Shard Hacking – Challenging Surveillance Society?

You may have noticed that three thrill seekers recently slipped past (quite literally!) security scaled The Shard , posting pictures of themselves on the Place Hacking Blog – run by Bradley L. Garret. The three are members of the “London Consolidation Crew”, comprising of mainly middle class professionals, who have gained access to more than 300 locations in 7 countries over the last years.

Garret, from Los Angeles  has recently complete a PhD on ‘Urban Exploration’ (urban exploration being the process of researching, exploring and discovering temporary, obsolete and abandoned spaces in the built environment)  in which he charts the rise of an ‘urban exploration crew’ between the years 2008 -11. He took an active part in the group during this time, so this is a great example of a local researcher (presently living in Clapham) doing a form of participant observation.

Garret defends trespass in this video by pointing out that the actions are benign, but also alludes to the fact that there is a more political motive to the acts – which is clearer if you read his thesis (OK – I only skim read bits of it -Time!) in which he posits that

‘group are one of many who react to increasing surveillance and control over urban space by undertaking embodied interventions that undermine clean spatio/ temporal narratives. ‘

(In other words, the group dislike surveillance and so, in response to this, engage in a kind of subversive political action by ‘breaking into’ places they are not supposed to go into at odd times of the day (or night). )

As he says in the video – There are increasing amounts of public space where you just can’t go into, and increasing amounts of public spaces where its not clear if you can go there or not, or where its unclear what you are allowed to do. The actions of physical trespass push those boundaries and possibly challenge notions of what ‘freedom’ in the context of urban living means.

Garret also says the group are engaging with ‘history in the making’ in a creative way by trespassing and effectively hurting no one, while challenging our ideas of the boundaries of public and private, which is much better than what most people do – which is passively accept the status quo. These people are, after all, more active than the average citizen.

Finally – they also remind us that it’s impossible to secure large sites – as security guards aren’t machines – because they are fallible – suggesting, maybe, that the ‘man’ can be resisted.

Personally, however, and I think Garret and the others might well agree (I’m sure the question is up for debate) – I’m not sure how much this has really got to do with politics and challenging notions of citizenship – it is also about identity – and ‘the rush’ – and a great example of edgework – breaking the law to gain an emotional thrill and status (and possibly expressing your masculinity?) in a post-modern age – (would this have happened before social networking allowed the posting of pictures?).

As a final note, whether its about identity or politics or both, this is a pretty cool hobby, and if I were 20 years younger I’d be on the next train to London Bridge!

Some (minor bits) of this blog was cut and past from the links above 

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