“Some day soon, perhaps in forty years, there will be no one alive who has ever known me. That’s when I will be truly dead – when I exist in no one’s memory.”
Irvin D. Yalom, Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy
The forgotten corners of cities conceal surprising narratives and striking imagery. Wardsend Cemetery is just such a place, a burial ground officially closed since 1988, but whose population has been unchanged since 1977. I came upon the existence of Wardsend during one of those chance conversations you have on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The following week I was winding along an industrial access road, conscious of the rich golden quality of the late afternoon light. The metalled road crossed the bridge built to replace one severely damaged by the Sheffield floods of 2007. Progress then ended abruptly, blocked by large boulders set in place to prevent access to the muddy tracks flanking the River Don.
From the unheralded cul-de-sac, anonymous stone steps rose. In the absence of signage a welcoming party of gravestones huddled a few metres on, cast in partial shadow. At the foot of the steps the electrical guts hung from a small concrete bollard. The wind-blown detritus of modern life was strewn through the adjacent undergrowth. Alongside, woven into the vegetation, was a smattering of larger offerings to the dead. These comprised of the usual suspects: tyres, paint cans, an incongruous left shoe and lumps of rubble. The sense of isolation from the mainstream of the city is immediate.
It was not until 2nd February that I came to write about the photographs I had taken some weeks before. Only then did the poignancy of a favourite image from that earlier visit strike me. The beautifully crafted headstone of one 27 year-old stood out, captured in a libation of warm winter sun. Frederick Stephen Goddard had passed away one-hundred years ago to the day. His headstone was crowned with the single word ‘Resurgam’, which means ‘I shall rise again’. I thought immediately of all those city spaces that lie dormant on a similar premise.
Wardsend reveals strong parallels for me with other urban land in apparent decline. Rendered in the pre-sunset glow of Winter light the memorialised dead jostle in a sun-dappled crowd amidst the pell-mell ingress of nature. Similar vistas play out in the post-industrial brown-fields mottled with buddleia, bramble and rosebay willow herb. Our heritage takes many forms and speaks to us in many ways, many of which are themselves individuated in their interpretation. None is perhaps so poignant as the neglected memory of the dead.
Throughout Wardsend nature tries to make sense of a space less manicured than the dead might ever have dreamt in life. The tension with a natural succession shines through in many of my images. Silver Birch, the classic pioneer tree species of open disturbed ground, abound and encroach, albeit gradually. This quest for a new equilibrium also plays out where industry has died, or is in transition, as much as in a place of burial. Here at Wardsend, the process has been managed since 2010. Consequently, some identities have been refreshed from beneath a blanket of vegetation. Others are lost to us, their memory shattered by frost, or corroded by the action of wind and rain.
Broader questions about the spaces we offer to the dead and how we memorialise within crowded urban settings are of considerable cultural and social relevance. Does this apparent decline really matter? Is it a decline at all, or is a more radical position, one in which we surrender the dead to nature, a more fitting epitaph?
Richard Ward, 2013
David Harvey speaking at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York
David Harvey, Peter Marcuse, Margit Mayer, Susan Fainstein
Interstices of the City
Often those seemingly forgotten or forbidden places, shadow cast and foreboding, hide stories that arterial roads never bring to light. We hurtle by, their narratives not lost on us because they were never found. On a sunlit Sunday, I was taken to just such a place. Between decaying buildings a short access road to a new nowhere, the quaintly named ‘Sylvester Gardens’, was lined with the social gargoyles of other lives lived. Silver nitrous oxide capsules cascaded from the innards of black bags, drinks cans piled together, their chaotic state of equilibrium incongruously crowned by the chess board lid of a small games compendium. These cairns of indulgences past form tribal boundary markers on a journey into a borderland where societal values are potentially contested. They speak of other cultures and existences, a rabbit hole for the ‘curiouser’, or a potentially threatening place where social taboos are enacted. Half swept streets make strange bed-fellows with suburban sensibilities.
With each step, the austere walls of decaying industrial units gradually gave way to surfaces adorned in art of growing complexity. The lane opened out onto a concrete slab relict that betrayed former purpose. Onto the whole played the golden light of the winter afternoon as to our right the Porter Brook roared with the passing of Friday’s snowfall. All around clumps of mucky whiteness persisted in the shadows. Each remnant vertical surface had something to say, or a legacy of someone with something to say. Beautiful, complex and sometimes perplexing images were interposed with short bold statements, themselves often foregrounded with teeming mounds of rubble and rotting timbers. The whole place asked many questions across a bold and unpromising canvas of brick, broken windows, concrete and flaking paint. On the surface the scale of endeavour and striking imagery are magnificent. The whole speaks of a deeply unconventional meeting of minds, a place where counter-cultures can be and are enacted beyond the opprobrium of the bigger society. Is it an appropriation of space, or embellishment? I have attempted to capture some images in this fairly secret gallery. If this is a space in transition how long will it remain?
Richard Ward, 2013
On curating strange encounters in multidisciplinary space: a case study on opening up a plot to multiple reading
In the long retreat from essentialism, prevailing orthodoxy has it that the experience of place is multivalent, partial, subjective and/or pragmatic (e.g. Creswell 2004; Harman 2009, Delaney 2010). In this paper we will explore what this means in concrete terms by examining our involvement in the valorisation and art-led repurposing of a small plot of derelict land in the heart of Sheffield’s industrial quarter. At the core of our project has been a conscious desire to reveal and then linger over the multiple ways in which stakeholders associated with this project have each brought their own ‘ways of seeing’ (Berger 1972) – their aesthetics in the widest sense of that term – to bear in making sense of the site for their purposes. Through this the project has seen a small abandoned scrubland site suddenly heavily traipsed by police, surveyors, writers, engineers, artists, scavengers, architects, police, film makers, ecologists, poets, lawyers, children, groundworks contractors and ambivalent bystanders. We will show how these visitors are strangers to each other, and this place, and yet through their proximity in time spent on site, their involvement in the project and the similarities and divergences of their sense making strategies, their paths, thoughts and actions start to interweave to create a rich, vibrant set of place-forming narratives for a supposedly ‘non-place’ (Augé 1995). In bringing these ways of reading out of their disciplinary silos, by creating a context in which their discursive grip of the situation was rendered slightly askew – we summoned intriguing patterns, commonalities and charming juxtapositional effects (Highmore 2002), a loose project specific community-assemblage of the type theorised by Jean-Luc Nancy and Jacques Rancière, that energised this forgotten site with new life, colour and purpose.
As we’ve been working on our Furnace Park project, we came across Mike Lydon’s excellent Tactical Urbanism 2: short-term action, long-term change
This free e-book describes ‘a growing number of short-term, often self-funded efforts [...] demonstrably leading to long-term change’, taking in guerrilla urbanism, pop-up urbanism, city repair and DIY urbanism.
You can read Tactical Urbanism 2 here.
All photographs by Joshua Holt, 2012.
This series looks to explore ways in which the sale of sex and items of a sexual nature seem to have been pushed into peripheral areas largely free of residencies and permanent communities. Sheffield’s red light district, as well as Pulse and Cocktails ‘sex superstore’ and The Crystal Suite massage parlour are located in and around the Neepsend area, which by day is a bustling industrial area and by night is largely abandoned.
It seems that the attitude of those who have pushed such things into these areas is one of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. It is as if the city wants to lodge them far back into its subconcious and avoid dealing with them properly. These images examine the places in which sexual industries (both legal and illegal) must go about their business and the marks left by them.
Joshua Holt, 2012
Come and Collaborate with Me! Edited by Cristina Cerulli, Tatjana Schneider and Adam Towle.
An excellent publication emerging from an MArch studio at the University of Sheffield, reflecting on the politics of the production of housing.