There’s been somewhat of a feeding frenzy in the media today regarding the infiltration of the Shard by Bradley Garrett and others. Bradley posted the images of his climb to the top of Europe’s new tallest building on his blog and soon after, the media caught wind of them and used them to fill out their bilious pages with striking images that no photographer working for any paper would be able to achieve ever. The media coverage of this event has been, for me, unsurprising given the enormity of what Bradley’s actions do to the collective psyche of the public writ large. Whatever people feel about his actions (I happen to think they should be highly commended and applauded), the infiltration of the Shard is a philosophical Event par excellence. Let me explain why (warning – philosophical ramblings ahead).
An Event, according to Deleuze, is the becoming (-one) of (unlimited) becoming. In other words, an event revels (or perhaps presupposes) the imminence of rhizomatic multiplicities emanating from the One (or the void, as Badiou would counter-argue). The One, being that which is not becoming, that which is given. With regard to urban subversions, ‘events’ (in a Deleuzian sense) could be construed to happen all the time as they are instigators of rhizomic urban subcultural practices (this is in fact, the subject matter of a forthcoming paper, but more of that in due course). Bradley, upon entering into the Shard created an evental site, a spacing and timing to an entirely new rhizomatic process (through the decalcomania principle). In so doing, he has fused the multiplicities of urban exploration as a subcultural activity with the media, the Shard itself and the security protocols of London plc.
It is similar to perhaps the ‘best’ urban subversive practice of all-time, when Phillipe Petit performed a tightrope walk between the Twin Towers in 1974 (documented in the quite superb film, Man on Wire). Similar, not in acrobatic excellence, I think even Bradley will concede to Phillipe on that one, but in its exposition of the vulnerability to ‘private’ urban spaces. The relative ease (and I say that with good authority) at which this kind of urban activism can be achieved shatters the illusion that these kinds of spaces are citadels of capitalism to be revered and used in a uni-functional manner. The urban environment is only (at least it should only be) a platform for experimentation for creativity. Most incidents of urban subversion play upon existing themes, fractalising subcultures into new and more nuanced activities (parkour with ladders, train surfing etc). They are extending the rhizomes of urban creativity to fuse subcultures with new ideas and new urban areas (be they public spaces or off-limit restricted areas). The infiltration of the Shard is still urban exploration, but its event-ness stems from its exposition of the raw multiplicities of that subculture into becoming One. As such, it has shattered the arboreal understanding of urbanity (the us and them) and collided previously ontologically separate processes.
It is however, only momentary. Upon ‘completion’ of the event, the arbore reconstitutes, the lines of flight begin. We see this happening already with critiques of Bradley’s efforts as reckless, madness etc. The media coverage, and its laughable inability to consider the urban politics of such an event recreates the divisions and consciousness around it as a ‘security incident’ or ‘prank’ – the future emulates the past. And the press releases by the Health and Safety campaigners and the corporations that own the building only serve to tell you once more about the way in which urban officialdom striates, privatizes and congeals urban space/place. But the event’s present is neither past nor future – it is pure multiplicity. And for that reason alone, in my opinion at least, Bradley’s actions have redefined urban studies for the better.