This patch of wasteland, located off the westerly end of Southampton Way, Camberwell, measures roughly one quarter of an acre. It has no direct access-points; no way in and no way out, other than by scaling the fences or going under the ground. It does not appear to have had any use for rather a long time – the time of disuse measurable by the advancement of decay and overgrowth. I am only able to see it from the balcony of an abandoned house which adjoins it at the rear, and as far as I can tell, this is the only vantage-point from which you are able to tell that it even exists. In the westernmost corner is a ruined brick building – too small for a house – propped up by oak beams to prevent its utter collapse. A large quantity of garbage has been tossed over the outer walls, making this a haven for vermin of all kinds. A corpse is barely visible at the far-eastern corner.
I take two photographs of the wasteland, (or more properly, The Wilderness,) to record how it changes – if it changes – at the beginning and the end of one week. If I can study the passing of time in this wasteland which is excluded from direct human contact, this blind-spot to the city, this terrain vague, I hope to see the spatial mechanisms underlying the degradation and nihilism of the populace.
1: July 16th
The initial photograph and referent to the final one cannot provide any surprises, inasmuch as it constitutes the first view of a space and its contents; it is a mapping, a topography, a set of references and coordinates. Only when I return next Friday will any change reveal itself. The red arrows point at the derelict building/outhouse on the left, and the foot of the human corpse on the right. Note the window in the warehouse on the upper-left is begrimed with soot and provides no perspective of the wasteland – the balcony I have reached on the south side is the only accessible vantage.
It seems obvious to say, but much of what can be seen in this terrain is due to the lack of human presence. Prime land in the city such as this rarely remains fallow for long before developers move in, but this area appears to have been unused for quite some time. The hastily-erected fences constructed from corrugated iron suggest either an effort to retain the integrity of the borders of this territory, or a defensive measure to contain something hostile – at any rate, the builders of these fences, whether through negligence or on purpose, have not built any way in or out of it. It is land-locked, so to speak. Closed-off. This may have simply been a gross oversight – like building a house without a door – or it might be evidence of a last-ditch struggle to hold something within its confines.
It is possible that there are a large number – perhaps a growing number – of such wildernesses springing up all over the city, only you can’t see them due to perimeter barricading which makes them disappear off the map. Unless a survey was conducted from the air to document the area of useful land that has been left for waste, we would have no way of knowing just how much of London has been eroded in this way, and at this stage of social decline I can hardly imagine any governing body having the necessary energy or time to carry out such a survey. There are always plenty of helicopters in the sky though, (two can be seen at the top of the image,) but these seem to be engaged in some kind of search for something – probably fugitives. Unless they’re searching for themselves. I mean, actually searching for themselves. But that seems improbably to say the least; from my observations it appears that the helicopters tend to hover like flies over the corpses strewn throughout the disused areas further north from here towards the river; those areas that became fallow many weeks ago.
I depart, ready to return in a week to take the next photograph.
2: July 23rd
As you can see, nothing has changed. You could be forgiven for thinking that this was exactly the same photograph as the previous one, except that it isn’t. Mounting my camera on the tripod I left on the balcony, (so as to get exactly the same angle on the wasteland as I did last week,) I find myself looking into exactly the same scene; nothing has changed – not even the light has changed. The two helicopters are stuck in the sky, unable to get out of the picture. The undergrowth, which is usually fast-growing at this time of the year, has not grown a bit. Nothing has changed at all, rather everything seems to be stuck in a state of suspended animation, frozen-off from the rest of the city. The outhouse is no nearer to collapse, and the corpse has not deteriorated, even under the incredible heat of the noonday sun which seems to be hotter and closer than it ever used to be. If this wasteland were to be a cancerous invasion of sorts and local residents had worked to stem its growth before it infected their homes, the effort seems to have failed, however. The houses in the vicinity are empty, too. A process of de-gentrification is in progress, the area becoming less and less desirable, no longer up-and-coming as it once was, but down and out to the point of zero-value. But the question is, whether this is the result of the patch of wasteland infecting the area, or the area devaluing itself and creating the patch of wasteland. But it is impossible to know such things from only a pair of identical photographs.
CADE, Untitled diary fragment #703 [summer 2013]
view entire project here