Sonic Radiations: In search of a nuclear musicology

A selection of radioactive vinyl. Commissioned by Z33 House For Contemporary Art in the context of the expo ‘Perpetual Uncertainty’.

It’s a trip through children’s records about atomic energy, pro-nuclear interviews, thematic ‘library music’ and toxic electronics. In addition a small brochure with liner notes on each selection will be available at the expo, a comprehensive and diverse exhibition on a delicate but controversial topic.

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Some thoughts on our time in Allenheads from Bridget

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Robin in amongst the spoil heaps at Nenthead Mines.

 

Despite all that technology can offer in terms of long distance communication, there is nothing quite like meeting up, sharing food and exploring new places together. Now this may sound like a dating website strapline but, in fact, it is the winning formula for our collaborative creative research practice.  What strengthens Power in The Land is the amount of shared experiences we have had over the years. Granted it is not always possible for the whole group to meet on every occasion and some experiences (especially those of a subterranean character) are not attractive to all. The 6 artists who managed to meet up in Allenheads this September agreed that is remains an extremely productive and stimulating framework. Amongst many other things, the weekend has raised the issue of collaborative field work for me and its importance in my practice.

Although a number of the artists involved in Power in The Land are still interested in Wylfa as a site for continued exploration, the meeting at Allenheads gave us the time and space to extract and examine wider issues; both within the works that were produced for the touring exhibition and current works in progress. We are looking for possible routes for development both in the individual works and also as collective research. In a way, we went back to basics, everyone expressed their desire to continue under the heading of Power in The Land, talking about how this title had first attracted us to the project and that we felt it had potential to encompass issues and areas beyond Wylfa. We discussed ideas of industrial imperialism, as well as geographical and political exclusion zones, both in relation to Wylfa and the wider Nuclear industry. Annie’s forthcoming residency in the Atacama Desert and her interest in the Lithium mining industry in Chile offers the potential to explore rapidly expanding technology and its impact on the environment. Past – Present – Future, this phrase kept being repeated. The Atacama Desert, like everywhere, has layers of history, geographical, political, cultural, some visible and some deeply buried. Although never overt in the works for Power in The Land, political dispute and disquiet is never far from the surface. Chris is grappling with international politics head on as he seeks to deal with the uncertainty of Brexit and considers the consequences within the Nuclear industry. He is exploring the self-contained hyper reality of current political narratives through sound works and animated digital video.

How apt that we might be discussing the exploitation of the earth and its resources in Allenheads, once part of Europe’s largest lead mining industry. Past – Present – Future, this phrase kept being repeated. Robin’s work was discussed in terms of future archaeology; his concrete casts memorialising small areas of the site around Wylfa that are now almost impossible to access unless you are willing to undertake a lengthy correspondence with Health and Safety officials. The prints and casts from discarded industrial packaging that he is currently working on in the studio speak also of societal waste products; all contributing to the physical manifestation of the Anthropocene. Helen is engaging with archaeology in a very direct way as she takes part in one of the largest archaeological surveys in Europe. The site around Wylfa is currently hosting over 60 professional archaeologists as they record finds on the proposed site for Wylfa Newydd. Her contribution to the National Eisteddfod this year used the language of archaeology to present objects from an imagined future combining fragments of artworks from several Power in The Land artists with maps and drawings.

Engaging with the materiality of the environment is something that links several artists’ work. The physical impact of mining past and present, the act of digging for archaeological purposes and the drilling down to extract core samples are all actions that have interested us. As well as the acts of moving or disrupting the environment we have also been exploring the material qualities of the earth itself, the minerals contained within it and the changes they undergo over time. Jess in particular has been experimenting with chemical reactions and metals, using simple geometrical patterns her recent pieces evoke The Big Bang, creating a space that is simultaneously expanding and contracting; coming to life but already decaying. Pure energy expressed through base materials.

Transformation is something that artists are engaging with regularly, whether it is recording ideological transformations within societies or physical transformations in the landscape. I continue to transform recycled copper wire into delicate woven pieces, I’ve created several new small loom works. Combined with objects found in the landscape around Wylfa and woven in situ, the weavings are displayed on roughly constructed looms. These small delicate pieces challenge the scale at which the energy industry operates and convey a sense of how different cultures might employ survivalist tactics in a post-apocalyptic scenario. I have also been working in the landscape around Sellafield, with a view to making the link between Wylfa and the final resting place of its spent fuel rods. Transformation, manipulation, casting, constructing, weaving, weathering; trying to respond to a world in flux. Ant, who works with one of the least obviously physical mediums: sound; has been transforming data into visual representations and is currently working on a visual representation of radiation. Although he couldn’t be present at the meeting the presentation he sent showed that he is continuing to build his extensive skill base, mastering video mapping and 3D projection amongst other things, as well as working on large scale productions and showing internationally.

The feeling amongst those present seemed to be that there is more to be gained from our collaborative ventures. Our diversity is our strength. Now that we have a fuller understanding of each other’s practice, the trust built up over three years of working together and the confidence in our ability to deliver high quality shows and events the question is, as ever, where do we go next? I am going to pursue my research around Sellafield and would welcome the company of any other Power in The Landers as does Helen as she continues her work at Wylfa. I am interested to see how we can build on our collective skills not just as organisers but as creative practioners. I am fascinated by the idea of collaboration and how this might penetrate our creative practices more deeply, how can or will this verbal exchange effect our work on a more physical, material level?

CVAN visit to Sellafield, June 16th 2017

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As luck would have it the CVAN event (Bivouac#2 hosted by Eden Arts) I had booked myself on some time ago happened to include a visit into Sellafield. This was an excellent research opportunity complimenting my previous visit to the area. The CVAN event was very well organised and comprised of a full afternoon of discussions on Thursday 15th, plus an evening of presentations, followed by a day trip on the Friday. I made some great connections with various other artists and a very enlightened scientist, all of whom I hope to keep in touch with.

At Sellafield we were hosted at a visitor reception centre outside of the high security area where we had tea and coffee and were given our security passes. We were then bused through the gates once our passes were physically inspected and the bus checked over.

We were taken to the viewing gallery of the waste reception and indoor pond storage site, the newer one not the legacy ponds which have had so much media attention over the years. We were given a lot of information about the history of the site and the waste processing systems.

We were then put back on the bus and given a tour of the entire site from the bus before being taken back to the reception centre for lunch. Our guides were very open to questions and generous with their information. Alas no photographs, as no phones or cameras are not allowed in with visitors.

I am still processing all the information from that visit, but immediate impressions were that the site is a very compact history of the nuclear story from the military beginnings at Windscale though to the UK’s first civil nuclear power station at Calder Hall all the way through to the waste storage facility and the long term issues yet to be resolved here.

Once again timescales and thoughts beyond the human are raised here. The flasks that were on display for the containment of reclaimed Plutonium were particularly striking to me. They made me think of canoptic jars, except instead of hieroglyphics there are bar codes…plutoniumflask

Greycroft Stone Circle, May 7th 2017

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“Radioactive Art”, which was first broadcast on radio 4 Thursday 2nd March, ends in an interview with Ele Carpenter  standing in a stone circle at the outskirts of the Sellafield Nuclear reprocessing facility in Cumbria. This inspired me to make a journey over to Cumbria to seek out this site and make some work there.

The weather was glorious,  the action pictured above resulted in serious sunburn! As expected, we attracted the attention of the Nuclear Defence Constabulary who were very polite and extremely thorough in their background checks. It is an interesting test of communication skills explaining why it is important for to you to carry a handmade loom across the fields to a stone circle in order to weave recycled copper wire in the sight of Sellafield……

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