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Insight: UFO, flints & a library of sounds reminisce the wasteland in Afterness by Artangel

Text by CLOT Magazine

Mauve, Jim and John, Paul Maheke, film still.

Orford Ness is a spit on the Suffolk coastland, a peninsula with a frail location designated as a Nature Reserve in 1972, and since then, an internationally recognised territory for nature and conservation. The intriguing landscape is dissociated into two co-existing identities: a rare habitat for flora and fauna to subsist and a conglomerate of ruins and run-down constructions reminiscent of a historical bitter era that still instils a ghostly, haunted response to the senses.

During the 20th century, Orford Ness was one of the most secret experimental military sites in the UK that the British government used for testing nuclear weapons: and over these evocative relics, Artangel has curated an exhibition that follows a suggestive journey through memory.

On-site artworks by Alice Channer, Tatiana Trouvé, Emma McNally, amongst others, guided by a poetry cycle, I see a Silence, by Ilya Kaminsky, have learned to exist as well for the past months in the bareness of the scenery.   And for those who can’t attend the exhibition but long to explore the mystery and wilderness of this wasteland full of bewitchment, at the height of the in-person exhibition, Artangel invited the digital viewers for an online show that retraces the history of Orford Ness from different perspectives. From quantum physics to UFO sightings and military surveillance broadcastings, we can experience the eerie location through a cybernated unfolding.

Through a hypnotising choreography, Mauve, Jim and John introduce us to a desolated and placid field – we hear the birds chirping, the wind blowing while two men in sandy brown raincoats advance in nature. Their arms are circling the air while instinctively drawn to each other as they start to synchronise, surrounded by a multitude of tangled branches that reach the sky; the intense breaths of the two characters merge with the sound of water and the rustling of leaves.

Paul Maheke‘s 28 minutes film combines a site-specific dance of a queer romance with the story of alleged UFO sightings in nearby Rendlesham Forest in the early 80s, linked to the over-the-horizon radar station Cobra Mist on Orford Ness, which was reported by two servicemen, JohnBorroughs and Jim Penniston. Jim, Mauve is made of us, and from us, we give birth to other skies’ the enigmatic words accompanying the video are taken from Maheke’s “The Mauve Hour“, a written extract by the artist, available to review online.

An earshare/to cassay the earthcrust, Graham Cunnington and Rachel Pimm.

The wind turns into the protagonist in Beacon.Black, an exploration into a series of dazzling field recordings where the listener can time travel to the present and past of the peninsula. 

DJ and sound artist Brian De Souza connects the two worlds through revelatory reverberations: a 24-hour radio station transmits a compilation of radio transmissions circling around the military surveillance communication from the Cold War Era. On a parallel frequency, we explore the current transmissions from migratory birds. At the same time, we snoop into the new un-manned landscape and its perpetual wind, through a camera installed in the Ness that introduces us to its animal life. 

Bridging petrology and quantum physics, searching for an answer to the question: ‘what is the measure of nothingness?’, An earshare/to cassay the earthcrust by Graham Cunnington and Rachel Pimm examines the landscape through a project that mixes text, visuals and film.

Using a sci-fi lens to explore the capacity of man to create and destroy simultaneously, the video focuses on the evolution of the earth in relation to Ness’s geology and its mineral resources that ‘could tell many stories, a story of many stones’.

With an overlapping and pyretic analysis that exposes the quirk of a finite (a sedimentary cryptocrystalline form of the mineral quartz) turned into a spent fuel conglomerate, whose toxicology concentrates and accumulates, Cunnington and Pimm render the eerie landscape into a scattered field of scientific ruins that encroach the Ness.

It’s fascinating how the multimediality of this exhibition leads you into the core of a dense, forgotten world from the comfort of your sofa: a journey into the inseparability of beauty and decay and the human-nature contradictory relationship, where Afterness Online adds on additional levels of meaning and wonder.

(Image courtesy of Artangel)
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