I am an artist based in Nottingham and Essex. My current PhD research, between Slade and The Institute of Archaeology (UCL), explores the potential of collaborative fieldwork between artists and archaeologists. The material and historic relationship of industrial production to colonialism, processes of social and environmental change, inform and ground the practice of contemporary archaeology. As such, my research asks how the development of place-specific and collaborative methods ‘in the field’ enable new ways of highlighting current discourses around nuclear energy production and the multiplicities of actors and forms of knowledge that run through as well as inhabit the Blackwater Estuary in Essex.
The Blackwater Estuary is a microcosm of complex issues around history, heritage, ecology and the geo-politics of energy production, consumption and “disposal”. It is home to one of the UK’s first generation of nuclear power stations; proposed new nuclear programmes; the Grade I listed Chapel of St. Peter-on-the-Wall dating from 660-662; and the Othona Community. Bradwell is situated in the midst of a Site of Special Scientific Interest, an area with a rich and diverse ecology as well as social history; from roots in Christianity to protests during the 1980s against Nirex, who at the time tried and failed to select Bradwell as a nuclear waste site.
Like any estuarine landscape its interrelationships are planetary: migratory birds; the ebb and flow of the tide; the panning and selling of the well-known Maldon salt; its involvement with the nuclear military-industrial complex; its medieval histories. Here the arrangement of humans and non-humans, historical sites and important ecologies should be considered, particularly when thinking about and acting upon the planning and implementation of the infrastructure of nuclear power production and storage.
FIELDWORK Q&A – August 2020
How is fieldwork part of your practice?
Fieldwork is the primary way I explore and understand how complex issues around history and heritage, power and governance, ecology and the geopolitics of extraction – notably mining, agriculture and disposal – are crystallised in specific geographies. For me, fieldwork is both theoretical and pragmatic, engaging the concepts of ‘place-specific practice’ (Lippard. 1995) and ‘Archaeology of the Present’ (Harrison. 2016). Stemming from Lucy Lippard’s reconsideration of ‘site-specificity’ – ‘place-specificity’ values embeddedness, incorporating human, economic and historical forces beyond topography, while an archaeology of the present represents the temporal position from which individual and collective political action can – and must – be constructed to envision new and more sustainable futures. In addition, fieldwork within my practice necessitates ‘dwelling’ (Ingold. 1993) and embeddedness in a specific place over a prolonged period.
How would you describe your fieldwork activity?
My fieldwork activities often begin with extended study visits and walking to develop a close reading of a place. This encompasses various approaches to documentation including collecting audio with contact microphones and hydrophones, video recordings, writing and making photographs. I combine this with reading and research into relevant historic and ongoing land use, industry, changing topography and boundaries, and local histories. I frequently work collaboratively with artists and non-artists including: fishermen, archaeologists, powerplant workers, musicians and ham radio enthusiasts – so interviews with local experts are another way I begin to get a more comprehensive understanding of nuances that might not be immediately apparent. My approach to art production varies depending on where I am, who and what I meet. In this sense, I cannot make my work without working in the field, whether it’s an archaeological dig, saltmarsh or a limestone quarry.
How are you currently sharing your fieldwork?
I am currently working in Bradwell on the Blackwater Estuary. By working ‘in the field’, I aim to use performance, group workshops, writing, sound and broadcast, and moving image to consider how the mode of production and form of the artwork can make tangible and experiential – rather than simply illustrate – the multifaceted influences governing the Blackwater Estuary. Working in this way, I am looking to highlight current discourses of energy production and tacit forms of knowledge that inhabit the estuary.
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