#1 The Night Climbers Of Cambridge

Art & Culture

Ivan Smagghe is one of our favourite DJs. Conor Donlon runs one of our favourite bookshops. When the two suggested they start a new column, with Conor selecting a tome from Donlon Book's remarkable catalogue of art, philosophy, culture, music and esoteric knowledge, and Ivan waxing lyrical about just what made it remarkable, we were delighted to have them onboard. Their first choice is a reissue of a venerable treatise on the art of free running – apparently a century ago it was quite the gentleman's sport, with a club of Cambridge chaps dedicating their leisure time to nocturnal excursions upon the spires and rooftops of their town. Ladies and gentlemen: The Night Runners of Cambridge

Archive of Modern Conflict (AMC to you and me) is what the acronym says. Hidden in an East London bunker (one of us has seen it, the other has not), lays the world biggest archive of conflict/ war/ strange/ political "used photography" (photography found here and there as opposed to commissioned). Estimation of the stock varies grandly. AMC, often in collaboration with artists, use this insane source to publish lovely and strange books such as Nein Onkel (on the WWII German Soldiers spare time activities) or the Bloomberg/Chavarin Bible (a King James bible lacerated with weird pictures). THE NIGHT CLIMBERS OF CAMBRIDGE is an even stranger one, I'd say. It's beautiful; very. Black velvet cover, lovely prints and hand written inserts, the usual sense of black & white eeriness. Even more mystery than usual, let's say, if you consider that the book is credited to Thomas Mailaender a French artist more used to post-skater irony than ghostly thirties instantanés.


This is where it gets a bit complicated… THE NIGHT CLIMBERS OF CAMBRIDGE is originally  a (somewhat cult) book published by Chatto & Windus in 1937 on, yes, night time climbing of Cambridge buildings. Think Parkour but chic, in tweed trousers and no Nikes. I've got a copy (in which I found other drawn climbing plans), it has lovely pictures inserted. They attracted Mailaender who made into an exhibition in 2013 after he tracked down the mysterious author Whipplesnaith (from Whipple, to move around briskly and the old norse snaith, meaning a piece of ground) and buying the original negatives.


These are the pictures in the current edition. Blown up to grand format as you can see. one wins in aesthetics: Mailaender balances the night with black pages in a strange fake contrast (rebellion vs authority? rebellion and authority?) and one can start seeing things that are Mailander but are not (the pictures are obviously not his but at his size, some of the climbers can evoke suspended Maurizio Cattelan characters etc).


What does one loses  with the exclusion of the 37 (reprinted in 1953 with the added map of the Marks & Spencer escape, let's be thorough)? Unless you want to actually do night climbing in Cambridge (*which, as nameless Ransom Note staff member will testify, can end up resulting in some considerable time spent in the company of the Old Bill – or the "proctors and bulldogs" as they were known*), not too much. This is not a major piece of literature but it has a lovely desuet charm.


"History records change, big events sandwiched between long periods of monotony, while roof-climbing-if it could stand out of the darkness which enshrouds it-is simply a string of disconnected incidents […] The blanket of the dark hides each group of climbers from its neighbours, muffles up a thousand deeds of valour, and almost entirely prevents the existence of dangerous rivalry".


Almost "early acid house utopia"? Yes, in a way that the climbers and ravers were challenging authorities "in the name of serious fun" .The latter probably being what attracted Mailaender here, and he kind of deals with with artistic expropriation anyway. Some may think "buying an archive and publishing it" does not make it a real project (what is a real project? send your answers to R$N) ,the little blurb from Ian Jeffrey is pretty thin and the appropriation by T.M even thinner, but the (expensive) book all fits nicely in the "used/new/found/reformatting" logic of AMC.

If you want to find out more information on 'The Night Climbers of Cambridge' – have a look at the Donlon Book's catalogue entry – alternately go and visit them in person at 75 Broadway Market, London, E8 4PH

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