Tom McCarthy responds to Joy Gerrard's work


Contingency Plan

1. Model

It was decided that a model should be made. Delegates were assembled and the project was discussed. The issue of location arose straight away. The Delegate from the Geographical Society asked whether, since the model both comprised the city and formed part of it, it should not be represented as a miniature within itself. To other delegates' objections that this would create inconsistencies in terms of scale (unless the model was enormous, it would not show up at the size on which it was itself being planned), he countered that the point at which recording was being made demanded a special and exceptional status, an isolated scale all of its own. The Advanced Physics and Mathematics delegates, though, warned that to do this would risk creating a zone of such density that it could collapse the model space around it, burn through its fabric, crumpling the very planes that held it all in place.

Along what vectors, what lines of association should the model be configured? Building layout seemed an obvious choice but was rejected at an early stage for being too literal. Other criteria included corridors of transit, clusters of business, residency, race, crime, sickness and the incidence of dog-bites. After considering these, the Conference moved on to ponder the benefits of modelling the city according not to what was in it but rather to what it ejected: its waste, effluvia, emissions, broadcast output and outgoing mail, sentences spoken down long-distance phone lines or plans of emigration. Another option mooted was that it might be better mapped in terms of the things it had accumulated: storm and flood damage, soot and tar deposits, tyre marks, chewing gum patches and nameless sediment that, being as mixed as the air the city's population breathed, no longer betrayed any traces of its origins.

Out of what, or on what surface, should the model be built? Some argued for a three-dimensional structure, others for two. A prominent oncologist proposed the use of skin both animal and human, pointing to long-standing links between cartography and the practise of tattooing, particularly among the peoples of Polynesia and Melanesia. He went as far as to suggest that living tissues could be used. These, he pointed out, change as they grow old; ones afflicted by diseases such as cancer mutate at impressive rates. Might not advantages be gained from studying shifting cell-clusters or the striations of melanoma? This, though, begged the question: what would such a map or model represent? Would it still correspond to some aspect of the city, or would it rather point to another process, history or possibility as yet unidentified?

After three days the Conference was adjourned and a Steering Committee set up to investigate these issues further.

 

2. Crowd

Trickling gathering assembling massing pulsing swelling doubling stirring moving advancing darkening approaching surging arriving encircling threatening marauding swarming skirmishing charging storming attacking rioting raiding plundering invading ravaging pillaging peaking tiring turning withdrawing retreating thinning dispersing scattering dying.

 

3. Why Trash Television is Really Good

We've all seen them, late at night: the real life police chases captured on camera. Some kids have stolen a car and the cops are pursuing them by land and air. The camera mounted in the police car has an index measuring the time and marking the speed at which the chase is being conducted. The helicopter camera has a cross-hatch overlay which places the ground action within map co-ordinates. Inside the helicopter the pilots send and receive messages as their commanders consider the best way of bringing the perpetrators to a halt. These inside shots were not recorded at the time of the event: they are re-enacted later and cut in with the original footage. Also recorded later are the pilots' and police drivers' recollections: how they were concerned for the kids, for other motorists, pedestrians, themselves. These comments form a sort of chorus, a Greek parabasis. The perspective cuts from ground to air, constructed past to equally-constructed present. Also implied is a future in which more kids, inspired by the drama, enter it by stealing a car for themselves, re-triggering the chain of events whose script they know by heart.

The ending is always the same: the car loses a wheel and crashes; the kids run out, jump across a fence or slide down an embankment and are swiftly apprehended by the police. When these last sequences take place in darkness we see them in night-vision mode, with bodies, filmed from above, glowing metallic white. Perhaps this is how the gods see us: as X-rays, moving in a grid.

 

4. Crowd (1)

Stumbling lurching pleading waiting.

 

5. X Marks the Spot

From 'Scene of the Crime' by Ralph Rugoff: 'As we enter the terrain of the crime scene, we enter a world in which meaning seems overwhelming in its presence yet strangely insubstantial. Something has happened here that we cannot quite grasp or understand. In our minds such a space seems a kind of anti-space, a space of negativity which is extraneous to the ordered space of everyday life. This anti-space is haunted. It is as though an alien had landed here and left a weird message for us to decode, challenging us to make sense of things that seem odd and out of place, that usher us into a world in which evil has bubbled up to the surface.'

From Mad Magazine, circa 1981: cartoon showing the briefing room of a police station on whose walls hangs a large map of the city. The sergeant is pointing to a large round-headed pin stuck into the map, telling his officers: 'We've just learnt that Scarface Gambucci is holed up right here, at the corner of East and Main.' Second frame shows squad cars drawn up, sirens blaring, at East and Main corner, pointing guns up at a giant pin from behind a window in whose round head Gambucci peers out scowling.

 

6. Evacuation

All personnel in Tower One should leave by the West staircase and assemble in the courtyard area. All those in Tower Two should leave by the North staircase and assemble in the courtyard area. Personnel in Towers Three through Six should leave using all staircases and assemble in the courtyard area. Those in low outlying buildings should leave using all available exits and make their way into the courtyard area. All those in the courtyard area should remain there. Do not take any personal belongings with you. Do not use the lifts. Once gathered in the courtyard, personnel should assemble as closely as possible to the area's centre. Once head counts have been taken, personnel may proceed, in double-file, out of the courtyard, away from the buildings. Do not run. Do not look back.

 

7. Skies over Dresden

How the red light bounces back down off the clouds and flickers on the instrument panel. It's like I'm wading through a lake of blood. I may as well go on.


 

 

Tom McCarthy is a writer. See;
www.surplusmatter.com
www.themanbookerprize.com