Walking Backwards: Phil Smith

Phil “The Crab Man” sadly couldn’t join Walkative on Friday for his walk from Pimlico, via Dolphin Square, to Vauxhall. However we were delighted to welcome artists, writers and photographers Edmund Hardy, Liberty Rowley, Jonathan Polkest, Julie Goldsmith, Niall McDevitt and Max Crow Reeves who assumed Phil’s role in retracing an anarchic walk they did with Phil – backwards. Phil entrusted them with the following directions along with ‘A Dolphin Square Mythogeographical Manifesto’:

No 1 (at Pimlico Tube exit)
The naming of Dolphin Square – Costains the builder felt it should have a name that referenced the sea, given its position by the Thames. Costain’s brother was a headmaster whose school magazine was called ‘The Dolphin’ and the school tie had a dolphin image, so he took the name and the image. The name has no connection to here – it was taken from a Welsh boarding school. (HAND OUT THE FLOTSAM & JETSAM FROM THE PLASTIC BAG.) Please carry these tokens of inauthenticity taken from the sea yesterday – carry them as magnets to attract other half-hearted fabrications and lukewarm associations as you go
(I’d also like you to keep two associations in mind – firstly, a police description of a Dolphin Square flat that they raided in the 1970s; expensive film equipment and lights were arranged around and focused upon a non-descript area of carpeted floor…… and secondly, the presence in the flats from 1937 of Julia Wolf, a Wardour Street film editor who specialized in European films and who for many years was soley responsible for re-editing, cutting and sub-titling all German and French film shown in the UK.

No 2 (outside Dolphin Square, in Lupus Street)
In groups of five, without forcing an entry, charm your way or otherwise gain entry to the inside corridors of Dolphin Square. Foz Questionmark spoke on Facebook of racing along the corridors when a child living on a nearby estate, avoiding the security guards. I think it may have been him who described the decoration of the corridors as like a hotel lobby or an airport lounge – a non-space portal to elsewhere. Get inside as quickly as you can and use your time to find out what the elsewheres of this place are. Where does this place lead to? Where are its interconnecting flights bound for? (After 20 minutes gather at the ‘Unequal Step’ sign to the south of the fountain in the central garden, and share any elsewheres you have found.)

No 3 (by the fountain pool in the central garden of Dolphin Square)
The inner garden space of this building was originally intended to be filled with a huge cathedral-shaped skyscraper of flats. Now it is more like the inside of a fish tank or a swimming pool. Imagine the space is full of water, or that the cathedral skyscraper was built. Imagine you can see, either floating in the water or moving along the multiple levels of the skyscraper, all the interconnecting layers of light entertainers, fascists, popular novelists, spies and actors who played spies, senior military officers and diplomatic staff, career politicians including left-wing reformists, madams, royals, wildlife painters, and the ghosts of those electricians who were electrocuted due to Costains’ habit of spraying the site with water to keep the dust down. Watch for some guiding pattern to this unique concentration of the quietly powerful and their silent victims. What does it mean?

No 4 (walkway on north side of the Thames looking across to the South side of the river, with house with child’s face sundial on wall)
Look across to Shanghai in London on the other side of the river, and then at the sundial behind you – with its nod to that idea that the blind or one-eyed see more. Hovering between the child and fake-Shanghai, hanging above the river, is an idea of Charles Fourier’s, that humans will evolve new senses and the organs for them. He suggested a tail with fingers and an eye. Use the modeling clay, as you go, to mold new sensory organs for yourselves, necessary for when the waters come.

No 5 (at the signs forbidding sleeping)
Lean on the wall and try for five minutes to fall asleep. Use a visualization exercise; either imagine that you are climbing into a large bag and zipping yourself up inside. Or that you are climbing into one of those tiny submarines they have in lead tanks in embassies for secret conversations. If you do begin to sink for a moment into sleep try to remember any images, ambience, narrative that comes from the other side, and share it once the five minutes are up.

No 6 (at the start of Vauxhall Bridge)
A number of large symbolic, semi-allegorical statues are attached to the bridge. They represent such things at Arts, Engineering, Architecture, and so on. But they can only be seen by those on the river. Under the gaze of the MI6 building, plan in your head a symbolic human statue to represent anti-art, or decomposition, or drowning, or terror, or conspiracy, or tunneling…. Whatever you fancy …. And once you leave the bridge at the other side find a spot to place your own body in the pose you have imagined (or ask someone else to model it for you), making sure to place it where only a very specific, perhaps marginal, audience would ever see it.

No 7 (in the shadow of the MI6 building)
There is or was a piece of a machine here labeled ‘CAMELFORD’ – which is the name of a town in Cornwall where the water supply was poisoned a few years back and people’s hair turned green. If you add to that the Lynton & Lynmouth disaster a few years before when cloud seeding by the RAF led to a massive flash flood, and similar events recently in Boscastle, then the massive flooding of the Somerset levels due to non-dredging, plus the washing away of railway lines at Exeter and Dawlish sea front…. It begins to look like the South West English peninsula has been a testing ground for staging and managing water –related catastrophe and monitoring responses to them…. Is it possible that other regions have also been used for similar social experiments – mass unemployment, warfare through food and diet, etc….

No 8 (on the south bank of the river, where there is an information board about prehistoric dwellers throwing offerings into the river)
Now get ready to throw your sea-tokens, your fabrication magnets into the river, in a token attempt to raise the water levels. An invocation of the coming times when these great buildings all around will have become islands in a new archipelago republic. Instead of the drowning of poor families in their basement flats in Grosvenor Road in the 1920s it will be the car parks, web server rooms, document stores of the powerful that will be flooded out… with the new water levels providing easy access for pirates and squatters. Small communities in coracles and kayaks will move in to the upper storeys.
“We call on the sea demons, the hidden rivers, the dolphin-eating mermaids of the new Thames Republic, we call on leviathan, to give us back the fourth to the sixty fourth storeys.
When all the ground is gone, there is no property,
The land, drowned, is free.”
So from now on, we need to stop thinking of climate change as this thing we have to stop, or that we can stop. The ‘we’ being us and not the governments and big companies, of course. Instead, we can begin to plan for how to use rising water levels, mass migrations, wars over drinking water, as the means by which to transform all social formations. If we succeed, all to the good. If the governments and companies transform their economies to stop us, then we win a little that way too. Let’s do it.

A Dolphin Square Mythogeographical Manifesto

1/ mythogeography is an experimental approach to the sites of performance of everyday life as spaces of multiple layers.

2/ it is a geography of bodies set in motion, both through the sites they explore, and in motion within themselves, adopting multiple viewpoints at any one time. The mythogeographical body seeks to walk with a hybrid of itself as companion, pursuing not only novel sensations, but the possibility of new senses and organs.

3/ it is a philosophy of active perception, using senses as tentacles actively seeking out information, never as passive receptors of it; perceiving not objects, but the differences that connect them.

4/ the space of mythogeography is neither bounded nor sliced by time, but is made up of trajectories; lines of social relations, journey and cargo. The places of mythogeography are defined by the reach and roundabouts of their commerce, traffic, interactions and solidarities. Across these frameworks are stretched meshworks of different kinds: at Dolphin Square these include ghosts of a giant civilian workforce a short march from Parliament, unrealised plans for terraced gardens, deaths during construction due to accelerated building methods, the unrecorded social weaving together of key individuals from a limited set of social structures (military, secret services, light entertainment, sex industry, far right, centrist and left-social democratic politics), and a ‘Tudor’ narrative inflected through New York.

5/ mythogeography is not a single discipline, but is the whirling around of multiple disciplines in orbit about each other; significance lies not in the accumulation of data or the incision of interpretation, but in what is revealed by the bending of the different trajectories.

6/ mythogeography mythologises the mythogeographer. Everyone can choose their own role, partly as a means to dismantle the super-meme of a singular or limited ‘self’. The mythogeographer’s self is a discipline; to be practised just like any other and set within the whirl. Mythogeography is self-reflexive in the sense that it regards the mythogeographer, the performer and the activist as being multiplicitous and questionable sites like the landscapes they move in.

7/ mythogeography arose from an aggressive, critical engagement with the monolithic labelling of certain ‘historic’ places by the heritage industry and by agencies of national and municipal identity-making. In the spaces of Dolphin Square, Pimlico and Vauxhall we will seek to tread between the official, literary and salacious-for-consumption narratives to see what the pavements, carpets, splashes of paint, eroded logos and roses are speaking.

8/ mythogeography take weapons from the theatre of the everyday, the fictional town-planning of psychogeography and the Fortean procession of ‘damned data’.

9/ mythogeography uses techniques of detritus-collection, trespass and obsessive observation. It deploys various means to change or heighten perception: storytelling, confession, dialogue, lying down, playing at being agents and playing at being an audience. It will attempt to subject the layers of meaning and gaze in the places around Vauxhall Bridge to historiographical, alternative or other appropriate interrogations, while connecting the diverse layers and exploiting the gaps between them as places of revelation and change. It avoids ‘scientific’ aloofness, or any kind of collapse into a monocular satire or a capitulation to safe and policed forms of eccentricity.

10/ its practice of a ‘hermeneutics of fear’, adopting a low level paranoia (beginning with, and then testing out, the over-explanation of things) is peculiarly appropriate for this route.

11/ mythogeography does not discriminate between respectable and non-respectable types of knowledge, but insists on the presence of popular, trash and pulp layers, and the foregrounding of the mythogeographer’s autobiographical and non-rational associations, reaching for a poetics of the Spectacle.
“What is going on in the lower reaches of society is probably very much more potent and effective than what happens in intellectual circles.” (Ekkehard Hieronimus)

Crab Man