In support of the occupation of Potters Fields today, here are some luridly treated photographs of another POPS (Privately Owned Public Space, an oxymoron if ever I). I had been meaning anyway to post these photos, which I took throughout 2015 while cycling into town through the ‘Knowledge Quarter’ – the privately developed ‘public space’ around the faux-rural ‘Granary Sq.’, behind Kings Cross – as an accompaniment to a sequence called Colin Clout in the Knowledge Quarter: a Shepherd’s Calendar (The sequence can be read, the first 3/4 in E-Ratio, and the final three stanzas with some of the pictures, in Blackbox Manifold).
It seems that I may have been fortunate to have taken so many pictures, anyway. The organiser of the mass trespass event in Potters Fields, Bradley L. Garrett, wrote in The Guardian about the restrictions on photography (I was presumably aided by having a beaten-up little phone with a crappy camera, rather than a full-blown SLR and tripod):
‘The new King’s Cross development at Granary Square is one of the largest open-air spaces in Europe – about the same size as Trafalgar Square. Unlike Trafalgar Square, it is also a Pops. Photographer Nicholas Goodden set up a tripod there recently to take a photo, and was immediately asked by security whether he had a permit to do so. When he said he did not, he was ordered to move across the canal to get his image. In other words, he was kicked out of “public” space.’ (Bradley L. Garrett, ‘The Privatisation of Cities’ Public Space is Escalating. It’s Time to Take a Stand.’ The Guardian, Cities, 4 August 2015).
I guess as well that maybe partly because the area was in construction throughout winter 2014/spring and summer 2015, roughly the time I was taking pictures, it was easier to gets more informal snaps, including of the construction workers and site security (if you look hard at the third picture down in the right-hand column below, you can see at bottom left the illuminated outline of a security guard’s legs, leaning in a state of understandable ennui against a lamp post), who were intermingling with the first consumers of the space – largely art students from the relocated St. Martins with some tourists who had strayed north of Bloomsbury – in intriguing ways. Of course the main kind of pleasure permitted is to buy something from one of the quaint huts vending varieties of ‘street food’, about which the less said.
What I was interested in anyway in writing the sequence was the speed of change as much as anything (obviously determined by a general ambiance of capital and takeover), but mapping the engine of gentrification, exclusively expensive dwelling and circumscribed ‘recreation’ against more entrenched seasonal measurements of time and change, seen through the traditional lens of the shepherd’s calendar. Perhaps now I wish I had focused more directly on the issue of public / private space, but it seemed then that a full-frontal approach would be less interesting in poetic terms than something more oblique.
Another aspect of a whole area of a city under construction is the proliferation of forbidden doorways and all kinds of provisional walls with temporary points of entry and exit. The walls, signage and other details in the Knowledge Quarter are designed to fit with the generally pastoral toponymic vibe, being painted with creepily infantilising repeated leaf patterns; those near the canal are daubed with inanely grinning fish. I had just returned from a second visit to the Alhambra, so I saw these formal repetitions in a non-figurative, Moorish way. Maybe the juxtaposition of the two, the sublime and the rapaciously banal, amounts to satire.
The pastoral is a perversely accurate way of seeing such a thoroughly urban space, because it forces you to recognise the absence of ‘nature’ in its hypertrophied representation. Even the non-synthetic elements of the non-human world – the neat lawns, the carefully planted crescent of spring crocuses, still a seasonal marker though increasingly confused about when to flower in a warming isle – are managed for polite spectation, but don’t even think about sitting on the grass.