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The Black Tower: Orford Ness
Ballistic horizon: orford ness
beacon:

On the 8th September my field-recording from the door of the Black Beacon on Orford Ness will be played at the New York Public Library as part of Kinokophonography: an evening of audible cinema curated by Kinokophone.

Formed by the prevailing winds of longshore drift, the shingle spit of Orford Ness is now a National Nature Reserve. Previously the site of an early radar navigation system, during the Second World War the ness was also used as an Atomic Weapons Research Establishment. The ness remains haunted by the abandoned buildings and unexploded ordinance of this military occupation.

orford mess
restricted landscape: orford ness
moth light: orford ness
Flagless

Orford ness is a restricted landscape; visitors are warned to keep to the ‘route’ and large areas are off limits. The geometry of blast walls, laboratories and observation stations interrupts the terrain. The architecture of these derelict sentinels quietly observes the horizon, amplifying a sense of vacant stillness. Through the concrete stare of windows, the buildings keep watch on this vacancy, the isolation and secrecy of their accommodation, strangely reminiscent of bird hides. On the roof of bomb ballistics building, binoculars place the ness under the surveillance of a military lens, a series of lines measure and map the landscape viewed. Whilst a breeze ascending the metal staircase, surrounds the building in a harmonic mist, an almost inaudible howl, which hangs in the air like tinnitus.

In accordance with the source of its formation, the soundscape of Orford ness is dominated by the aerial and intermittent: the rumble of wind against the ear, the pits of silence that appear when the breeze drops or is physically obscured. Inside the buildings and behind the blast doors, the occasional draft and clatter of metal interrupts an empty quiet. Outside, animated by the wind, the rope of a flagless pole taps out a signal of distress: a telegraph of unknown content delivered to an anonymous recipient.

rusted loop: sebastiane hegarty
The Black Tower unFramed

air on a hinge: composition for three doors

A monochrome tower in a flat and pallid landscape, inclined to the ocular, the Black Beacon seems appropriately conspicuous. The word ‘beacon’ has its etymological roots in light, fire and desired visibility. However, in counterpoint to this emphasis on the visible the conspicuity of the Black Beacon also results from an allusion to the unseen, invisible and auditory. Built in 1929 as part of the Orfordness Rotating Wireless Beacon Radar System the Black Beacon was once part of an audible map of the terrain. (Ra)dio (d)etecting (a)nd (r)anging the unseen, the beacon provided a navigational fix for those otherwise lost at sea.

As I climbed the stairs of the beacon my ear was caught by a slight and plaintive whine. This transmission was occasional and intermittent, suspended moans followed by sharp high frequency yelps. I used the rotation of my ear and the volume of the sound to detect the site of its origin. Through this physical radar, my ear (and eye) fixed on the rusted hinge of a door, which, when caught by the draft of a sea breeze, transmitted a sonorous aerial code. As part of its station sequence the Black Beacon had once broadcast in Morse the letters “V” and “B”, now the hinged air pronounced its own alphabet, an ethereal dot and dash, a persistent unanswered signal enunciating loss.

 

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Tacita Dean Film 2011

Tacita Dean Film (2011)

A Journey up to London to see Gerhard Richter at the Tate and Building the Revolution at the Royal Academy. I had forgotten that Tacita Dean’s piece Film, was the latest Installation for The Turbine Hall, and as such I was unprepared for the dark shadow that the installation casts into the hall. As you walk into the building you are met by a distinct lack of light, Film’s distant gloaming summoning you down, deeper into the darkness. Like the secular light of an avant-garde Cathedral window the strip of enlarged Film hangs in the night which lurks at the end of the Turbine Hall.

As I watched the eleven-minute loop, looping, I felt myself succumb to its soporific lull, staring through the images into my own thinking. The echo of intermittent footsteps as people approached and moved away became a soundtrack assisting my drift. Although slightly disturbed by the stationary sprockets, which add a frame of pretense to the reality of the film, I sat here silently watching time passing me by: ‘waiting without waiting for’.

I must confess that I am partial to watching nothing happen, especially when it doesn’t happen very slowly. In 2001 Dean’s show at Tate Britain allowed me to sit on the melancholic carousal of Berlin’s Fernsehturm television tower: I sat there for several rotations, listening to the ticking chronometer of the 16mm projector with occasional accompaniment from the man on the Fernsehturm’s organ (this all does sound unintentionally seaside).

Gerhard Richter Baader Meinhof

Design for Speaker no. 7

The grey melancholy of Gerhard Richter’s Baader Meinhof room added to the gloomy pall falling over the day (in an act of unintentional irony, every room in the Richter exhibition had  a sign saying Photography is strictly forbidden) . At the RA’s Building the Revolution I discovered Gustav Klutsis’s Design for Loudspeaker No. 7 and the sublime squares, lines and circles of Rodchenko, Malevich, and Lisitsky (forms also found in Tacita Dean’s Film). But even these transcendent ‘archetonics’ had a shadow cast over them, when seen in the photographic company of the architecture they inspired. Beautiful forms, flowing with function, left to crumble and rot; one of the remaining ‘palaces’ now with its insides ripped out as it was transformed into the foyer of a bank.

Today I found comfort in the discovery of Arthur Zajonc’s book Catching the Light, which was waiting for me on the Oxfam shelf. A ‘multi-levelled history’ of light, the first few pages reveal light itself to be darkness. Zajonc conducted an experiment in which he created a ‘region of space’ (a box) filled only with light: a space in which ‘light does not illuminate any interior objects or surfaces’. What does he see when he looks into light alone: “Absolute darkness! I see nothing but the blackness of empty space […] The space is clearly not empty but filled with light. Yet without an object on which the light can fall, one sees only darkness.’ Following a discussion with the Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart, Zajonc realised that even the outer space in which our planet floats, the darkness of light is omnipotent: ‘The sun’s light, although present everywhere, fell on nothing and so nothing was seen. Only darkness.’

I see a darkness indeed.

a recent death 1

a recent death 4

a recent death 5a recent death 2b

‘Serendipity: making discoveries by accident and sagacity, of things we are not in quest of’.

After discovering a large amount of flies dying or approaching death at the Frieze Art Fair, I had not given their demise another thought. But on Friday, I rolled open a blind in a room at work (appropriately numbered 101) and there discovered a quiet holocaust: a windowsill landscape of dead flies. Most of the flies were dead on their backs, but others seemed to have just fallen over, whilst one was in a strangely erect position, as if addressing the other members of the necropolis. There was definitely something of the Pompeii in the flies’ deathly arrangement. One fly occasionally moved a leg, whilst the remaining extant fly, wandered around on a sky, cruelly visible through the glass pane of the window.

Exposing a rather Warholian disposition, I went to get my camera, so that I might visually seize the poor flies in their moribund tableaux.
I read a story once that, when Andy was informed one of his ‘friends’ had just leapt from a building to his death, Andy replied, “I wish he had told me, I could have taken my camera and filmed him”. Which may appear heartless and cruel, but then again if the call had been made and Andy and his Bolex arrived, then this sad anonymous exit may have been remembered; a life disappeared, would be framed and possibly immortalised through the 16mm lens of Andy’s ‘ocular vampirism’.
Not that I would claim to be immortalising the brief lives of these poor flies. No, there is just something very sad in the quiet recent death that hides behind the closed blind of a window.

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