Archeology of the Future's been out and about this weekend. We took part in this project: Greenwich Emotion Map. The project itself is as Science Fiction as they come. Christian Nold, the artist, using Global Positioning System technology and measuring galvanic skin response to indicate arousal, is engaging members of the local community in building an emotion map of the Greenwich Peninsula, home to the Millennium Dome, described by Iain Sinclair as "the tongue of poisoned land, a couple of miles to the east of The Royal Naval College". You walk, your arousal is recorded, along with your position, then when you get back the whole thing is combined and uploaded onto Google Earth, where it sits with the walk data from all of the other people who have taken part. The arousal appears as a series of peaks on the map like jagged mountain ranges. The higher the peak, the higher the emotion. Combined, the sum of the walks shows a topography of the Peninsula, a map of feeling with sloughs and heights, a physical/psychic landscape overlaying the real one.
We turned up on the first spring-like Sunday afternoon this year and were kitted out by Christian with a little GPS device that looked like a mobile phone and , attached to the first two fingers on our left hands, two wires that led to a little silver box that measures a tiny electric current across the skin. The more aroused we are, the more we sweat, the more conductive of current our skin becomes. Standing in a silent residential street, Christian explains with relish that there are twenty four satellites above us and that the GPS device needs to contact at least three of them to be able to locate my position. We tell him it's all a bit Science Fiction.
"I designed this stuff, so it can't be that science fiction," grins Christian. "Off you go."
Setting ourselves an hour to walk, we set off with no fixed idea of where we're going.
According to Iain Sinclair's book 'Sorry Meniscus' , the Peninsula was never a part of the Greenwich story. Formerly Bugsby's Marshes, "The Peninsula was where the nightstuff was handled: foul-smelling industries, the manufacture of ordinance, brewing, confectionery, black smoke palls and sickly sweet perfumes... The Peninsula thrives on secrecy. For as long as anyone can remember much of this land has been hidden behind tall fences. Walkers held their breath and made a wide circuit. Terrible ghosts were trapped in the ground. A site on the west of the Peninsula, now captured by the Teflon-coated fabric of the Dome, had once featured a gibbet where the corpse of some pirate, removed from Execution Dock in Wapping, would be left to decay."
There's still ghosts on the Peninsula, the physical remnants of The Millennium and all that it did or didn't mean. The Dome itself, we noticed walking around the outside of it today, is like a tribute act to that other great Dome of national identity, The Dome of Discovery at the Festival of Britain. There is obviously the Dome itself, but also the struts that hold it up, each one like a child's version of the Skylon. Pressing our noses up against the fences and gazing in, there are weeds pressing up through the concrete of deserted car parks. There are empty offices, all of the furniture pushed to one end as if the Peninsula had been tipped and shaken slightly. Small pieces of wreckage, shards of scrap, metal, upended benches. All looks as if the area has been vacated in a hurry.
We walked through the millennium Village, flats and houses built to take advantage of the regeneration of the Peninsula. Modernist design, of the kind that was used for social housing, is here repackaged and resold to a much more exclusive class of dweller. Some of the huge, colourful flats a quite literally cut off, surrounded by marshland crossed with wooden walkways, as if moated. These are buildings left stranded. The regeneration never happened. The Dome opened, then it closed. There's the great sense of a boom town built by the river, only to find that the river has changed path, leaving the roads empty, the sky too wide, the streets silent and unmoving.
For all of the order imposed by the rigid, controlling architecture and traffic flow design, the Peninsula is still home to the higgledy-piggledy overlapping of different periods and types of industry so beloved of location shoots. We even saw a film crew huddled in the middle of a mud coated concrete yard, dwarfed by huge boilers, all pipes and ladders like primitive space craft now lying on their sides and rusting in the rain. There are deserted houses. There are twisting pipes and strange smells behind chainlink fences. Wharfs jut into the grey river with machinery corroded to a halt. Great machineries sprout into the sky, some with chimneys burning off excess gas. There are yards full of scrap, huge piles of rubble. We see a decaying warehouse, one side collapsed, a rusting boat nuzzling it from the water. Despite of of the rhetoric, despite the notions of control and renewal, the Millennium Project failed. For most of our walk we were the only people in sight, half expecting to see an invasion, or a lonely astronaut lost and adrift amongst the concrete. Under a mile from hyper-ordered private Island of Canary Wharf, there's a landscape that is huge moon base copy at Winnerton Flats; a landscape that is the entropic world of J.G. Ballard where even meaning has run out of energy; a landscape where the Festival of Britain collides with the scrapyard where Susan goes home each night to her Grandfather, much to the curiosity of Barbara and Ian. Arcane technologies are housed in concrete or stand on masts, rotating slowly. On the Peninsula, different futures jostle with each other, all trying to remain viable, all past.
Returning to base camp, Christian uploads our walk onto a laptop which is projected onto the wall in front of me. A jagged set of peaks cuts a serated path up to the tip of the Peninsula, like a body drawn at speed towards the dense gravitational pull of the Dome then flung back on its way. Christian shows me how to label each of the peaks, letting us add annotations to our journey. We notice how much higher our arousal has been than some of the others who have taken part.
Science Fiction has a lot to answer for.
You can see section of the Greenwich Emotion Map here, with a further explanation of the technology and method: http://www.emotionmap.net/index.htm
Buy Iain Sinclair's 'Sorry Meniscus' from amazon.co.uk here.
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