Infiltration 16-20

This run of Infiltration: the zine about going places you’re not supposed to go, covers several diverse subjects. The five issues in question, published between August of 2000 and March of 2003, cover a second round of “caught stories”; a distinct genre of urban exploration; coverage of a certain type of building, a gazetteer of UE opportunities in a specific city; and an introspective update on the effects that Infiltration has had on exploring and security in several of the locations it has covered. This run is brought to you by Ninjalicious (Jeff Chapman), the explorer and writer who used this zine to cohere urban exploration into a distinctive discipline. Increasingly, these zines showcase the Infiltration apparatus running as a well-oiled machine, and an increased role for Liz Clayton, Ninj’s wife and fellow explorer.

 

Issue Sixteen: CAUGHT!

 

Infiltration’s August of 2000 issue, is another collection of stories sent in by urban explorers detailing times they were caught while exploring. This is the second such issue, already in the works after the strong response to the first (the tenth issue, published two years earlier). Ninj opens this issue by noting that everyone within it, including himself, was caught because of a mistake that they made. For some it was irresponsibility (perhaps involving alcohol), for some it was theft, for some it was post-hoc publicizing.

The most interesting individual contribution is only signed as “Dark Passage.” This is an urban exploring effort masterminded by eventually-identified Julia Solis. In this issue, she shares her tales of being caught leading groups under Grand Central Station in NYC, searching for FDR’s apocryphal secret train tunnel, and leading a group of explorers into the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. Dark Passage will appear again shortly.

Other contributions are from some of Ninj’s recurring Toronto friends; one of which is interesting because (as alluded to above) the explorer, Devestator, was tracked by the authorities based on his UE website, which was then taken down. The issue is capped off by the first contribution from Liz under her own name, a brief piece on a reprimand for sitting on a retaining wall at her workplace. This wall was subsequently retrofitted so that pedestrians aren’t able to sit on it; leading to Liz’s musing about the unfriendliness of public spaces. The entire episode is a slice-of-life observation of defensive architecture, and it didn’t even take place in Los Angeles.

 

Issue Seventeen: Buildering

 

There is a sixteen month gap before the next issue comes out; the seventeenth issue, on Buildering, and appears only a few months after 9/11. Buildering is the process of climbing the exterior of buildings. Ninj, who usually would “prefer to get to the tops of buildings from the inside,” has his first experience summiting [0] a mall with a stranger named Daniel T., who later writes in with a letter about being caught climbing a bridge. In fact, this bridge is the Bloor Street Viaduct in Toronto, and Dan states that the choice was inspired by Ninj’s previous discussions of subway exploration. This is a crossover of two UE topics that I would not have expected to mix.

The other letter is the story of climbing the saucer-shaped abandoned towners in NYC’s Flushing Meadows Park, lead by “Alpha” of the “IMF Photo Team.” [1]

Several of the buildering stories put on the map countries that Infiltration hasn’t visited yet. Peter Hassall makes a climb of the Hotel International in Auckland, New Zealand in “Getting High on the Big I.” Liz interviews Greenpeace’s Steven Guilbeault in “The Bottom of the Hamburger,” who climbed Toronto’s CN Tower to hang an anti-Bush banner. This is Greenpeace’s second appearance in a connection between their direct actions and urban exploration. They are, after all, going places they’re not supposed to go. Petr Kazil writes in from Rotterdam on famed builderer Jan van der Meulen’s climb of an apartment building. These stories all share some commonalities: no matter how experienced the builderer is, extensive training and preparation is necessary to their ascent, sometimes with mountaineering equipment. Guilbeault is an experienced industrial climber, who has taken Greenpeace training in this field. All hurry their initial ascent, to get beyond ladder range of those who would want to stop them (often starting before dawn). The police react calmly, and even treat the event as a spectacle, as soon as they know that the climber is not intending to jump. A short news documentary regarding Mr. Van der Meulen notes the fun and professionalism of buildering, and not the spectacle or the adrenaline rush. I’m sure Ninj appreciated this angle.

The issue concludes with another interview by Liz, with Julia of Dark Passage. In “Create Your Own Fun,” Julia tells of her activities organizing group urban explorations. Most of these groups are small, made of people whose “healthy dose of responsibility doesn’t infringe on their excitement.” Sometimes there are larger, more elaborate events, but these are more controlled and scripted. Julia speaks of how she doesn’t feel responsible for any accidents that occur, as her explorers are responsible for themselves and know the risks. She does, however, take responsibility for how those accidents are dealt with. These events need to be planned carefully. Liz asks Julia if she has ever been hampered in organizing or leading these events because of any disrespect shown to her as a woman, to which her response is “Hell no. no one has to follow my directions. They’ll just have to play a different game.”

It isn’t mentioned in her interview, but on her old website, Julia mentions that Dark Passage came about in 1998 as a continuation of the San Francisco Suicide Club, organizing clandestine scavenger hunts and other such events. Dark Passage isn’t active any more, but Solis does photographic work still, including of abandoned sites.

 

Issue Eighteen: “What Hath We Wrought?”

 

The eighteenth issue is a unique and atypical issue of Infiltration. Entitled “What Hath We Wrought?” it investigates changes (mainly to security procedures) in locations that Infiltration has previously profiled. Ninj notes that he has been criticized since the beginning for revealing gaps in security that could be plugged, to the detriment of explorers. However, he sticks to his guns, citing the hacker ethos as expressed in the magazine 2600 that “information wants to be free.” This mirrors the very first issue of Infiltration, in which Ninj cites the same magazine for inspiring the “‘freedom to look around’ ethic.” NInj did not think it was up to him to decide who was allowed to access sites, viewing urban exploration as being about the joy of discovery, not selfishly collecting sites and experiences.

There is a letter section, which turns into an impromptu discussion of exploring with one’s father at his workplace; but the rest of the issue is structured differently from a normal issue. Each page updates information on a location from an earlier issue, covering any changes in security protocol that may have taken place. In a few instances, this change is beneficial to explorers: the Hudson Bay Centre, the new subway line, and Union Station are undergoing construction, and thus have weakened security. In other cases, however, security has been beefed up, with multiple security chiefs explicitly citing Infiltration as the reason for this in interviews with local magazines. When speaking on the Lawrence (subway) Station “attic” that is no longer accessible, Ninj admits that “there’s not much question that Infiltration has spoiled some TTC sites.” It is nice to visit many of these sites again, and the entire issue is an introspective retrospective of how far Infiltration had come in eight years.

 

Issue Nineteen: Places of Worship

 

The eighteenth issue details the exploration of churches and other religious buildings. Ninj unloads his case for exploring churches:

If you like the idea of exploring ancient, gigantic, semi-abandoned castle fortresses lit only by dimming sunlight filtering through stained-glass windows as you hide from nuns and priests, search for secret crypts and scale unlit bell towers heavenward amid the sound of dramatic choral music, you may want to check out churches.

Ninj views churches as an alternative to abandoned buildings, as they are “just as photogenic and forgotten” and “don’t even show up on skylines, physically or mentally;” yet have enough of a lingering semiotic presence that they need not fear the bulldozer. Furthermore, churches are open to the public during most hours, and are full of enough curios and architectural oddities to entertain an infiltrator.

NInjalicious, for all his countercultural tendencies, is not as hostile to organized religion as I might expect. He is his usual irreverent and playful self, but he expresses gratitude for churches, ranking “among the last remaining places on Earth where visitors are made to feel welcome even if they aren’t there to spend money.” He relates how when he lived in Pickering, he would often take refuge in (and explore) the local church when he had been locked out of his house. In the main feature, “Houses of the Holy,” he and Liz take advantage of community holidays like World Youth Day and Doors Open Toronto to enter the city’s churches, providing the issue with the typical rundown (this time as stories more than a how-to).

Prior to this, the story has a letter from Jonathan Gennick, a church deacon who previously appeared in the first “Caught!” issue, discovers a mysterious room in the upper levels of his church. “On Saint-Eusache Cathedral” is contributed by Le Duc, a resident of Paris. In somewhat stilted English, he relates his past exploring catacombs and Roman ruins in France, and his journey to the top of the cathedral in question. The pictures are of much higher quality than those usually snapped by urban explorers.

Back to Ninjalicious, who on World Youth Day takes a tau cross of St. Francis of Assisi, whom he celebrates as “a cool guy who ignored civil jurisdiction and explored abandoned churches.” Many of the churches discussed are in the process of either transitioning to community centers or are only in barebones use, but Ninj does receive several harrowing reminders that they are still occupied and functioning on at least some level. He often aims for the highest and the lowest point of the church: the belfry, and the crypt. There isn’t much luck finding crypts, but he does join a group of professional bell-ringers in one belfry. At the close, he notes the sad decline of churches, as they “still fill valuable social functions that shouldn’t be turned over to the state.” Some will carry on, “while others will fall abandoned and linger as romantic reminders of a past when people built monuments to something other than commerce.” The issue is closed with a brief piece by Jim Munroe; “Seeking Justice in Bangkok” is a brief and surreal piece about entering Wat Po, a Buddhist Temple. However, it is Ninjalicious’ perspective on churches that drives the issue, as he delves into a fresh urban exploration topic.

 

Issue Twenty: St. Paul & Minneapolis

 

The twentieth issue devotes itself to a specific geographic location, in this case larger than a single building or complex. The “Twin Cities Spectacular” issue tackles the well-organized urban exploring scene in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area. This area is a geographic hotspot for UE, which Ninj attributes to the cold temperatures (thus removing the option for beaches and parks) and to the soft underlying rock that has allowed a great deal of tunneling and natural cave formation.

Ninj viewed the explorers of the area as some of the culture’s elite; and one of the Twin Cities area’s most prolific urban explorers at the time was Max Action, and his group the Action Squad. The issue starts with Liz interviewing Max Action, who started the squad on a college campus in 1996. It is mostly a group of those he knew socially, and they started at a young age. More formalization came later, and on his site, Max attributes the discovery of Infiltration for his desire to catalogue his journeys (which the site does in exhaustive detail). This publicizing would later lead, as Liz asks him about, to accusations that his site displays information to vandals and other undesirables who access his targets; but Max dismisses this concern in the interview, saying that the main thrill “is the initial exploration of it, seeing it for the first time, and not knowing what the heck might be around the next corner.” He doesn’t like to hoard sites,or return repeatedly. This lines up well with Ninjalicious’ approach, as discussed in the eighteenth issue. He also shares Ninj’s assessment that the environment (such as in this region) can help create explorers, but that exposure to the culture of UE also helps, especially with the ease of the internet.

Most of the contributions to this issue are from the Action Squad circle. Dan Dockery, who bills himself as “Danarchy” (and who took many of the team’s published pictures), adds an article about searching for caves under the partially-demolished “Hamm’s Brewery.” Max Action himself writes about “The Legend of the Labyrinth,” his pursuit of a rumored “maze” of tunnels under downtown St. Paul that took him through the back alleys of history and folklore before stumbling upon a lead at a punk show. After methodical searching, the entrance is located, and what is discovered are seven distinct, interconnected tunnel systems.

The story is elaborated upon at length by Jim Hollison, chief cartographer of the system. The seven different tunnels are indeed differentiated by their architecture and their use. The most interesting aspect may be the relation of the tunnels to the street above: street signs are provided at tunnel intersections, to aid utility workers in navigation. However, the street layout of St. Paul has changed over the years, and in many cases the tunnels conform to an outdated pattern. These ghosts of the old streets have fascinating potential for contemporary archaeologists, but does lead to a very confusing map.

In Infiltration issue 11, on storm drains, note was made of Peter Sand’s harrowing journey to find a major cave underneath Minneapolis. An update on this search is provided in “The Old Bank Cave” by Greg Brick, naming the cave after the building above, a bank-turned-nightclub.  Municipal officials have known about the cave for a century, but the location isn’t advertised. The only way to enter is through a sewer system; a trek upstream being necessary after a failed downstream effort. Peter Sand was able to successfully complete one route, but was traumatized enough by the experience that he had no interest in further expeditions. Brick was able to access the cave (at the expense of a violent illness) and observes a changed atmosphere, different flora and fauna from a survey in 1983.

This issue is a successful collaboration, the Action Squad was at this point one of the best-known exploring groups. As Ninjalicious had grown Infiltration’s circle of influence, one could say that he had also grown its staff: Liz has by this point taken over several duties, including administration of subscriptions (as stated in the ads for back-issues), writing articles, conducting interviews, and of course as an exploring partner. She was clearly very important to the publication at this point, and continues to add to her portfolio for the remainder of the zine’s run.

 

Infiltration innovated constantly, and never fell into a formula or a rut, as shown by issues such as “What Hath We Wrought?” It is no surprise that this was the zine to found the urban exploration community. It was willing to go the distance to ask and answer the tough questions on issues such as publication of “trade secrets,” while also continually producing high-quality and unexpected content. The zine’s occasional dead-end can be interesting as well: as mentioned in the first column on it, there were three “Scheduled Infiltrations” that never came to pass. This issue group advertised the latter two: one was on “Secret Societies,” for which I have to assume there just wasn’t much content available; the other was “Home Sweet Home,” on “the joy, and practice value, of ultra-low-risk exploration in and around one’s home.” This leads to an interesting observation on Ninjalicious’ urban vision: residences are very infrequently mentioned and are never the subject of urban exploration. The urban explorer may view the city as his or her playground, but this aborted issue is the only mention of the explorer’s own sanctuary. Ninjalicious’ view of cities is fascinating to dissect and the driving force behind what makes Infiltration a fascinating read.

[0] One will note the use of mountaineering terms while discussing buildering. The term buildering itself is in fact (as Wikipedia tells us) a portmanteau of the word “building” and the climbing term “bouldering,” which is rock-climbing without ropes and harnesses.

[1] My gutter archaeology has traced this to David Steinberg, who wrote a guidebook to abandoned-site hiking in the NYC area. He informed me that the IMF were the Impossible Mission Fotographers, and that more of their work appears in the Abandoned Mines forum on abandonedmines.net