO world heritage site. Re-using old factory buildings for new creative industries seems to be fashinable parlance in the grammar of urban strategies. In Rotterdam I also know there is De Fabriek van Delfshaven. There are probably more in the country (I've seen some in Eindhoven). I like them. Sometimes they give off this yuppie aesthetics but whatevr bro it's nice and snug and we are allowed this comfort zone. 

Monday, 27 July 2015

Details: Station Noord (& space-time)

I spent some time on and around the Rotterdam Noord train station. This is a small station that has two platforms (one for each direction) and a building attached to its southern side. The building was constructed in 1953 and housed a NS office as well as a passengers' waiting room on the top floor. At one time this was a more crucial point of transit, and international trains to Germany used to stop here. Only slower sprinter trains stop at this station now. The NS office also closed down in the early 2000s, and the building, no longer needed for its original purposes, had been converted into an art exhibition space. Usually it's pretty great for everyone if any old-timer finds new life in artistic expression, and especially if the artwork connects with a relevant piece of history.

I don't know what art projects are currently going on in here though. The space has a website, it has a recording of some projects that took place before, but the site doesn't say anything about the now. The door seemed closed too but maybe I should've knocked.

Anyways I was here in the now, and I walked around the station in hope to notice some details. I can share a few with you.



two Thomassons at Station Noord
I've briefly written about the stamp machines in Rotterdam Central Station before. In that same blogpost I also spoke of Genpei Akasegawa's Thomassons. Thomassons are, in Akasegawa's definition, inexplicable objects that can be observed on the streets: architectural vestiges in the urban environment. As the urban landscape experiences renovations and transformations, some small details from previous times are left behind, for one reason or another. Stairs that lead to nowhere, walls that define no specific spaces, these are objects that serve no real purpose other than simply being there, yet they have been indefinitely maintained in their original places. Therefore, Akasegawa concluded, they must be works of art.

These two things seen at Platform 1 are, then, prime examples of Thomassons. An elevated door on an outer wall that 1)doesn't open and 2)doesn't provide entrance/exit to anywhere, such a door is a classic Thomasson. Its kind had been spotted all over the world (1, 2, 3, 4). This specific door used to connect the waiting room to the platform, but the small bridge in between had since been demolished.

The outdated stamp machine, like its cousins in Central Station, is also a functionless urban object that's maintained in its original place, and therefore another Thomasson. The label, Buiten Dienst (out of service), is appropriate for both items in this situation.

I do find charm and comfort in many otherwise functionless things, but I don't have a great thesis that frames Thomassons in an anti-economic-efficiency meaning-structure. Also I don't know if Akasegawa would consider a comprehensive meaning-structure necessary, he was primarily interested in urban objects as they are. My best shot at this would be to imagine two hypothetical urban societies that mark the two ends of a spectrum, one super-sterile and completely without Thomassons, another super-chaotic and saturated with Thomassons. Neither scenario is entirely desirable, but if our society is placed in a middle of that spectrum, I'm pretty sure I prefer for it to move towards the latter. It would be a culturally richer society that has a physicality which spans across more time.

Walking to the end of Platform 1, there are some more leftovers that are less visible. Probably there are many more that I cannot see at all. These don't qualify as Thomassons because they're not maintained but rather are abandoned.

greenery behind the end of platform 1 contains leftovers

(Concrete stubs in the green. The first one is near the building. The last one has the NS name on it.)


On Platform 2's noise barriers we see the artwork of Aukje Litjens, titled Vogelvlucht (Bird Flight). It is the flying motion of a white bird, presented in a progression of moments in time. When passengers are riding on the Intercity toward Rotterdam Central and passing through this station in speed (the Intercity doesn't stop here) , it may be possible to view this artwork as an animation. It is an example of viewing movement-through-time by experiencing movement-through-space.

Alternatively, I have also animated this artwork as a gif image, so it is now possible to view this animation without being on a train. There were 64 frames, each a different moment in the bird's flight. Note that I chose to perceive this work as one bird in flight through time presented in 64 moments, but it is also possible that these are 64 birds flying one after another, frozen in the same moment in time.Or it could be 32 birds frozen in 2 moments in time, or 2 birds in 32 moments or 8 birds in 8 moments etc. My intuitive perception is not more correct than any other possibilities.

At several different points on Platform 2, I have noticed leaves from nearby trees that grew through the crevices between the metal sheets of the noise barriers and made their way in.

Some of them are painted black while others remain green. Presumably the black leaves were painted over when they did the paint job on these metal parts. My initial speculation was that these leaves must have grown out at different points in time, some before the paint job and some after, and if we look at the painting schedules in the last year we might speculate when did each of these strands of leaves breach the barrier.

On second thought, the more likely possibility is that they only did the paint job on specific sections of the barriers in order to cover up some graffiti. Therefore some areas were painted and some were not.

To determine how likely each of these possibilities are (they could be both true), I would have to know the (re)-painting schedule of this station and also the growth schedule of these trees (eg knowing if they shed off dead leaves every year and grow everything anew). The painting information I could not find anywhere. As for the trees, I looked up these trees on the Bomenspotter Rotterdam app, and their species is Platanus x hispanica (also know as London Plane). These are, indeed, deciduous plants that loose all their leaves annually in winter and grow new ones in spring. All these leaves must be new, so I guess, then, that the paint job was done pretty recently in the past 2-4 months or so.  The leaves at these different spots on the platform are also roughly the same size, so they can't be too different in age. If we look into recent graffiti photos on the platform (like these) since the start of 2015 and identify which graffiti disappeared, we can probably figure out a timeline.

(and probably the first step in understanding any stretch of history is figuring out a timeline.)

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

rotterdam sci-fi snippets

Earlier in 2015, I have entered some pictures into a sci-fi contest organised by the Center for Histories of the Future (CHIFT). The assignment was to take and/or modify a picture of some place in Rotterdam, with the purpose to imagine the city in 2115, one hundred years from now. The contest is currently being reorganised. I'm not sure when all the entries will be made visible on their site, so I thought I would share my pictures here. Each entry has a picture accompanied by one short description of a scenario. I have made 3 of these. 


An'Gels, creatures made of light, have descended from the sky to share with us the Arcane Secret of the Universe (ASU). They ask for nothing in return, but will share the information under one condition:

The An'Gels detest the ground, and will only allow this information to be transferred from at least 150 meters away from the Earth's surface.

In an arrangement between An'Gels and the Dutch government, it was decided that the ASU will be broadcasted from the tallest buildings in the Netherlands, in Rotterdam's Noordeeiland. The information will be broadcasted in light-based wireless telecommunication (Li-fi). During broadcasting, all lights in the city must be turned off.

-Smart Segway-

In 2115, Rotterdam, like many other urban areas in the world, had adopted a mechanism of perfect-traffic. Every type of traffic is connected to the internet and regulated to prevent accidents. Not only are cars and public-transport automated, walking and cycling had also been completely replaced by the Segway. Pedestrians and cyclists were unruly, unpredictable and uncontrollable, and they presented a high level of threat to other road users. The Smart Segway systems, on the other hand, can detect and prevent any dangerous traffic situation. Users will be unable to drive their wifi-connected Segways into danger, as the perfect-traffic mechanism stops them from doing so. 

In 2115, the number of traffic accidents in Rotterdam is 0.

- E-B Chronogate-

In the year 2115, one-way time travelling had been invented. Scientists developed advanced Chronogate technology that allows any matter (including human beings) passing through the gate to be reliably launched into the year 3115. There's no way of knowing whether these matter will ever make their way back. There's no way of knowing whether inhabitants of the 32nd century are happy to receive anything or anyone from 2115.

As it stands, many people are willing to find out. There are many reasons to leave the year 2115. Even though there is no way of knowing what 3115 is like, many are willing to take their chances, believing that things can only get better in the future. This popular demand for time travelling grew so intense, that cities around the world began to construct public-access Chronogates. In Rotterdam, the derelict Erasmusbrug had been readjusted to fulfil this new purpose.

After paying an operational fee, Rotterdamers can drive their modified vehicles into the E-B Chronogate and leave everything else of 2115 behind. It is not unlike the ancient folklore of Elves leaving Middle Earth. As this is not an easy decision, however, there are also many who take a U-turn right before the gate and drive straight back into Rotterdam city. It must be noted that those who change their mind at the final moment are not entitled to a refund.

If the best science fiction asks questions rather than provide answers, then I'm probably pretty talented at making sci-fi. I'm way better at posing questions than finding answers.  Anyways if we're talking about the future, many answers are not found but rather are made. I like the phrasing of CHIFT founder Etienne Augé: Science fiction doesn't predict the future, the future doesn't exist yet. Sci-fi does, however, prevent and invent many versions of the future. The Rotterdam-based CHIFT aims to cultivate sci-fi in the Netherlands. If successful, it would be truly empowering for the Dutch society to be able to prevent and invent versions of the future to its own liking.

On my end, this notion is relevant to one specific GIR project. On the very first GIR blogpost I wrote about using the Rotterdam metros as a system for fortune-telling. I have been meditating and developing this system since, I will elaborate on this in another blogpost (hopefully soon). The teaser thought, so to speak, is this: Wouldn't it be personally empowering, for you to be able to prevent and invent different interpretations of your own future?

While CHIFT advocates the societal relevance of sci-fi, I have been meaning to advocate the personal relevance of magic practices. As it turns out, we could both design processes to advance our respective fascinations while incorporating the Rotterdam urban environment. I'm pretty excited to see the other sci-fi contest entries when CHIFT eventually makes them viewable. It's usually great fun to experience the city through any kind of genre-specific fascination. In addition to the Sci-Fi City and the Magic City, we can also live in the Romantic-Thriller City, the Noir City, the Horror-Comedy City and so on and so forth.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

searching for darkness on the EUR campus

I was at a Surveillance & Digital Rights symposium at the Erasmus University. A specific takeaway I'd like to re-mention here is that the surveillance issue should never be treated as a zero sum situation between security and privacy. That is not the relationship we should assume between two ideas that are themselves never clearly and appropriately defined in the first place.

Later in the day I've used this false-dichotomy to think about lights in the urban night time setting. The modern urban space is usually lit up at night to improve safety and prevent crimes. In being so, however, people (criminal or otherwise) have lost the secrecy of public darkness to conduct their business in. Is public darkness EVER desirable? How about privacy in the public space?

I'm not a lighting engineer/designer/critic, I guess what I am is a fan of lighting, and I think of lights accordingly. I'm directing a horror short film late April (am I not yet the coolest guy you know? Have I told you I also play the guitar?), and the pre-production process had encouraged me to ask myself how darkness makes me feel, both on film and in real life. Does it scare me? Does it make me uneasy? Am I afraid of the dark?

I imagine that most people are not afraid of darkness per se, but rather of the implications of darkness. I can try to categorise the implications into two groups.  1) Firstly, what we cannot see, we also cannot know (or anyways cannot know soon enough to react to). It is a fundamental fear of an Unknown which can be whoever/whatever that resides IN the dark. 2) Secondly, in the darkness we cannot be seen, and we cannot be known. It is the fear of losing connections to the world, of being fundamentally alone, of being cut off, friendless and helpless.

You think darkness is your ally? You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it, moulded by it! I didn't see the light until I was already a man, and by then it was nothing but blinding. 
-Bane, The Dark Knight Rises

There IS a difference between you and me. We both looked into the Abyss. But when it looked back at us, you blinked.  
-Batman, Crisis on Two Earths
Certainly there is not only fear. Each of those two implications of darkness has its seductive counterpart. To phrase them tersely, 1)There is pleasure in anticipating the excitement and curiosity of the Unknown, and 2) There is power in secrecy and mystery, there is power in BEING the Unknown. Indeed the darkness of Gotham City had enriched and empowered Batman and his villains both.

And then there's Frank Miller's famous analogy:  "Metropolis is New York in day time, Gotham is New York at night." Rotterdam is, no doubt, the nearest thing to NYC in this country. Accordingly, R'dam at night is the closest we can have to Batman's Gotham. Can we dream, here, of a Dark Knight rising?

On the night of the symposium, I gathered some of these ideas and set out for darkness on the EUR campus, hoping to find its darkest corners. I didn't have equipments to measure darkness, but anyways the kind of darkness we talk about should be experienced (rather than measured). I did a walking sweep on the Woudstein campus at between 21:00 and 23:00. The (spatial) coverage of this small investigation is limited, as is the night-time capabilities of my handy-cam, and I couldn't capture many visual examples in picture. However I think it is appropriate to present locations of darkness in a cannot-see. This single corner, in the following not-very-visible picture, is (in my experience) the darkest point in this institution (or anyways in all of its exteriors). 

I will not identify this spot on a campus-map (I imagine this as a polite gesture in talking about the dark and the unknown and the private). For those who do walk on the EUR Woudestein campus it's pretty easy to find anyways. It is not only a dark spot but also provides some level of segregation from the campus' various night noises (eg the water fountains). It is a zone of open-air late-night dark-tranquillity, fit for meditation and/or a breather.  

Probably, if we're measuring, this point doesn't have an extreme absence of light. In fact there is a (tube) light hanging not too far from it. BUT it is precisely this tube lamp that give off an obtrusive glare, which made the darkness appear much darker to my eyes in comparison. In every other dark spot I have noticed on campus, there were also always some remarkable relationship between light and shadow. In every case it is the surrounding lights that emphasised the shadows and vice versa. Surely the literary imagery of the light-dark contrast is a cliché, but I think the real-life conscious visual-experience of the literary imagery is not.

If we refer back to the discussion about security and privacy, we may notice metaphorical parallels. The sense of security/safety can be related to privacy in non-antagonizing ways.  It is not difficult to see that in some contexts we need to feel secure in order to feel private, and feeling private can also make us feel secure. On the other hand, acts meant to 'protect' our security can 'invade' our privacy, and there are situations where we may find other people's private business threatening our sense of security. Is this not like the empowering-depowering double-nature of public darkness/lighting? 

We can take these observations & discussions out of the university campus and into different parts of the city at night time. There are also other night-time light-related observations I want to look into that are outside of this metaphorical framework. (I think people's faces have more cinematic character under yellow street lights than white ones, for example, but I want to find a way to attest this point without too much staring. That's one thing.) Luckily the nights are warmer this season and it feels swell to be outside. Unluckily the nights are much shorter and I have less time. Anyhow these night sessions are on the list of things I should plan for. There are several GIR posts that I have planned and am excited about. On this matter I shall not keep you in the dark for long.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

The longest poem in the world and the longest 3-word poem in the world

Let's pretend this is a section of a job interview. Currently my greatest weakness is that I don't know the Dutch language well enough to fully appreciate Dutch poetry. This is a most critical gap in my daily human experience. When I see a street name I cannot recognize its poetic qualities. When I hear people's conversation on trains or buses I cannot convert these lines into songwriting or cabaret, I wouldn't know where to start. I don't recognize puns. I don't know what is an inherently funny word and what is a sad one and what is both.

It is with this weakness in mind that I come to approach the longest poem in the world, situated right here in Rotterdam. That is, funnily enough, not a poetic metaphor for a unique relationship between the city and space-time. The single longest piece of poetry in the entire world is literally, physically, situated in Rotterdam. It is about 900 metres long. 

The poem is "Voor Ari" by Rotterdam's Jules Deelder. It was written for his then-new-born daughter, Ari,  in 1985. The poem is placed along tiled walls of the pedestrian/biking path of the Beneluxtunnel that crosses the Maas from underneath, between Vijfsluizen and Pernis. Today I have walked through the tunnel and back. The above photo is what it looks like on the inside. These following photos were taken at its entrance. The full text of the poem, together with translations from A View From the Cycle Path, is also posted below.


Lieve Ari   
Wees niet bang   

De wereld is rond   
en dat istie al lang

De mensen zijn goed   
de mensen zijn slecht   

Maar ze gaan allen   
dezelfde weg   

Hoe langer je leeft   
hoe korter het duurt   

Je komt uit het water          
en gaat door het vuur   

Daarom lieve Ari   
Wees niet bang   

De wereld draait rond
en dat doettie nog lang 
Dear Ari
Don’t be afraid

The world is round
and it has been for long

The people are good
the people are bad

But they all go
the same road

The longer you live
the shorter it takes

You come from the water
and go through the fire

Therefore dear Ari
Don’t be afraid

The world turns around
 and it will do for long

If we are being critically precise, I must mention that I've seen some internet sources claimed this poem to be the world's longest poem, but there is not a Guinness World Record or anything like that so it's not a status approved by an international authority. Anyhow it is not a very meaningful title (internationally approved or otherwise) because there's no definitive measurement when it comes to anything poetic. I can write a 3-word poem, for example, and physically place one word in the Netherlands, one in Belgium and one in Luxembourg. When I connect the 3 words in an imaginary straight line, that will probably be a pretty long line, thus making it physically a very long poem. But I don't suppose this imaginary long line should be very meaningful for me or the poem's readers (unless the 3 locations where the words are placed have specific meanings in themselves!) (wow jesus christ i think I just came up with a geo-poetic smartphone app idea).

Forget the app idea for now. I liked the 3-word poem idea. The poetic urban experience is supposed to be playful-constructive, and when I go somewhere I also want to make something. I have, therefore, written the world's longest 3-word poem, placed alongside the world's longest poem, spanning across the Beneluxtunnel. One word I've placed at the beginning of the tunnel, one word in the middle and one near the end. You may be glad to find that these are not 3 words of a specific psycho-emo-romcom selection (I should stop milking this sensitivity before it tires me out) My poem is as follows:

I decided not to leave this poem at the location but to bring it home. I'm keeping it on the map on my door for now. This is, at the moment, a regular 3-word poem that was once the longest 3 word poem in the world. It is also in this practice that I present my second-greatest weakness: When I don't have an emotional grasp of the situation (notice how I didn't comment on Deelder's actual poem due to language barrier etc) I often choose to distract myself by making my own (mostly irrelevant) poetry and/or other creative work. I think this habitual evasive action does not build a sustainable relationship between my emotions and the environment. But it does produce art that I feel okay about. 

Does this answer your question?

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Details: Stamp Machines and foot-printed map (Rotterdam Central Station)

Genpei Akasegawa (RIP) is a major inspiration for this blog.  In the mid 80s, he and several other Japanese architects/artists founded the Roadway Observation (RoJo) Society. This group produced tremendous fieldwork on observations and recordings of objects in the urban environments, objects that are often otherwise overlooked and ignored. I think the keyword is objects. The group was not primarily interested in contexts or in the broader social/cultural structures in which these objects existed. They simply took pleasure in admiring the details of the littlest things. Another way to describe their practice was 'Street Detailing'. 

I'm considering copying/echoing some of this group's methodologies in Rotterdam. I want to go hunt for Genpei Akasegawa's Thomassons, and I want to imitate Joji Hayashi's process of observing and typifying manhole covers. Before I do any of that, I thought I would do smaller spontaneous sessions to test the waters. The other night I tried to perform some detailing in Rotterdam Central Station. I'll talk about some objects I saw.


Two stempelautomaten, or 'stamp machines', are located outside the main Metro entrance in Rotterdam's Central Station. If you were living in the Netherlands before 2010 or so, you might remember that before the OV Chipkaart system was introduced, we used paper tickets for public transport, and the tickets had to be stamped by the stempelautomaat to be validated.  These yellow porters were made figures of authority. It was only with their approval that we were allowed to travel. It was kind of like going through customs at the boarder and needing to have your passport stamped by some bureaucrat. In truth, machines of this nature can be the perfect bureaucrat. 

Alas, the glory days of the yellow bureaucrats had passed, the paper tickets are now completely phased out (since July 2014), and the stamp machines are put out of work. If an innovative repurposing does not come into the picture soon, these machines are also practically put on death row. Currently they are tied up to metal poles in this busy transit spot for (shameful) public display of a medieval fashion, made examples of as bureaucratic figures from a bygone era who had become useless and obsolete. The two machines, numbered 15 and 16, are kept alive for now, as they're still each hooked into the power supply. I don't know when they will finally be disposed, but you can drop by and offer them some consolation before it's too late. Maybe even give them a hug. It really helps to get a hug when you're feeling useless, no?


These are the granite stairs at the bottom of the metro exit toward the bus stations in Rotterdam Central. At the lowest stair there is a strip of exposed cement. I'm not sure what's the functionality of this design but I've seen it on several of these granite stairs in Central Station. I would like to figure  out their original purpose soon.

Anyways I paid specific attention to the ones in the picture because they are imprinted with distinguishing patterns. These were probably footprints on wet cement. But they look like maps of some areas in Rotterdam's inner city (near the river). It is most likely a random pattern and this map-look is a beautiful illusion. But let's envision alternative scenarios where it is not:

What if... the inner city map is patternised and strategically used as decoration around the exits of public transport stations? 

What if... special shoes were issued for those (cement pourers) employed by the municipality, shoes that have the city map engraved onto their soles? And extending this shoe idea, what if your footprint actually prints something meaningful, and by simply walking about you are taking your city to every place you've been to? People had tried to put maps on shoes, but I haven't seen anyone try to put maps under them. Those would be the perfect shoes to express someone's emotional connection to a specific city. Imagine that wherever you walk to in the world, you are still always walking on the streets of your hometown...

Maps can be the best kind of summary of how a city physically IS. It is, then, extremely suitable to use this visual summary for symbolic purposes. Appropriating maps into usable symbols and patterns is, I think, a crucial design task for every city and even every city district.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Not Rotterdam: Platform 9 and 3/4 at King's Cross (London)

still from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001)
Earlier in January I was in London for a few days. On a Thursday morning we went to King's Cross station in search for the famous Platform 9 and 3/4. This platform is, as you might know, the only place to board the steam train to Hogwarts. It's also one of the many entrances to a wizarding world that is very good at disguising itself in plain Muggle sights.

These secret entryways are charming illustrations of the reason why I'm drawn to psychogeography and urban-observation to begin with . I like to look out for "hidden" details, meanings, and possibilities in the urban environment. The idea that behind every dirty brick wall there could (literally) be an entire hidden magical world entertains me profoundly.

We checked into platform 9 with our Oyster cards and walked between platforms 9 and 10 to look for this specific pillar as depicted in the film scenes. There is however no such specific place. After some wandering, a station employee noticed us and asked if we were looking for Harry Potter. He then directed us out of the platforms and toward a brick wall on one side of the station. There was an installation on the wall and a group of tourists lined up to have their pictures taken with it. The scene looked like this:

There were, in fact, two other employees tasked with handling the tourists. One of them was taking 'official' photos that can later be purchased at the Harry Potter Shop some 20 meters away. The other one was readying Hogwarts scarves for tourists to borrow and take pictures with. The scarves come in colours of each of the 4 Hogwarts houses. If you wish to, he would also hold up one end of the scarf and shake it up and down to make your picture looks like you're in motion.

So the place is made touristy and campish and it's perfectly reasonable. It's easy to understand why they would like to direct tourists off the platforms and direct tourists' money into Harry Potter's pockets. An observer should notice, however, that this location for photoshoot is NOT the real entrance to Platform 9 and 3/4. It is at an irrelevant location in the station's floor plan. It is physically manufactured to emulate the real deal, while the real entrance remains between the actual walls between Platform 9 and 10 (as depicted in the Harry Potter books and movies). If I were committed to truly experience a Harry Potter narrative, then instead of taking photos with a merchandised scarf, my preferred course of action should be running full force at a wall between platforms 9 and 10, and upon impact breaking most of my bones. But perhaps that's taking this discussion into the realm of psychotic-geography.

Anyways the discussion is in what-is-real and what-is-not. Can something imaginary be more real than something-else imaginary? Serialised fiction often have the notion of 'canon', the idea is that some imaginary stories are true within that imaginary world, while some of them are not. When that imaginary world intersects with real physicality, such as in the case of King's Cross station, the boundary between realness and falseness becomes even more so contested. Indeed, it is in these contested sites that we're most likely to find some form of entrance to a real magical world: the mystery of the human psyche. 

During our short stay in London I couldn't make it to Whitechapel to walk through Jack the Ripper's murder trails. It's a huge shame. Jack the Ripper is a definitive psychogeography cliché, the Ripper story had flirted with facts and fiction for over a century and it is the perfect model of how one real/imaginary story can interact with places. It'll be the first thing I visit the next time I go.  "We'll do it next time" is my personal definitive cliché. This is only an inside joke because I'm an inside joke IS IT FUNNY YET IS IT F0UNNY YET

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

how to move through the Beurstraverse without walking

I've been thinking about the different ways to travel through the Beurstraverse (Koopgoot) underground tunnel in Rotterdam's city centre. It's one of the busiest passages for pedestrian traffic in the city, but it's boring when all everyone ever do is walk. In a previous post I shared a rollerblading video where they went through this thing on rollerblades very fast. Some of my longboarder friends had sometime longboarded through it (although you WILL get stopped by security if you do this). Jackie Chan (or his driving stunt-double) had driven a car through the traverse in the film Who Am I (1998). But options on wheels are also overdone, and if we are to really explore the different possibilities of Beurstraverse, we have to venture into the 4th  the 3rd dimension. How can one go through Beurstraverse without touching the ground?

I have come up with two options.

The first option would require a transformation in the traveller him/herself: I'm talking about flying. If we have each learned to fly, we can glide through the air in and out of this underground passage with a level of grace and ease that our humble walking legs can never amount to. If we could envision ourselves among the ranks of Peter Pan and Superman, and contemplate how we would then instinctively navigate through the urban landscape, it's easy to see that a new set of behavioural movement-common-sense will be adopted. First of all we would not NEED to use this underground passage to move across the Coolsingel traffic, we can just fly over the road (Is there even going to be relevant ground traffic on Coolsingel? If people can fly, automobiles will only be needed for cargo or for rainy days). Anyways there IS reason to fly down through a tunnel: it's probably really fun. If I could fly, one of the first things I would do is shooting through some tunnel. The framing limitation of the passage puts an emphasis on how fast and how freely I can move.

Unfortunately in our current human capabilities we cannot fly through the Beurstraverse with our physical bodies, but it IS possible to (kind of) experience flying this way by piloting a small drone with first-person video display. (I think it's illegal to fly drones on eye level in a populated urban area, but if Jackie Chan can drive a car down here it's probably possible to figure out some arrangement.) A short while ago Eric van Vuuren made a beautiful video with drone footages of Rotterdam. The vid looks great, but I noticed that the majority of city drone videos consist of majestic establishing shots, and my favourite drone footages are the ones that feel like emulations of the 1st person experience of a real flying human being, navigating him/herself through the urban environment. I hope to see more of those. I mean, reasonably speaking, when we do learn to fly, we would't float around and gaze at buildings. We would FLY.


The other option of travelling through the Beurstraverse requires a radical transformation in the physical condition of the surroundings. I'm talking about swimming. This requires some sort of water change that puts the Beurstraverse under water.

It'll be a flooding situation, but not necessarily a uncontrolled natural disaster scenario. In a far future of rising sea levels, maybe they'll decide to intentionally flood out some obsolete under-ground spaces to meet water-management needs. One of my most vivid memories from being a kid was watching Steven Spielberg's A.I. (2001) and being super freaked-out by the scenes of this underwater abandoned themepark in future's flooded Manhattan. At the bottom of the ocean there's no place to escape to, only an endless dark-blue. A younger me could not handle the overwhelmingness of that imagery and at this section of the film almost felt out of breath. It didn't help that the movie was super-sad.

Since then I have learned to swim, and my imagination had become flexible. If a flooding of Rotterdam takes place in the far future, I''ll probably be able to equip myself with an underwater future-tech breathing-kit and swim through our underwater tunnels without drowning. That doesn't make the act any less intimidating, but it is more copable. As opposed to flying, an act that's marked by its speed and nimbleness, underwater swimming is very slow and inching forward calls for constant physical effort. Suppose that I'm swimming here and I don't have to hold my breath. Would I have the spare attention level to admire the condition of this underwater tunnel, or would I wish to get out of there ASAP? It's really hard to say. I'm mostly only fascinated by underwater cities because the very idea is really scary, and I don't know if put into that situation I would be more fascinated or more scared.

Anyways maybe you don't share my specific fascination/fear of sunken cities, in which case your imagination of this Beurstraverse scenario may be little dry (hah!). I want to point to two different water-related places around Rotterdam that can assist you in imagining a flooded underwater pedestrian tunnel. They serve as good reference points.


1.    To the north-east of Rotterdam, in Nieuwekerk a/d IJssel, there is a monument for the single lowest point in the Netherlands. It's also one of the two lowest points in the European Union (the other one is in Denmark). This spot is 6.76 meters under sea level, you can stand here and imagine sea water washing up on the second floor of those office buildings. It provide a very physical understanding of how deep we're really in it for. It's also worth noting that this only measures to our current sea level, and looking at the way sea level rises, in 200 years this thing should grow a few meters. I'll most likely do a specific blogpost on this place one day.

2.  Toward Rotterdam North, in Benthemplein lies Europe's biggest Water Square. This water-management structure includes 3 basins that act as public spaces in dry times, but fill up with water during heavy rains.  The basketball/football fields are designed to be temporarily flooded to hold the excess water from increased rain levels in the future. The sci-fi idea of flooding some urban spaces to divert the waterload didn't come from nowhere!

Maybe I'll do another blogpost on this spot too, there's much more to be said on this system than the brief synopsis above. I picked up a Rotterdam Climate Initiative brocheur 2-3 years ago and had been paying attention to this project since. It's one of my favourite Rotterdam projects that I've watched being built. I like to tell people about it a lot, and if I'm near this area during hours of pouring rain, often times I specifically come here to watch the Water Square fulfil its function. I guess an behavioural exception that proved the rule would be the one night of mad downpouring in October where I walked from the city centre directly through here without looking at any functioning water infrastructure because I wanted to get to a place to see somebody for maybe the last time and there wasn't much else on my mind DAMN SON WE TALKING REAL PSYCHOGEOGRAPHY NOW

3.    This isn't a place, it's just a little trick, but at this point in the text I couldn't figure out how to insert it without a numbering. The trick is pressing both of  your palms against both of your ears and listen carefully. Do you hear the ocean currents? Wherever you are, this exercise takes you (and your surroundings) some place under the sea. Useful, huh?