Detail above a shop in Gabriel’s Hill, Maidstone.
Cathy has cut together this vid documenting the Reframing Maidstone installation that we did for Architecture Week June 2007
How did I miss the Hidden Medway blog for so long – utter negligence. Even allowing for the author’s natural reticence towards publicity (he posts comments on this blog using various pseudonyms) I should have come across it during my research for Reframing Maidstone. Particularly as I undertook a field trip in Maidstone with the blogger himself. Anyway it’s brilliant and I think a true example of cryptotopography – a notion I floated when we were working on Remapping High Wycombe – but here I think we have the truest example.
Flickering on the town hall debating chamber plasma screens the archive films appear romantic, distant, beguiling. Bulletins from another world. The challenge is to find their locations and shoot a response on the 21st century technology of the mobile phone. The graininess and jump cuts should make the formats oddly compatible.
Searching for the Fancy Dress Parade clip from 1930 I’ll confess to inside knowledge. It’s Brenchley Gardens, that much I know, and I’d wandered that way of my own accord on my first proper look round town. But how can the archive clip stimulate a renewed vision of the site. How to capture the spirit of a line-up of local craftspeople in fancy dress out for the day?
The shots of the bridge being built over the Maidstone Bypass in 1960 are brilliant for their capturing of the sublime beauty of iron girders. The bypass is a way up the river, but just along from Brenchley Gardens an older iron bridge provides a more than adequate response. It takes several clips to do justice to its form and relationship to the river running below but after a train trundles past into Maidstone East I feel I’ve found my Medway bridge.
I now have to climb a steep hill heading away from the town to find the vantage point depicted in the archive clip showing a fleet of buses on their way to Madrid. The titles on the original 1922 film, ‘From Maidstone to Madrid’ read, ” Spanish Authorities order – in face of keen world competition – a fleet of British built Buses, for first Bus Service in the Capital”. I’m some way up before I get to the vantage point from where my 10-second clip was shot 85 years ago, but find what I think is the exact spot. In an odd reversal there appear to be more trees now than in 1922, only one building from the original view remains.
With my circuit complete I slope back into town collecting a waterside shot of my own on the way.
“The modern avenue served as laboratory for the flâneur, while the contemporary street finds the neo- flâneur manipulating the mediating filters of technology in pursuit of new connections to the landscape.” Glenn Bach. Atlas Peripatetic (MFA Project Report).
Film-maker Patrick Keiller has identified that a common feature of the early city films of late 19th and early 20th Century was that they tended to be “one to three minutes long, and consisted of one or very few unedited takes”. This format is again becoming popular with the using of online video-sharing, self-broadcasting websites such as YouTube and Google Video. The development of portable devices such as mobile phones presents new opportunities for topographical film-makers as short clips can be shot on the move and sent directly from the location to a website, or another device, where they can be simultaneously viewed and commented upon.
This also has implications for the time-space compression (David Harvey) as people can broadcast to a potentially large audience images of the landscape as they pass through it in real-time and experience moving image bulletins from the past in-situ. Like the early city films these clips or bulletins will necessarily be short and unedited.
Our visions of the landscape can now be filtered through a digital interface. Collectively these visions form a snapshot of the townscape and the personal topographies of the auteurs. The exchange that takes place on a kino dérive between author and instigator/ provocateur transforms the personal into the shared experience of space and place, spanning past and present.
A video map is created, logging the journeys undertaken. This then enables us to explore the changes and tensions, highlight historic symmetries and developments.
By viewing archive film images in situ what historical tensions emerge? When standing in Fremlin Walk looking at Sonny Hanson’s film showing Fremlins Brewery in 1938 it’s difficult not to become aware of the economic and cultural transformation that has occurred as we have moved from distinctive local industries to a homogenised shopping mall culture.
Can this simple act of authoring our own representation of our environment somehow give us a link to collective sense of place beyond that defined by urban planning, the privatisation of public space and received notions of localness and belonging? Somehow enable access to what Nick Papadimitriou calls a kind of “regional memory” locked in the landscape. A route to a sense and spirit of place which is inclusive.
With the traditional psychogeographical dérive or drift we seek to strip the city or town bare, to reveal its secrets, its mechanisms and motors. The motivations for engaging in such an activity vary as much as the outcomes. For the Situationists it was a reconnaisance mission for the revolution of everyday life that they sought to bring about. The fact that they moved on from drinking absinthe in Montmatre to being at the heart of the revolt of May ’68 that brought the French government to the brink of collapse suggests some use came from these “journeys outside the timetable.”
With a kino dérive we don’t anticipate a revolution in the traditional sense to occur, although it would be nice. It is an experiencing of place through a simultaneous active engagement with moving image and the landscape.
‘Reframing Maidstone’ was a project by Cathy and John Rogers