The mini-symposium was comprised of seven presentations.
Sam Merrill, Sandra Jasper and Anna Plyushteva all of University College London
started proceedings with a presentation entitled “Departure Points and Missed
Connections: Reflections on Examples from London, Berlin and Sofia”. This highlighted each of their
particular interests in the research focus centred on their chosen case study
cities. Rather than aim at providing solid conclusions the presentation instead
offered a number of theoretical and empirical starting points along with some
guiding questions to be born in mind over the course of the day.
The floor was then handed over to Dr. Bradley Garrett of the University of Oxford who spoke to the title of “Creative underbelly: nocturnal interventions in transport”. The paper drew on Garrett’s recently completed autoethnographic doctoral research with Urban Explorers in an effort to connect their experiences to the work of graffiti artists in transportation networks and in reference to artistic interventions in New York and Paris in order to highlight the nocturnal creativity that takes in functioning and disused transport networks. He argued that such creativity was threatened by the over zealous securitization of such networks by their guardian transport authorities.
Next, Petr Gibas of Charles University Prague drew on his M.A. dissertation and continuing doctoral research in discussing “Materiality of past future: presence and absence in two postsocialist undergrounds.” By focussing on the underground transport systems of Prague and Bratislava he illustrated how Metros, again both functioning and derelict serve as a means of expressing and materialising dreams about utopian communist futures – in other words the transport networks are the materialization of futures dreamt about in the past. To do this Gibas employed theories of absence and the notion of the uncanny.
After a lunch break during which the participants had the opportunity to browse the exhibition which accompanied the symposium, Katharina Heilein and Stefan Kohl restarted proceedings with an account of their involvement in the U10 Von hier aus ins Imaginäre und wieder zurück (from here to the imaginary and back again) art project. Heilein’s paper entitled “Construction Time Again – Experiments on Public Interest, Convenience and Necessity” outlined the practical implications of realising the cultural potential of disused transport infrastructure which was followed by Kohl’s personal account of his experience of the project.
Dr. Tim Edensor of Manchester Metropolitan University then gave a presentation entitled “The ongoing material production of the city: tracking the connections that brought stone to Manchester”, in which he traced the long passed and now phantom infrastructural transport networks involved in the movement of stone in order to construct Manchester’s built environment. By exploring the stone that exists in several buildings in the centre of the city Edensor identified evaporated networks and transport routes produced through stone supply and repair and showed the traces of these networks in disused or reappropriated roads, railways and canals.
After a short break Ingmar Arnold of the Berliner Unterwelten e.V. continued with his paper, ‘Taking history into public spheres: The Example of the Berlin Underworlds Association.” His account of Berliner Unterwelten’s activities over the past two decades demonstrated the benefit of realizing the cultural potential of disused transport infrastructure amongst other subterranean features. His talk also demonstrated the significance of the association’s formation in a period when security concerns were yet to be heightened by the affects of global terrorism.
The final paper of the day, “The absent landscape of the Iron Ring: on a fragment of the ex-railway circumvallation of Santiago, Chile” came from Felipe Lanuza Rilling of University College London. Felipe proposed that the notion of absence is central to any attempt to understand or represent the current condition of a vanishing transport landscape. He visualized this notion through a series of palimpsestic images, which captured the evocative nature of the ‘iron ring’ and revealed its ability to contribute to contemporary public space.
These presentations were supplemented by later field excursions on the 2nd and 3rd days of the symposium. The first, involved a ‘Walk and Talk’ along the Parkland Walk, a disused section of the North Eastern Railway Line between Finsbury Park and Alexandra Palace in the company of representatives from The Friends of Parkland Walk and Islington County Council. The second provided a rare opportunity to visit the disused Aldwych Underground Station as facilitated by the London Transport Museum and the Friends of the London Transport Museum.