ORFORD NESS IS a desolate strip of land on the Suffolk coast. Separated from the rest of the county by the lower reaches of the River Alde, it was used for testing military technology during much of the 20th century. While it was in the hands of the military, it was strictly out of bounds for everyone except those who were authorised to be there. It was a highly secret military area, more about which I plan to write soon.
In the early 1990s, the Ness was handed over to the National Trust, who developed it and the decaying remains of the military establishment as a visitor attraction and nature reserve.
This Summer (2021), an organisation called Artangel, who “…collaborate with artists who defy boundaries to give form to extraordinary ideas,” (www.artangel.org.uk/about_us/), have placed several intriguing art installations on Orford Ness. One of these, which I particularly liked, is called “The Residents”. It was created by Tatiana Trouvé, who was born in Calabria and grew up in Dakar, Senegal.
Her installation is housed in a concrete structure half buried in shingle and called Lab 1. It was in this bunker, built in the 1960s, that detonators for Britain’s atomic bombs were tested for their resistance to vibration and other forces that might set off detonators at inappropriate times, for example, when being carried in aircraft.
Like most of the rest of the deserted military establishment on Orford Ness, Trouvé’s collection of objects in the disused, dilapidated bunker, creates an intense feeling of a post-Armageddon world. The artist populates the space with a variety of objects, such as suitcases, cloth bags, books, quilted mattresses and rugs, and a transistor radio. All of these objects look as if they have been discarded by people fleeing an horrific disaster. All of them are painted to look life-like, but none of them are real; they are all cast in either aluminium or bronze. This is also the case for the life-like seashells attached to the gate through which the observer looks at this created scene of despair.
Surrounded by acres of shingle covered with distorted, rusting fragments of metal and discarded lumps of concrete, the installation housed within Lab 1 gave me the feeling that I was being given a glimpse of what I hope never to experience: the world following a nuclear catastrophe.