Tag Archives: snap exhibition

orford ness

Wednesday 18 June 2014

i have wanted to visit Orford Ness for ages, but a planned trip never materialised until last week.

the artist Anya Gallaccio was recently commissioned to create a series of new works for this year’s SNAP exhibition, at Snape Maltings and at Orford Ness, as part of the Aldeburgh Arts Festival and the WW1 centenary [14-18 Now].

orford quay car park warning sign

this is the sign i saw on arriving at the car park in the picturesque village of Orford. i know that Orford Ness was once a secret military testing site, and an air of mystery still lingers, but… i feel a little on edge about my visit to the secret Ness.


a few minutes ride on a small ferry boat, and as we disembark at the Ness’s jetty i first notice whats looks to be the decaying rudder and stern of an old wooden boat sunk deep into the mud. it looks like the tail end of a crashed aeroplane or the skeletal remains of a small whale, but i couldn’t ascertain its story from the ranger. it also seems to be another warning sign of what might lie ahead. looking at the picture again [zooming in], i can just about make out the first part of the inscription: i think it says ‘tuesday’.

on the guided tour [the red route on the NT map] we first visit the ‘Bomb Ballistics’ building, a brick structure with an exterior metal staircase and a viewing platform [but i didn’t take a snap of it].

it is here that we encounter the first of Anya Gallaccio’s large photographic installations. the short story is that Gallaccio acquired some Ness shingle [a small bag of pebbles] from a site ranger after a recent safe bomb-disposal, and she wanted to create a work which referenced the ecology of the site and its military history. it is unclear how or if Gallaccio herself shattered the pebbles into much smaller pieces, but using an electron microscope she zoomed in, and the resulting scaled-up images of the fractured, damaged pebbles are returned to their original site, reflecting the fragile context of this windswept bleak landscape.

my camera, still stuck on the high contrast text setting, captures this vista quite well. up close, the printed images dissolve to a fuzzy surface abstraction, and i become more aware of the print and texture of the fabric than the suggestion of a barren or traumatised landscape in the photograph…


these are gigantic photographs, printed onto a mesh fabric [a bit like airtex], that gently billow and seem to breathe in the sea breeze, effortlessly mirroring the shingle, the sea and the sky, occasionally glinting silver as the sunlight catches them [it is a warm sunny day]. set at an angle they seem to communicate with something unknown, something out there

i like the concept, but will the interest last? it feels like visual poetry by association, meaning conveyed through an explanation of context and process. the press release outlines the context but is written in the absence of the work. that these works are open to various interpretations seems to be an integral part of the work. greatly magnified images of bomb-shattered pebbles also echo shrapnel, shell-shock, body trauma, the destruction of war or ecological disaster, and even the nearby eroding shoreline’s battle with the encroaching sea. it also made me consider – quite naively – i’m no geologist! – that sand, silt and sediment is rock broken down, slowly pulverised through centuries of changes in the atmosphere, in the surrounding soil or vegetation, water, heat, and so on. with time everything changes.


this second photograph was taken on another part of the Ness, but i have forgotten exactly where, maybe near the Black beacon tower..? again, they seem to reference radar technology or radio transmissions. the photographs [stretched on metal frames like canvases] are all firmly sand-ballasted into place, but the panels are intended to be ephemeral structures in this location [on show for the month of june].

i understood how the images were made and how the back story artfully links the present with the past, nature with technology, aerial surveillance with some explosive devices apparently still buried in the shingle [one such device is 26 feet down, i am told, and there are no immediate plans to excavate the area].

the artist has been present, the artist has intervened in the landscape [contemporary artists are always intervening], but the artist has left the buildings alone. the NT wardens are happy with this art installation as it will bring visitors and new revenue, supporting the valuable work they do in managing this natural habitat, allowing the buildings to slowly decay as nature settles back in.

onwards and upwards… as i listen-in on a short explanation of Gallaccio’s work situated next to the Ballistics building, i discern a low melancholic hum; it’s the strong breeze blowing through the metal parts of the exterior structure [but i didn’t take a snap of it]. one of the wardens tells me that it plays a perfect C.


a short while later, as people in the group clunk and clank their way up the metal staircase to the viewing areas, the location acquires an eerie sonic discordance. the vista looks even more desolate from this vantage point, and a large window perfectly frames the scene, like a readymade art installation video… up another level and there is a corner-shaped window through which to discreetly survey the flat shingle landscape once again.


what of the structural detritus and debris that has been left to naturally disintegrate and decay into this liminal landscape? such as this rusty tangle of coils looking like some tumbleweed that has rolled in from the sea. it is a rust graveyard…


but we are warned to stay on the path and not to stray onto the potentially explosive shingle.


the final location on the guided tour is a building known as ‘Laboratory One’. it was used for bomb-testing in the 1950s, a thick-walled chamber encased in a high mound with just the roof structure showing. the entrance to the main chamber is cropped off lower left in the photograph below. two more of Gallaccio’s large-scale photographs are situated left and right of the entrance [but i didn’t take a snap of it].


by this point, i’ve lost track of how many Gallaccio pebble photographs there are here – five, six, seven, eight? – because every building is a new exploration and the large scale artworks become a secondary interest.

as we walk through the entrance tunnel it’s becoming too much like a scene from the Tarkovsky film, Stalker – there is a vibrant almost neon green glow of fresh vegetation enclosed within the white flaky stained walls of the central chamber. someone mentioned they had visited Orford Ness before but hadn’t noticed such a green.


the vivid appearance of green is absent in my grainy black and white pictures. without my sparkling new reading spectacles i can’t quite work out the tiny picture icons to change camera settings – but curiously it prompts me to remember odd things. i am also pleasantly surprised by my ability to take pictures in bright light as it’s impossible to see anything on a shiny screen – it’s usually pot luck [and taking three pictures of everything].


i watch a bird flying in and out of the far end room. it is a fascinating building with all the traces of its inner workings and circuitry still evident on the walls, and what little remains of the roof, providing easy access for the birds. there are many other buildings on the Ness that we didn’t get to see, such as the pagoda-like structures near the shore and the lighthouse [now out of bounds].


although it seems abandoned it is not lifeless. it reminds me of a nature documentary i watched on the wolves near chernobyl [wildlife in the exclusion zone]. it’s nature doing its thing, slowly adapting and evolving… but my grammar is slipping between then and now.

i humbly noted down later that i saw teasels, yellow horned poppies, red valerian, elder, and some unusual grey mossy lichen [moss or lichen, i can’t be sure]. and then there were birds. i saw egrets, and two swans, and was told there were barn owls nesting nearby, which prompted me to ask what barn owls were called before barns were invented. best answer: they originally nested in hollowed out trees, so maybe hollow tree owls.

three hours later, and it’s time to head back to the jetty. on the walk back, i furtively pick up a very small pebble i see by the edge of the path as a souvenir; it does not look like a suspicious object.


exhibition at aldeburgh gallery : britten centenary

Wednesday 20 November 2013

ahoy there..! after being all at sea for a while, it was nice to be invited to contribute some small artworks for a group exhibition at the aldeburgh gallery, buoyantly entitled britten’s birthday bonanza, which opens later this week on the special occasion of the britten centenary celebrations this weekend – as friday 22nd november 2013 is the centenary of the birth of internationally acclaimed composer benjamin britten.

the exhibition, britten’s birthday bonanza, will feature recent work by three artists: sara johnson (watercolour paintings), gill levin (oil paintings) and chris mound (woodcut prints), alongside a selected exhibition of small artworks by artists associated with the art collective HWAT.

Britten’s Birthday Bonanza
21st – 27th November 2013
Aldeburgh Gallery
143 High Street
IP15 5AN

aldeburgh has become synonymous with the life & work of benjamin britten, a lasting legacy of international cultural importance to a once small fishing town on the suffolk coast – and a boon to local trade & tourism.

a leisurely stroll from the car park situated next to maggi hambling’s scallop sculpture (created in response to britten’s peter grimes) along the shingle beach is an idle pleasure later rewarded by the finest fish & chips to be purchased at the very other end of town… never one to push the boat out…

the liminality of sea, shoreline and shingle, a sliver of silver-green sea glinting in sunlight, or the percussive crashing of the waves, rain strumming over the marshes, the dramatic ever-changing skies, all nature’s moody atmospherics, playing out a performance indifferent to us…

benjamin britten was born in lowestoft, further up the suffolk coastline (his childhood home is now a fashionable B&B), and after studying & working in london and travelling to america, he later settled in aldeburgh with his artistic muse & partner, the singer peter pears (their final home, the red house, is now the location of the britten-pears foundation).

in 1948, with the support of peter pears and the writer eric crozier, britten established the aldeburgh festival, an annual event which attracted musicians and performers from far and wide. in 1967 the festival relocated to more spacious surroundings in the conversion of a former maltings building in the nearby village of snape. the new concert hall was officially opened by queen elizabeth II, who later returned to reopen it in 1970 after a fire destroyed the concert hall in 1969 just before the opening of that year’s festival.

the snape maltings complex is now the centre of aldeburgh music: a year-round programme of concerts and performances in tandem with a creative support and education programme for performers and musicians. snape is also the location of the snap art exhibition, and there are some impressive outdoor sculptures too (as written about previously).

suffolk was a source of much creative inspiration to britten; places of significance to britten’s music are included this interactive map of britten. there is more information about benjamin britten, peter pears and the special britten centenary celebrations at these websites:

Britten-Pears Foundation: http://www.brittenpears.org/

Aldeburgh Music’s Britten Centenary: http://www.brittenaldeburgh.co.uk/

BBC Radio & TV programmes: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/search?q=britten

BBC Radio 3’s Britten Centenary weekend:

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:

[Ariel’s Song, The Tempest, William Shakespeare]

art, it’s a snap : mark limbrick & emily richardson

Monday 9 July 2012

more art snaps from Snape…

limn is one of two works by Mark Limbrick included in the recent ‘Snap’ art exhibition at the Aldeburgh Arts and Music Festival.

mark limbrick, installation, art, snape maltings, suffolk

Mark Limbrick, limn, 2012 (steel, wood, electronics, mixed media)

limn comprises a large circular chamber in which a small ‘lamp’ noisily gyrates around the perimeter of what appears to be the suggestion of a cliff or coastline (hence the limn of the title), speeding up and then slowing down… it recalled the movement of ships or blinking lighthouses, of night-time maneouvres or coded communications, or perhaps the covert operations of the cold war era, as Orford Ness is nearby (see below)… it was an interesting work to watch (and listen to), but i could find no further information on this piece…

mark limbrick, installation, art, snape maltings, suffolk

another work by Mark Limbrick is a ‘sound installation’, One, comprising two large trumpet or conch-like white speakers (referencing both the old-fashioned phonograph and forms of the sea). they are spaced some metres apart on the lawn outside the main concert hall (facing each other), conjoined by a telegraph wire, the vibration of which is apparently simultaneously broadcast by the two speakers – atmospheric, disembodied and eerie, as one might expect – listening to the wind is like listening to the sea – we are transported somewhere else.

Mark Limbrick harnesses a ‘resonant’ element of nature (the wind) and artfully broadcasts it on what could be classed as a complex and large musical instrument. one issue with ‘sound’ works like this is that, in the mechanical ‘construction’ of the idea, it feels unavoidably ‘contrived’, and perhaps the ensuing experience is less poetic than if one had come across a similar phenomena naturally in the environment (see quote below).

the naughty cynic whispered that some of it may be pre-recorded (but i didn’t think it was). the wire also suggested an idea that that any translation of these ‘sounds’ into meaningful ‘communication’ is impossible – are the two speakers set apart in such a way to imply there is no communication between them?  furthermore, i wasn’t sure if anyone was allowed to reach over the white cordon and pluck the wire to see what other sounds it could make? it’s an engineered telephonic ‘soundscape’ which didn’t photograph very well, but i have since found a good clip on youtube:

One by Mark Limbrick

In support of this work, Limbrick quotes Thoreau:

As I went under the new telegraph wire, I heard it vibrating like a high harp overhead. It was as the sound of a far-off glorious life, a supernatural life, which came down to us , and vibrated the lattice work of this life of ours.
(Thoreau, 1851)

emily richardson, installation, art, snape maltings, suffolk

Emily Richardson, over the horizon, 2012 (HD video, 20 minutes duration)

emily richardson, installation, art, snape maltings, suffolk

Emily Richardson’s ‘over the horizon’ is a video installation work (in collaboration with Chris Watson) concerned with the history and experience of Orford Ness (or just the Ness), which was once a military radar & surveillance station (then owned by the MOD). it is now a nature reserve (managed by The National Trust) but many of the buildings remain, in various states of decline and decay, nestled along the shingle banks, slowly encrusted with rust or coated in algae, as the relics of the cold war become nesting sites for the shoreline’s birds. it’s a film-maker’s dream, in sound and vision. the video is everything you would expect it to be from such a seemingly desolate location: poignant, muted, layered, melancholic, eerie, bleak, a little bit dystopian – a place that time forgot, lost in the zone, the haunting remains of secret operations or military experiments merging with nature as it goes about its daily business of survival.

over the horizon has some clear similarities with the works of Mark Limbrick, Maggi Hambling and May Cornet in ‘Snap’. in fact, the more memorable works in ‘Snap’ are phenomenological in their intent, exploring sensory responses to the experiences of these locations…