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Derelict Shopping Trolleys

of Milton Keynes



 Plan of Milton Keynes showing major roundabouts

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continue ...The Chaos of Orderliness

Milton Keynes is famous for its picturesque and thematic orderliness, so it may come as a surprise to find an element of crudely-figured chaos scattered throughout the gridded, repetitious neighbourhoods. In this extra-ordinarily ordinary place, an unregulated, unauthorised, impulsive and highly visible act begins to redress the local imbalance between regular and irregular, puncturing the Cartesian regime, revealing an intelligence that works apart from but within Euclidean logic. This thematic irregularity registers an authentic local aesthetics as a disruption set to the beat of a banal nihilism - and vice versa.

Derelict shopping trolleys are the beauty marks on this cosmetically  arranged New Town. They give the place an air of unruliness which proves that life exists here. They are welcome reminders that some thing - or some one - remains out of place even in the idyllic settings of a planned community. The presence of derelict, reckless trolleys registers a tension between the messy real world and the repressive orderliness of idealised schemes.


continue ...Nature Subdued, Trolleys Rampant

Milton Keynes has its attractions, including a sur-reality that isn't exceeded by that of many other places. It has extensive and bucolic open spaces which make strolling pleasant and whose organic fluidity contrast sharply with the stark planes and places of industrial, architectonic cities. Untended and semi-wild places soften the edges of excessive orderliness among the cookie-cutter housing blocks and suburban family units. But even nature is kept in place by the regime of spatial development. This is ironic, even perverse, in that the role of nature in British cities is most often that of an unwelcome intruder, while in Milton Keynes, nature has been accommodated to such an extent that it develops a passivity not seen elswhere. This is in direct contrast with other cities where nature (pigeons, gray squirrels, rats, feral cats, buddleia) is threatening and derelict shopping trolleys are banal, unthreatening and incidental to urban life. In Milton Keynes, derelict shopping trolleys take on the power of nature as an unruly, unwelcome, dirty and dangerous pestilence.


continue ...What, no Anarchists?

Milton Keynes is suburban, not urban. It cannot compare favorably to the intense humanity of any street-based society, nor to the complex, conflictual heterogeneity that defines urbanity. For example, the material structure of central Milton Keynes mitigates against all but officially promoted culture. What exists is marked by sameness and authority. Given that crowds and the attendant mingling are confined to and regulated by the rigidly delineated, enclosed and policed central shopping mall, a people-watcher and fan of street-corner society would both perish of boredom. There is, one might say, hardly room for living, between and around this overly orderly, extremely regulated development.

It is within and against this regulated background that scattered trolleys develop power as representations of disruptive spontaneity, as traces of sanity, and by extension, a mark of authenticity. Within the context of hard surfaces and shopping, trolleys are emblematic of sameness. Nobody thinks twice about a trolley on the pavement in front of a shop. But outside of this context, trolleys become emblematic of all that is disorderly, inciting multiple rants in the local newspaper, proving that small things out of place take on an inordinate significance, and that small gestures in an overly orderly environment can have large effects. By moving between order and disorder, shopping trolleys reveal the real Milton Keynes as a place of tension between zealous order and hilarious eruptions of disorder. This tension makes Milton Keynes real, and makes the trolleys emblematic of and integral to that reality. It is fitting, therefore, that trolleys are celebrated in a variety of ways. In the first instance I have created a gallery of photographs showing irreverent, life-enhancing trolley antics. In the second instance I am helping with the organisation and promotion of a trolley-focused sculpture, and in the third instance I am developing the role of spokesperson for trolley culture in Milton Keynes.


continue ...Trolley Sculpture, Trolley Rites, Trolley Cultcha!

If the shopping trolley is emblematic of Milton Keynes, two further developments are called for: an iconography and a ritual. In conjunction with the Milton Keynes Navigational Sculpture Project, the Northfield Roundabout (H5, H6) is proposed as the setting for a giant trolley sculpture.

This proposal firstly perpetuates the association of Milton Keynes with whimsical artworks visible to motorists. The concrete cows have established and maintained this reputation, but they are nearly  demolished. The gaudy red neon Point and the cinematic display at Xscape continue the tradition. But there's nothing on the east end of town - nothing for motorists on the M1. A sculpture at the Northfield Roundabout would serve as visual identifier to those arriving at Milton Keynes via this primary gateway. The structure is big enough to incorporate a high-level display platform, such that seasonal displays could further enliven the scene. Most importantly, a trolley sculpture signifies commerce, ordinariness, humour, and a touch of chaos, all of which are accurate characterisations of Milton Keynes.

Secondly, ritual trolley-centred activity is consistent with ongoing civic promotions. In this case a series of games, collectively titled the Milton Keynes TrOlleympics shall be presented on a variety of occasions during the year. Based more on inclusiveness than athletic skill, a series of trolley excursions, trolley races, trolley pageants, trolley roundups and other trolley events provide entertainment for all, raise funds for charity and promote a vibrant, playful impression of Milton Keynes.

Together, trolley sculpture and trolley-centred activities celebrate the role of trolley culture in the social and spatial configuration of Milton Keynes. But these two projects are further augmented by developing new local strengths through other forms of artistry. In particular, Milton Keynes stands to enhance its reputation as a place of creative talent by developing a series of public sculptures on roundabouts, via the Milton Keynes Navigational Sculpture Project, which promises to make the city a drive-thru arts destination - a feat not often accomplished succesfully.


continue ...Navigational Sculpture Project

Milton Keynes is easy to drive across. It is even easier to get lost in. Everyone who travels in Milton Keynes has both experiences. The system of roadways and roundabouts that make driving so easy also make it easy to lose track of one's location. Despite years of loving landscape work on and around the roadways, differences between one junction and another are difficult to identify and remember. Even long-time residents complain of the years it takes to distinguish one road or roundabout from another by memorising minor details of shrubbery. This is a problem that calls for creative and magnificent solutions! We have identified such a solution in the Milton Keynes Navigational Sculpture Project, which aims to make navigation easier and more enjoyable by locating distinctive and easily described sculptures at grid road roundabouts.The project is potentially a huge undertaking, as there are about 100 roundabouts in the area, and even the small ones have a disc of turf in the middle.

The main idea is that designs relate in some way to themes of everyday life, and are identifiable using common language. The navigational sculptures are meant to be easily described, so that verbal directions can be given using familiar and easily communicated terms. For example, it would be extremely difficult to overlook a giant set of car keys located in the middle of one roundabout and a pile of giant shoes in another, so that if one were meant to make a right turn at the keys and a left at the shoes it could be communicated much more easily than saying  'make a right turn off the H8 onto the V8 at the Netherfield/Marina dual roundabout, then carry on up to the Redbridge roundabout at the H3, where you should turn left'. Of course, some roads are given national ID numbers, so one can occasionally navigate by saying 'take the A421 to the B4043, turn right, carry on to the A422 and turn left' but this is an exception rather than the rule. Keys, shoes, teapots, cups and saucers, cutlery, paper clips, a frilly lampshade and a giant shopping trolley are much better navigational aids!

So far, discussion has centred on organising a design competition, but as this takes time and considerable expertise to do properly, it is hoped that people will contribute ideas and images to the on-line gallery of sculptures, as part of a broadening base of interest in and support for the project. Sketches, renderings, collages, maquettes are all welcome, especially in digital photo format! The mail link on this website is current.

Since there is no formal timeline for this project, it will develop as time and resources permit. There are no deadlines. Not yet.


continue ... Galleries (these links open external Flash movies)

Derelict Trolleys

Navigational Sculptures


continue ...Links on related topics (links open on new pages, like pop-ups)

Other Fine Efforts

BBC h2g2


Journal of Mundane Behaviour (USA)


Transit Art

Motorway Art - The A13 Artscape

Drive-Thru Art Gallery (Simcoe, Ontario)


321 Shopping - Trolley Guide

MK Citizen


Waitrose Trolleys - Lost & Found


Milton Keynes Council @ MKWeb


Encyclopaedia Britannica - Milton Keynes ("There is no single urban centre")

Rough Guide - Milton Keynes (MK is no longer listed - Sorry!)

Knowhere Guide

Service Organisations

Halesowen Town Council

Dull Men's Club (USA)