Tour de Fence

By Simon Worthington, 10 May 2002

This summer, artist Heath Bunting is embarking on a project to cross all 28 borders within the EU. As he will be avoiding conventional checkpoints, this will involve a lot of unusual climbing activity. In late April, in the West Coast city of Bristol, a large group of urban climbers met for the prelude to this project: a weekend of what was initially referred to as ‘fence climbing.’

Fence climbing is a form of urban climbing whose better known practitioners scale Parisian monuments and are of a macho torso-flexing variety. Bristol’s contingent (a bunch of artists, culture phreakers, kids and others) made the focus very different, demonstrating commonality with subtly different Parisian traditions like the Situationist dérive. For the curious, the urban stroll functions simply through an enjoyment of the pleasures that the modern city throws up.

Where fence climbing adds to the dérive is in the feedback loops it creates between the sensually and intellectually unpicked culture of the streets. The culture phreakers’ intensely physical dérive is full of minute techniques and repetitive moves that are required to build up a ‘body memory’ of the city. Bridging, for example, is important in this palette as it involves re-combining discordant urban micro-elements for the purposes of a journey (scaling a high wall, a steel-spiked fence, a tree, the tightrope act of walking along a railing). Climbers’ opposition to urban control mechanisms quite obviously reside in their disregard for imposed boundaries and temporary reconfiguration of city systems. But it is also important to recognise that urban climbing purposefully resists the control exerted over people’s lives in the form of ‘leisure based’ recreational consumerism: there is no special equipment needed, there are no brands and no merchandise.

Simon Worthington <simon AT> is co-editor and publisher of Mute and is currently snorkling in Egypt

The West Coast urban climbers are planning some larger events later this year. For more information on these and the European borders project, see []