Last week, I was fortunate enough to assist Sean Lynch and crew with the filming of A Murmur, Repeated. I’m not going to describe the film or post spoilers – the trailer’s only just been launched so you’ll have to wait until it’s ready (look out for news on Sean’s site or via John Hansard Gallery; I’ll no doubt post about it when it’s released). Instead, I want to focus on how fresh pairs of eyes new to the city (Southampton) were able to unlock locations I was unfamiliar with despite their close proximity to some of my regular haunts and routes. As an artist with an interest in psychogeography and a tendency to wander around on dérives, this triggered all sorts of questions, one of which was “why don’t I visit these places?”
In the case of the geothermal power plant, more correctly known as Southampton District Energy Scheme (SDES), the answer is easy – it isn’t open to the public (apparently, post 9/11, fewer sites are). Saying that, I’ve got a background in Environmental Science, so I’m sure I could have asked for permission to visit for work purposes (low carbon energy production) – it simply wasn’t on my radar. The large, open, bleak tarmac-scape of the abandoned Toys ‘R’ Us carpark is less obvious though – as a readily accessible but not obviously valued location, it’s exactly the sort of place I’d go, camera in hand, poetry notebook at the ready, isn’t it? Snap-snap, jot-jot. So why don’t I?
Essentially it’s because it’s all part of a retail park – mainstream shopping, car-based and corporate. For me, it’s a dead zone I avoid unless passing quickly through on the way to somewhere else – so much so, that I couldn’t provide any local knowledge about it during filming – a cultural desert with nary an oasis to recommend it, and something I’d like to demolish and return to the sea (it’s on reclaimed land). However, that’s at least partly an artefact of my chosen way of life – indies, the multicultural parts of town, the old residential, the artistic and performative. I thought I was pretty wide-ranging, but maybe not. For many others, it is presumably a place to visit and value. It’s a useful shortcut from station to town, a post-school teenage hangout, somewhere to shop. What did I see? A bench-ziggurat of stone blocks, the geothermal well-head, a lad in a shopping trolley. I valued these. The upshot – this zone of town is overdue some exploration, and new eyes can illuminate the jaded, ignored and forgotten.