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John Hansard Gallery

Thu, 05/11/09 - 12:46 - admin

United Kingdom
50° 56' 10.3236" N, 50° 56' 10.3236" E


Dark Places at John Hansard Gallery

Field Notes

"Dark Places uncovers sites of secrecy and technology across Britain presenting a range of new works by artists that explore spaces and institutions below the radar of common knowledge. The exhibition examines how artists are evolving strategies for art as a form of knowledge production, challenging accepted patterns in contemporary culture and society."

Joint curatorial statement by The Arts Catalyst, Office of Experiments, John Hansard Gallery and SCAN

The Office of Experiments’ (OOE) Overt Research Project set a background for the exhibition Dark Places as it seeks to question the way in which techno-scientific and industrial-military complex are constantly engaged in an attempt to educate the public. In some cases utilising artists, the power players in this field of endeavour are the significant partners in a set of power relations that are seldom challenged. Creating a myriad of heterotopias which exclude the outside world, a set of imaginary narratives is then produced by a public which is in fact only part informed by fact, with conspiracy, rumour and marketing filling in gaps of knowledge.

The Overt Research Project therefore examines the role that the Museum and cultural production in general has in terms of contested spatial imaginaries, and seeks to question the language and framing of 'art as a political aesthetic', drawing from work of theorists such as Ranciere, Latour and Rheinberger. Methods are drawn from experimental geography - and are spatio-temporal - focusing on that which is observable, in the context of place at a given moment.

In practical terms, the project maps and records advanced labs and facilities that are unwittingly – or purposefully – concealed from the public. Developed by a team of independent researcher over 18 months, fieldwork and experimental techniques were combined to create this geomapped database; 'Dark Places - South Edition'. The original networked field guide to local sites was available in the physical site of the information kiosk in Gallery 1 of the exhibit. In order to allow a official response from sites documented, this was the first stage of creating a public resource, before we put the database online. The installed work featured the OOE Kiosk which contained the database and other research materials such as maps, guidebooks etc for further explorations, and a high resolution interpretive slideshow with audio from Kelvedon Hatch.

Elsewhere in the gallery, Office of Experiments and Neal White questioned the closed culture that pervades so much 'official' research activity, instead drawing on approaches that reflect the openness of knowledge proposed by autonomous and independent campaigners. Mike Kenner's Archive was donated to Office of Experiments by Mike himself, and reveals over 30 years of research by this independent campaigner around the Biochemical warfare experiments conducted at Porton Down, north of this site at Salisbury. The archive itself was catalogued and made available as a fully searchable catalogue and is part of the ARC (Autonomous Researcher Collection) of Office of Experiments. Further information is available on Office of Experimentswebsite.

Further to this, in Dark Places, Steve Rowell exhibited work from his project Ultimate High Ground. Steve ( Director of International Research - Office of Experiments) is from the the US group the Centre for Land-Use Interpretation (CLUI). In this project Ultimate High Ground, he uncovers shared US-UK spaces of military power. Realised as a multi-screen film installation, the work focuses upon RAF Menwith Hill, North Yorkshire, a communications intercept and missile warning site, known for its distinctive raydome structures.

Victoria Halford and Steve Beard exhibited a new film Voodoo Science Park that traced a secret geography, political and physical, of the Health and Safety Laboratory in Derbyshie. Beatriz da Costa 'Memorial for the Still Living' was also commsioned by The Arts Catalyst. A display on endangered species of the British Isles, it includes a selection of rare animal, insect and reptile specimens, including loans from the Natural History and Horniman Museums, da Costa identifies these collections – and the bleak future they imply - as sites of hidden knowledge.

The Cold War Legacy in the South - Secrecy and Technology Critical Excursion.
Saturday 23 January 2010 10am-6pm.

Artists from the Office of Experiments led a 'spatio-temporal' critical excursion in the shape of a bus tour - so successful it was sold out many times over, and there is a waiting list for future tours. Taking in critical sites of advanced technological development in the South of England, the tour focused on sites that emerged during the tensions and paranoias of the Cold War. Sites visited included: Chilboton Observatory, Porton Down, RAF Boscombe Down, ROC Underground Bunker, International School of Explosives Education (ISEE) at Department of Homeland Security (lunch) at Chilmark, Nuclear Bunker Chilmark, Signals Museum, Blandford Camp.

Media and films played throughout the day covering mainly conspiracy theory and rumour that surrounds these sites.

Dark Places also featured a filmed interview between Stephen Foster, Director, John Hansard Gallery and the exhibiting artists - available on he Gallery Website. A new publication, featuring a project introduction, artist contributions and an essay by Sally O’Reilly, is available.


The Culture of Enthusiasm - Passion & Technology.  Monday 23 November 2009 4-6pm.  A discussion around the love, fascination and nostalgia for technology with Bee Thakore, Professor David Perrett and Neal White chaired by curator Rob la Frenais.

Secret Spies - children's workshop.  Saturday 12 December 2009 11.30am-3.30pm. A free workshop for children to create and document their own endg=angered species  using mixed media and sculpture.

The Cold War Legacy in the South - Secrecy and Technology bus tour. Saturday 23 January 2010 10am-6pm.  Artists from the Office of Experiments and other experts lead this fascinating bus tour of critical sites of advanced technological development in the South of England.  the tour will focus on sites that emerged during the tensions and paranoias of the Cold War. 

Media coverage:

The Guardian, ArtDaily

Links to artists' websites:

Steve Rowell, Beatriz da Costa

Exhibition supported:

Arts Council England

Images © Steve Shrimpton