A response to Orford Ness in Suffolk and site-specific artworks by Alice Channer, Tatiana Trouvé, Emma McNally and others for MAP Magazine.
Nature’s silence is its one remark, and every flake of world is a chip off that old mute and immutable block.
Teaching a Stone to Talk, Annie Dillard
But we still have to listen.
On the Ness, high winds are white noise, tailed by the chaffing of shingle underfoot in an ionised chord. We learn to listen with our eyes instead. I See a Silence, wrote Ilya Kaminsky, in the book of poetry that accompanies Afterness—a series of site-specific artworks commissioned by Art Angel at the remote shingle split of Orford Ness in Suffolk. As you approach by boat from Orford’s bucolic village quay, the topography of the land ahead stays as it is—low. Low lying and lying low was the point of The Ness, otherwise known as the Island of Secrets. From the First through to the Cold War, The Ness operated as a test site for military weapons for the War Department, later for work on the atomic bomb under the AWRE, and in the seventies for the detonation of munitions by the RAF. It bares those scars in the vestiges of blown out metal tanks peeling back like rusted war wounds and flattened buckets, slowly eroding, in the traces of strange circular foundations, derelict bunkhouses piled with wind-blown shingle and blasted out buildings open to the rafters.
But let’s not be all ‘Mittel-brow miserablism’ about it. Despite its haunted past, Orford Ness is animated by the future. Surrounded by lagoons, salt marshes and reeds, the site, now under the jurisdiction of the National Trust, is being allowed to ‘re-wild’. Against the quiet hauntology of W.G. Sebald’s words, I seek out nature’s silent remark. The loud opium red and yellow latex of poppies, the lilac of sea lavender, the scarlet of a pimpernel—all of it pushing up between the shingle and fissures in concrete and along the seams of tar.