Kirkstall Storm Drain


This project was first initiated as an experiment of tracing a drawing on a virtual city map through physical movement in space. A GPS tracking device was utilised to register the participants’ whereabouts, its battery life, comparable to the amount of ink in a pen, as sole determining factor of the dérive’s, or drawing’s duration. In the spirit of adventure and with no designated destination, supplies and equipment ranging from head torches to climbing rope were packed.

Kirkstall, Leeds (UK) - October 2010 to June 2011
Participants: Gaia Rosenberg Colorni, Stuart Russell Brown, Gwilym Sainsbury

A storm drain in the Kirkstall suburban area was discovered several hours after the drift had begun. Its entrance was relatively accessible to any potential explorer, as the grate on the front of it had been bent and partially dismantled. To continue the urban derive, the participants crawled through the first section of the storm drain, filming the experience and attempting, unsuccessfully, to continue to trace their movement within this space with the GPS tracker.

Whilst not an activity for the faint hearted the exploration of a storm drain provides a comparatively safe, albeit urban, introduction to the activity of potholing and can also offer a taste of speleology. Storm drains, like infrequently visited back alleys, invoke to the wandering pedestrian the question of ‘What is it for, where does it lead?’ Even to just consider such spatial phenomena invite the exploration of previously occluded places with new curiosity.

As part of their first ever collaborative project together, in September 2010 EOP members encountered and proceeded to survey a storm drain facing the river Aire in Kirkstall, Leeds. After a first exploration of a segment of this underground structure, whereby EOP members unsuccessfully attempted to track their movements through the use of a GPS, the group was determined to return to the site. Their aim: to reach the end of the storm drain whilst mapping their travels. Due to the failure of GPS technology in aiding the process, the group hence prepared for subsequent expeditions by resorting primarily to analogue technologies, such as glow sticks to act as placemarks, tape measures, a magnetically operating compass implanted in a mobile phone, pen and paper.

After three separate visits throughout the following months, each time increasingly familiarising themselves with the geography of this narrow, disorientating space, the group’s journey came to a close in June 2011 when they reached a dead end within the stormdrain’s structure. Equipped with skateboards as a faster and relatively less tiring means of transportation, they discovered a large chamber containing a machine of unidentified nature, presumably functioning as a water dispensing device.

The chamber was only connected to the ground above by ladders leading to manholes, which were unmovable with the group’s limited resources, and to a lower ground in which an artificial subterranean river flowed. Through a sign found within the premises, the group learnt that they had arrived in an area of Kirkstall called Abbeydale.

Images of Abbeydale storm drain taken from the 3D Google sketchup map estimated from three explorations of the underground space by EOP participants:

Approximate Mapped route of Storm drain on surface:

After analysing their findings on the infrastructure they had studied, the group created a digitally rendered, three-dimensional map of the route they had taken. The map acts as both functional tool and aesthetic object, of which sections are above illustrated, epitomises a typically Western attitude to a mode of territorialisation by which Cartesian cartography is utilised as a means of spatial conquest.

Video demonstrating the Google Sketchup map:

Video footage of storm drain mapping:

Video footage of initial exploration of storm drain:

As this initial experience was very uneasy for the participants, the continuous panic and apprehension is readable in both dialogue and nervous movement. The unfamiliarity of the space, combined with the physical dangers of entering a storm drain, are clearly unsettling to the participant as well as the viewer.

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Kirkstall, Leeds (UK) - October 2010 - Participants: Gaia Rosenberg Colorni and Gwilym Sainsbury

In a second attempt to travel through the storm drain, as well as establishing a system of manual mapping to compensate for the GPS’ lack of signal within its infrastructure, the drift’s participants return a month later, this time joined by collaborator Stuart Russell Brown.


Kirkstall, Leeds (UK) - November 2010 - Participants: Gaia Rosenberg Colorni, Stuart Russell Brown, Gwilym Sainsbury

Video footage of second exploration:

Related projects:

The Island. March - June 2011the_island.html
Sampling. March 2011Sampling.html
 Dinghy Trip Leeds/Liverpool Canal. October - November 2010Dinghy_trip.html