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The aesthetics of trespass : the art and practice of urban exploration in the postmodern metropolis Hale, Lisa Anne


Urban exploration (UE) seeks to discover, explore and document the hidden, abandoned and restricted sites in the postmodern metropolis that the majority of urban citizens never see. Urban explorers take as their mission the infiltration of sites such as abandoned factories, closed asylums, drainage systems, old subway tunnels, catacombs, and other facets of the urban landscape. Members of the UE community maintain a stringent code of ethics that aims to change nothing and leave no traces in the sites they visit. Urban explorers do not forcibly enter sites, vandalize, cause damage or remove objects during the course of their explorations. While recent mainstream media and popular culture representations of urban exploration have focused on the practice as a form of adrenalinebased "extreme sport", this work seeks to highlight the overlooked and highly sophisticated ways in which proponents of UE reimagine the city. In a landscape littered with the broken remnants of the industrial era, urban explorers are often the only ones to investigate the ruins of (post)modernity with a sense of respect and awe. Their photographs, art and written representations of their travel through the ruined landscape serve as aide-memoires and lasting documents of the places left to decay in the shadow of North American and Western European consumer culture. I argue that urban explorers act as postmodern artist-intellectuals in the tradition of Walter Benjamin and Georg Simmel, two sociologists who I consider to be urban explorers avant la lettre. I use the themes of fliinerie, urban archaeology and bricolage to discuss how the acts of observing, documenting and creating undertaken by urban explorers constitute an alternative mode of perception and way of knowing the postmodern metropolis.

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