TO Orford Ness, a 10-mile stretch of desolate pebbles, surrounded by icy brown waves and only accessible by boat, is arguably the most haunting headland in England. Was a experimental laboratory for nuclear projects for decades and the site of covert military operations through two world wars.
Radar was first tested here in the 1930s. Scientists tried to invent artificial clouds to baffle Germans in the 1940s. And what happened on this windswept island during the cold war remains so enigmatic and , however, so incarnated on the horizon of mysterious structures still visible from the Suffolk coast, that the Ness is still known as the Island of secrets.
Therefore, it is not surprising that artists are fascinated. Orford Ness is a place of the imagination even before crossing the rough water. In fact, some of those involved in Afterness – with their JG Ballard play on aftermath and emptiness – they were never here at all, as the pandemic prevented them from traveling. Everyone has been invited to respond to this mysterious no man’s land by Artangel, facilitators of so many magnificent projects, by Jeremy Deller The Battle of Orgreave to the 2016 Oscar Wilde commemoration at Reading Prison. But I doubt there has ever been so much competition from the actual location.
The past is evident everywhere in Orford Ness. Equipped with a map and headphones you are indicated. across the island from one building to another. The barbed wire spreads like a weed. Coiled metal ties that once carried inscrutable signs are strewn like rusty fabrics. The stones underfoot are scorched, strangely discolored, or dotted with artillery shards.
The National trust It may have taken over in 1994, but its delicate oak leaf logo seems almost frivolous among the menacing MOD signs warning walkers of unexploded ordnance prohibited areas. The ground is full of nameless detonation craters.
Climbing to the top of the Bomb Ballistics Building, you hear the howl of the sea wind in your headphones. But it turns out to be completely environmental. Walking along the shore, you see an Edward Hopper house in the distance: a lone figure, overlooking the water. It is also real, and not an art installation, although equally fantastic in its own way. Because, like many of the buildings on this island, the house, the windmill, the stadium, it is not what it seems, but another kind of sinister laboratory.
British artist Alice channer he has installed a gigantic steel bush inside a dilapidated concrete shelter, its sharp thorns poking out of the broken windows. It does its job efficiently enough: it mimics the island’s heather and barbed wire crops, and the affinity between them. And its title – Lethality and vulnerability – refers to the secret trials carried out at Orford Ness in the mid-20th century to test the susceptibility of military aircraft to attack.
The Italian artist Tatiana Found It has taken over Laboratory 1, built in 1956 for the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment’s testing program. She has also done in-depth research on the effects of nuclear exposures on geology, nature, and human existence. Blankets adorned with undulating layers of blue rock double as evocations of rising sea levels.
The laboratory is a huge, dilapidated, roofless structure. You enter on wooden planks through rain-flooded corridors and the interior is astonishing: tall and classic, like a concrete Colosseum. But Trouvé’s post-apocalyptic installation of tattered shoes and clothing, suitcases sinking into puddles and iconic suitcases puts it all down to earth, like a melodramatic episode from the television series. Survivors.
Much more powerful and subtle is a tremendous work by the British artist. Emma McNally inside in the form of a chapel of the Armory. A long drift of silvery substance that hangs low in darkened space, shaded and occasionally flashing, as though pierced by moonlight, this shape is in fact created purely from paper, crumpled and covered with complex graphite drawings they invoke the cosmos from atom to planet. . Like the weather, it seems to change as the light changes. It could be that desideratum itself: the artificial cloud.
The films will be available online, through Artangel, when Afterness opens next week. There will also be song cycles and a soundtrack based on the hidden geology of the tile. For now, visitors can climb the Black Beacon and sit in the rectangular peepholes that frame the sea in all its changing colors, exactly where observers once sat to measure the ballistic properties of hydrogen bombs.
Inside the Beacon, a Sound library, assembled by British musicians Iain Chambers, Chris watson Y Brian d’Souza, is based on Orford Ness field recordings: descending steps, fallen pebbles, seagulls in the strange concrete pagodas where warheads were once tested. Soon they begin to feel redundant. No recording of the larks or even the brackish winds can compare with the reality outside.
Everything irresistibly proposes a question on this island. Why are poppies yellow and cherry, as a color blind test? Why are there miniature deer in a treeless reserve? Why are hares so big and what do they live on? What did scientists actually discover in these ruined structures, and who designed them? The answer to everything could almost be summed up in the title of the featured work in Afterness – I see a silence.
This is a series of poems specially commissioned by the great Odessa-born writer Ilya Kaminsky. He seems to realize exactly what you are seeing as you cross the island, this fellow reciting the lines in your headphones: the rabbit running through the open door of Laboratory 1 “leaving a stream of footsteps, which will soon fill with water.” Seagulls pecking at the shirt on the shore: “tossing it back and forth / like opening a big newspaper.” It expresses the loneliness of all walkers in this throbbing coastal wind, unable to converse fluently, seeing themselves mainly as figures in the distance.
Who came on your boat, asks Kaminsky, and “what do they keep in their eyes as they walk (how to live? How to live?)”. On this nuclear site, he writes, with perfect truth, “you start to feel philosophical.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism