Infiltration 21-25

I am running out of ways to say that Ninjalicious and his ‘zine, Infiltration: The Zine About Going Places You’re Not Supposed to Go, were responsible for organizing Urban Exploration into a distinct subculture. I will limit myself this time to noting that Ninj in fact coined the term “urban exploration,” in the ‘zine’s first issue. Now, nine years’ worth of issues later, we have come to the end of Infiltration’s print run.

These last five issues span the timeframe of August 2003 to June of 2005, shortly before Ninjalicious’ death from cancer at age 31. The majority of the material covered is in Toronto, with the exception of the final issue, on “Military Leftovers.” These issues pack in a few more interesting character and intellectual revelations, and continue with a steady role for Liz, Ninjalicious’ wife.

 

Issue 21: The University of Toronto

Colleges have appeared in Infiltration before, mainly their underground networks of steam tunnels. Tunnels were Ninj’s original goal at the University of Toronto; but, as he puts it, “somewhere along the line I stopped thinking of buildings as routes to tunnels and started thinking of tunnels as routes to buildings.” The issue is mostly taken up by “An Explorer’s Guide to the University of Toronto,” where Ninjalicious explores the sprawling campus’s 250 buildings that have been built and absorbed over a century and a half of operation. The university showcases a variety of architectural styles and impressive buildings; at one point Ninj finds a student’s graffiti saying that “U OF T IS SOOO BEAUTIFUL!” He wonders, “Why don’t more institutions, planners, and architects strive to create buildings that inspire the people who use them every day to stop in the middle of what they’re doing and exclaim their amazement at the beauty of their surroundings?” This does come from a man who also appreciates a sublime sub-basement, but it ties into his overall architectural and urban philosophy.

Ninjalicious’ urban vision, glimpsed here, is expounded upon in an interview with philosophy professor Dylan Trigg. Trigg notes that he’s “not sure if urban explorers have the answers to the problems with cities, but I think urban explorers can help draw people’s attention to what’s good and bad in architecture and design. Certainly going exploring is a good way to get people intimate with places and thus start to care about them. Explorers really do seem to develop a stronger bond with their surroundings… I would like to do my part to help urban exploration move from being a merely benign social force to a positive social force.” Unlike many urban explorers, Ninjalicious was able to find this beauty in active buildings, not only abandoned ones.

To return from this digression, the other item in this issue is Liz’s article on “One Spadina Crescent,” a massive former seminary-cum-hospital that now serves as a decrepit office building on the grounds of the University. Other than this, Ninj’s exploration of the campus is extensive, and is discussed at such length that the issue required a smaller font size than the usual.

Issue 22: CAUGHT! #3

This issue is the most clearly reflective of the post-9/11 environment, as expressed by Ninj and Liz in an opening editorial that (for the first time) bears both their names. Explorers caught in this issue face more serious consequences than those featured in the previous roundups, including the story of one who is arrested. In this new paradigm, Ninj and Liz state that, on top of the importance of being more careful, explorers “should remain undeterred. Allowing the darkening threat of future terrorist attacks or indeed of our increasingly scarce civil rights to deter our curiosity or intimidate us away from expressing our deep appreciation for the hidden and neglected bits of our urban landscapes would be the greatest crime of all. Continuing to support and act out the ideas of free thinking, considerate exploration, and questioning of authority in productive, benevolent, and visible ways will allow us to represent ourselves as what we really are: people who love our cities, not those who wish to destroy them.” In a time of fear and uncertainty, Infiltration rose to the occasion with a defense of urban exploration and civil liberties. [0]

The stories in this caught issue are somewhat harrowing. Though Max Action manages an escape from some university steam tunnels, in another letter, “Darkness” he does get caught in the steam tunnels of Arizona State University, and his trespassing charges are advanced to burglary charges due to the possession of lockpicks. Jason Grant (who must be a professional photographer, because his pictures are splendid) was caught on the Otrada estate, near a Russian security headquarters. Ninj made an escape during a Toronto blackout after he and some students were caught exploring the University of Toronto. The Newfoundland Urban Exploration Society was caught at the ruins of Argentina Naval Base, and Urban Exploration Canada were caught draining but released (“Mr. Snee, Grable, and Static”). Mr. Sable and Agent Kaos were caught due to major errors in the Molson Brewery.

The contributor who did get charged was identified simply as “Adam,” a photographer who was arrested after taking pictures of an abandoned blast furnace in East Chicago, Indiana. He writes of overzealous police, eager to find a threat to neutralize. He is able to get out of the situation with the help of a lawyer. In Infiltration’s first note on the racial complexities of Urban Exploration, Adam notes that “life is easy being white, middle class, and well-connected. If I had been [another race], I’m sure that I would have had a much harder time with the police…I wish I’d gotten off because the charges were stupid, not because I had a good lawyer, money, and a pale complexion.” This word on white privilege would later be echoed by Ninjalicious in his book on urban exploration.

Issue 23: Toronto General Hospital

In his opening editorial (wrenchingly entitled “Dying Young”) Ninj says that building lifespans are shortening, and encourages architects and builders to “also think long” as well as thinking big. He calls for a return to “making buildings that will outlast us by centuries and get firmly woven into the DNA of our urban environments.”

This melancholic issue revolves around the demolition of the eponymous building, as Ninj methodically explores the hospital complex as it is emptied and torn down. Aside from a brief sidebar by Liz on accessing the cupola on the main building, this issue is once again entirely by Ninj. He began exploration of this building after an illness, and continued it after a life-saving operation (note that this hospital is different from St. Michael’s, discussed in the second issue of Infiltration). [1] He estimated that he had explored Toronto General over a hundred times; he had developed a strong emotional attachment to the location, “a second home…where I experienced some of the most intense moments of happiness, sadness, fear, and exhilaration of my life.”  As another indicator of how far his ‘zine had come by this point, Ninj and Liz are at one point caught by an employee who mentions Infiltration, escaping with assurances of a lack of association. He finishes with the exploration of a new headquarters for the “heartless, soulless enterprise posing as a scientific charity” replacing the hospital; finding a “sinister” cast to the for-profit medical research (clearly a veteran of socialized medicine). After a bit of exploring, he decides that he may eventually come to like the building, though he also “reminded myself not to get too close – after all, it’ll probably come down before I do.”

Issue 24: Stadia

This is the last issue to be published before Ninjalicious’ diagnosis. There would only be one subsequent issue, as he dedicated his time to finishing his “textbook” of UE: Access All Areas. The title may in fact come from an article in this issue, which is about the exploration of sports arenas. Liz writes the opening editorial, on how she filled Ninj’s blind spot when it came to this class of building. He had dismissed an interest in sports and the built environments thereof until Liz made the comparison that these buildings are the sites of many emotional highs and lows – similar to the connections that he and urban explorers feel toward certain buildings.

The Letters in this issue indicate that sneaking into sporting arenas has a rich history, though due more for reasons of economy than exploration. Ninj starts the issue speaking of “The Coliseum,” in Toronto. After several missteps, he and a friend infiltrate the building as it is flooded for a boat show, reminiscent of a Roman naumachia. Previous contributor Christopher D. Blickensderfer, in an article entitled “Access: All Areas,” tells of sneaking in to a concert at his college, creating a laminated badge bearing the eponymous clearance. “The Temple of Hockey” has Ninj discussing Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, one of the most beloved of stadiums (the renovation of which was also discussed in the context of changes to Toronto’s Union Station). The storied arena’s success is, ironically, what prompted this cash-in. Ninj had tried to enter the building for years as it was stripped down, succeeding after a tip-off by a friend working there on the filming of “The Cinderella Man.” Though he is unable to find a way into the tunnels, Ninj is able to get a good view from the extensive catwalks, and more power to him for handling the heights.

In yet another odd combination of UE disciplines, the next article is by an Adam Evans, and it is about how exploration of tunnels under an anonymous city led him and his friend into a venue hosting a Willie Nelson concert. They are gently escorted out after surfacing backstage. Ninj tours yet another Toronto venue in “The Digger at the Dome,” tracking down famed monster truck Grave Digger at the Toronto SkyDome. This is Ninj’s first time in the building during an event, though he has been through many times before. He failed to get into his original target, the cheap seats, but was able to make it on to the populated event floor to see the truck. This would be Ninjalicious’ final article. The issue is finished off by “Tux, Wotan, and Mokonax” of Urban Exploration Montreal, exploring the Montreal Hippodrome, a half-abandoned site.

Issue 25: Military Leftovers

Sites like these have been covered in prior issues, abandoned bunkers and missile silos. The introduction is the only piece by Ninj, and is co-authored by Liz. Ninjalicious was diagnosed with cancer in December of 2004, and this issue came out in June of 2005, only a couple of months before his death (the previous issue was from September of 2004). Military sites are interesting because of their secrecy and grandiosity; the editorial calls them “a souvenir of a political climate.” The first article is by Remingtonius, on “Griffiths Air Force Base,” a decommissioned base in upstate New York that is being turned into a “business and tech park.” The author explores the sprawling base’s bunkers and is able to bluff his way into the barracks where the flight crews would have been on-call in the event of a nuclear war. He closes the article with an homage to the impressive undertaking brought by the “military-industrial complex” in the name of national defense.

Next, in “A City Under One Roof,” “Freak” (who also wrote in one of the letters) travels to Whittier, Alaska, a former port town where the inhabitants all live in a single massive apartment complex. This complex was supposed to be ten buildings, but only two were constructed, one of which was abandoned. This building, which Freak explored, was heavily vandalized and lacking in furnishings. In “The Hospital in the Hills,” Burzum explores an abandoned naval hospital, which I believe is Oak Knoll in Oakland, California. He has spent a long time thoroughly exploring the massive hospital complex, but saved the main building for last. The building is totally trashed from having been stormed as part of the military’s Operation Urban Warrior training exercise in the mid-1990s; a post-Mogadishu effort to train the military to operate in settings from cyberpunk novels.

Next, in this densely-packed issue, is “Old South Pole Station,” a story of exploring a decommissioned Antarctic station. This is by laborer, ‘zinester, and Thomas Ligotti fan Nicholas Johnson, “Antarctica’s first great author,” plugging his book Big Dead Place. This article, which gives Infiltration claim to have covered the most remote continent, regards an off-limits, decommissioned south pole base, with dangerous conditions in the sub-zero temperatures. The issue, and the print run, is concluded with “Metz & the Maginot Line,” a summary of a century’s worth of abandoned forts in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France, by Jim Hollison, part of Minneapolis’ Action Squad.

 

Thus ends my rundown of Infiltration: The Zine About Going Places You’re Not Supposed to Go. Ninjalicious was the premier figure in urban exploration. He was its organizer, aggregator, and eloquent philosopher. His urban vision was an important one, and I (with my background of a couple of undergraduate urban studies classes) have barely scratched the surface analysing it. He appreciated the entire cityscape, and didn’t limit himself to abandoned buildings as many other urban explorers do. For example, in the interview with Dylan Trigg, above, Ninj expresses non-opposition to renovation of derelict buildings, as these can still serve the explorer and the entire city.

Access All Areas, his magnum opus, is a book that should well be read and taught, and I rely on his categorizations and summaries in my own intellectual inventory of urban exploration. The book continues with insights and advances, such as Ninj’s changed opinions toward souvenir-hunting. Though I am saddened by my conclusion of his printed work, I can take heart in his website’s vast archive of journal entries and other write-ups. Sometimes, like a ghost, he can still be encountered on forums, mediating on disparate issues, and still appearing in news stories today. The day before this post went up, someone buildered Trump Tower, and I regretted I couldn’t read Ninj’s take on it.

Infiltration came about in a perfect epoch: it was early enough that it filled a niche that would later be more easily filled by blogs and websites, but modern enough to be able to use the internet to spread the gospel of urban exploration. It predates 9/11, providing a snapshot of an era where the citizen had much more freedom of movement, and being caught didn’t carry such a heavy price. I benefited greatly from reading Jeff Chapman’s work, and the world is a poorer place without him.

[0] This is in contrast to other UE groups and publications, such as Jinx, the “magazine of Worldwide Urban Adventure,” which “ceased its unlawful trespassing activities for the duration of the present period of war and heightened alert in the United States” out of a desire to avoid “the hazard of false alarms.”

[1] In an article in the journal Space and Culture, “Illness as Metonym,” Gary Genosko discusses Ninjalicious’ hospital explorations as his “entirely original contribution to real-world hacking,” and the hospital as “an ur-site for exploration and an original rethinking of the city.” He says that “the figure of Chapman with his IV pole, dressed in his gown, softly padding through the bright corridors toward the dusty closed wings and dank service corridors, [is] a potent crossing point for intersecting realities…it is the urban explorer, purveyor of refined misdemeanors, through whom the flaneur’s truth lives.”

[0] This is in contrast to other UE groups and publications, such as Jinx, the “magazine of Worldwide Urban Adventure,” which “ceased its unlawful trespassing activities for the duration of the present period of war and heightened alert in the United States” out of a desire to avoid “the hazard of false alarms.”

[1] In an article in the journal Space and Culture, “Illness as Metonym,” Gary Genosko discusses Ninjalicious’ hospital explorations as his “entirely original contribution to real-world hacking,” and the hospital as “an ur-site for exploration and an original rethinking of the city.” He says that “the figure of Chapman with his IV pole, dressed in his gown, softly padding through the bright corridors toward the dusty closed wings and dank service corridors, [is] a potent crossing point for intersecting realities…it is the urban explorer, purveyor of refined misdemeanors, through whom the flaneur’s truth lives.”