European Journal of Archaeology

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					European Journal of Archaeology

    Special Reviews Section: Urban exploration as archaeological
engagement: a review of http://infiltration. org/ `the zine about places
 you're not supposed to go': `Take only photos, leave only footprints'
                      (Motto of
                               Tim Flohr Sørensen
                   European Journal of Archaeology 2007; 10; 89
                      DOI: 10.1177/14619571070100010508

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SPECIAL REVIEWS SECTION                                                                                            89

SHANKS, M. and R.H. MCGUIRE, 1996. The craft                         The website is divided into three main cat-
of archaeology. American Antiquity 61(1): 75–88.                 egories: theory, practice and resources. The
SHEPHERD, N., 2003. ‘When the hand that holds                    theoretical part concerns the ethics and princi-
the trowel is black …’. Disciplinary practices of                ples of exploring abandoned buildings: what
self-representation and the issue of ‘native’                    to do and what not to do, what is ethically
labour in archaeology. Journal of Social                         proper, and what dangers to take into account.
Archaeology 3(3):334–352.                                        The practice part is a great resource on
SWAIN, H. 1997. Mirroring reality? Images of                     deserted architecture and other abandoned
archaeologists. The Archaeologist 30: 16–17. Also                structures that have already been explored,
available at URL (accessed 14 April 2008):                       displaying photos and narratives of journeys                        into deserted hospitals, churches, hotels,
eset.html                                                        mines, boats, subway lines and stations. The
TRINGHAM, R., in press. Forgetting and remem-                    resources section offers news, a timeline of
bering the digital experience and digital data.                  exploration history, a dictionary of the
In D. Boric (ed.), Excavating Memories. Oxford:                  explorer’s lingo and links to other sites.
Oxbow Books.                                                     Through the latter, this kind of exploration
WITMORE, C.L., 2004. On multiple fields.                         assumes an almost global scale, which is
Between the material world and media: Two                        revealed by the numerous links to other
cases from the Peloponnesus, Greece.                             explorers’ websites, even though Africa, Asia
Archaeological Dialogues 11(2):133–164.                          and South America are scarcely represented. A
                                                                 few of the links to these other sites are particu-
                       Christopher L. Witmore                    larly recommendable: The Silent The Complete:
      Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the                Modern Ruins in Finland, Spuren der Industrie
                                  Ancient World                  and Modern Ruins – Photographic Essays. Each
                         Brown University, USA                   of these pages offers a very aesthetic glimpse
                                                                 into visiting ruined architecture, and also the
                                                                 particular adoration and fascination with des-
Urban exploration as                                             olate places.
                                                                     The practice of urban exploration may
archaeological engagement:
                                                                 sound like nothing more than an incitement
a review of http://infiltration.                                 towards vandalism, but even though urban
org/ – ‘the zine about places                                    exploration does indeed entail trespassing, it is
you’re not supposed to go’                                       not carried out with the aim of destroying. The
‘Take only photos, leave only footprints’                        case is quite the contrary; urban exploration is
(Motto of                                      actually practiced in order to experience that
                                                                 which has already been destroyed or fallen
The website is a site that                      into decay. Urban exploration is not vandalism
celebrates, encourages and instructs the explo-                  because:
ration of abandoned, condemned and ruined
architecture. Through photography and writ-
ten accounts, it offers several resources                             genuine urban explorers never vandal-
                                                                      ize, steal or damage anything – we don’t
through which the visitor may share experi-
                                                                      even litter. We’re in it for the thrill of
ences from other explorers’ visits to desolate                        discovery and a few nice pictures, and
places and find information on how to enter,                          probably have more respect for and
enjoy and behave in these abandoned struc-                            appreciation of our cities’ hidden spaces
tures. The kind of exploration portrayed at                           than most of the people who think is called ‘urban exploration’                        we’re naughty. We don’t harm the
and is a kind of trespassing into places that                         places we explore. We love the places
have been abandoned, dilapidated and ruined.                          we explore. (
In many respects, urban exploration bears
resemblance with archaeology in its search for                   Urban exploration disputes any authority’s
and investigation into the remains of the past                   claim of rights to access and restrictions on
and its inherent trespassing of abandoned                        entering condemned locales. In this way, urban
property in the course of investigating.                         explorers reappropriate architecture that has

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90                                                                   EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF ARCHAEOLOGY 10(1)

been abandoned. Urban exploration and infil-                   and more importantly ‘why this fascination?’. thus challenge both the normative,                 These questions are not answered directly at
bourgeois attitude to what architecture repre-        or any of the other related sites,
sents, culture historical notions of how ruins of              but remain lingering with the visitor of the
the past are supposed to be organized and                      sites and presumably also the visitor of the
experienced as well as canonized definitions                   desolate buildings.
and lists of cultural heritage sites.                              But what is this attraction to the desolate all
    Indeed, this is one of the intriguing aspects              about? Why look up the broken and desolated?
of urban exploration, since it questions what                  What is it that ruins do? Ruins have a long his-
the movement and presence in a desolated and                   tory of exercising an almost magical appeal on
ruined building does to the experience of archi-               human beings. In the West, artificial ruins were,
tecture, the transformation of architectonic                   for example, constructed in Italy in the sixteenth
locales and the place of architectural temporal-               century, and were later subject to veneration
ities. Hence, urban exploration is particularly                among the designers of the picturesque garden
interesting for archaeology, because urban                     movement in Britain in the eighteenth century
exploration thus represents a remarkable                       as well as the Romantic painters’ theme of the
hands-on approach to what may be termed a                      ruin. What may be a key to understanding the
quasi-academic study of a primary phenome-                     attraction to ruins is their very materiality (i.e.
nological field of enquiry, namely the bodily                  the perceived qualities of their material being).
encounter with the material world. Urban                       Recognizing the materiality of architecture – its
exploration assumes its location within this                   texture, transparency, spatiality, balance, sensu-
intellectual discourse through the detailed                    ous impact – necessitates an awareness of the
focus on the particularity of the places that are              shifting and changing character of architecture,
explored (i.e. the way they materialize as ruin                its becoming and dissolution. This reminds us
and desolation), and through acknowledging                     of the temporality and transience of not only the
that each building is unique by virtue of its                  world of the built environment, but the vanity
particular materiality. In this way it is not only             of our very own materiality, meaning that when
the ruins and desolated buildings that are at                  we enter ruins and face decay, we are in fact
stake, but the very bodily and experiential con-               confronting our own potential dissolution.
frontation with these places, and how the                          This is not just to be understood as the ordi-
materiality of ruin, desertion and decay works                 nary memento mori; ruins should rather be
on the human experience of places. Thus, the                   appreciated for their ability to stimulate fan-
website not only addresses the experience of                   tasy and a basic longing for authenticity; the
architecture or urban spaces, but the very                     experience of the unmediated, the raw, the
materiality of ruin, desolation and past.                      honest and the mythological presence and
    What is furthermore intriguing after read-                 immediacy of existence. At the same time, the
ing and viewing these websites on urban                        ruins allow us – unlike organic, bodily decay –
exploration is the careful and aesthetic docu-                 to arrest time and the passing of history, thus
mentation of the explorers’ experiences of                     creating a window for reflection and contem-
abandoned architecture. It soon becomes evi-                   plation, without the fear of being engulfed in
dent that urban exploration is not simply                      dissolution; the ruin represents a confrontation
about trespassing, which appears to be of                      with death and the passing of time by certain
minor interest when visiting most of the inter-                safety measures. We may witness the materiality
net sites. The urban explorers are much more                   of dissolution without the devastating conse-
concerned with the aesthetic experience of                     quence of bodily decay, because the architectural
ruins, abandonment and desolation, and most                    ruin is not simply waste, but is actually still
websites on urban exploration seem to repre-                   alive. There is a certain kind of life in the ruin,
sent the love of these places reflected in the                 and we may even here envision a turning back
aforementioned quotation. After visiting infil-                of time, whereby the ruin may be restored and numerous times and spending                        resuscitated. The ruins thus assume an inter-
hours of trawling through the mesmerizing                      mediary position between life and death. This
photos and accounts of broken and abandoned                    may allude to some of the enticing qualities of
buildings, a question crucial to urban explo-                  ruins, but apart from these aspects we also
ration emerges: ‘what makes a ruin a ruin?’                    need to appreciate its element of desolation: the

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SPECIAL REVIEWS SECTION                                                                                            91

void, the depopulated and derelict. These fac-                    of the physical world. At, the
tors provoke a curiosity and a glimpse into                       fascination with and adoration of the material-
what is lost and forgotten, creating an imagina-                  ity of the ruined and deserted achieves a
tion of a place in the world of one’s own in                      concrete celebration and so the website should
seclusion and entirely clandestine.                               be of particular interest to the students and
    The motto of is ‘Take only                   researchers of material culture and phenome-
photos, leave only footprints’, which is a call to                nology. [A list of websites mentioned in this
respect the ruined, to allow times to be arrested                 review is available from
and not to facilitate further dissolution of the
ruin. The webpage stimulates a critical apprecia-                                                 Tim Flohr Sørensen
tion of what materiality means, what it does and                                  Department of Prehistoric Archaeology
how it articulates the relentless metamorphosis                                         University of Aarhus, Denmark

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