Project Cleansweep Beyond the Post-Military Landscape of the United Kingdom 11th - 27th May 2018 Fort Dunree
Throughout the 20th century, the Ministry of Defence carried out chemical and biological weapons tests in the UK. Dara McGrath’s Project Cleansweep documents these landscapes as they return to public use.
The project takes its name from a UK Ministry of Defence report issued in 2011, which assessed the risk of residual contamination at sites in the United Kingdom used in the manufacture, storage, and disposal of chemical and biological weapons from World War I to the present day. The report found "no indication of significant risk to public health or environment" even though authorities conceded they "do not have scientific evidence that all harmful traces of the agents were removed or disposed of." McGrath visited each of the sites listed in the Project Cleansweep report, and identified others through government documents and interviews with military historians, environmental activists, and locals.
Many of the photographs depict scenic views: beaches, moorlands and idyllic islands. There is no indication that each site was once home to a chemical or biological weapons facility - a chemical factory, ordnance test quarry, underground munitions bunker or decontamination centre where authorities produced, tested, and disposed of lethal agents like anthrax and mustard gas. "There’s a dichotomy going on here, between the beautiful landscape and the secret history that’s hidden underneath,” he says. Although these tests are no longer a part of UK military actions, McGrath believes they still resonate with current international affairs.
Great Britain began testing chemical weapons on home soil during World War I, a practice that continued through World War II and beyond. Many facilities and sites sat less than 10 miles from rural towns.
The work looks beyond the risk assessment to the ways that landscapes are psychologically charged by their history, examining the sites of the official investigation, including those used for both chemical and biological weapons activities during the Cold War. McGrath’s investigations followed traces that lead, predictably, to military bases and government facilities and, more surprisingly, to grocery stores and nature parks. Over 4,000 sq km of the landmass in the UK was appropriated for military use in the 20th century. The images take the viewer into the country lanes of Dorset and Devon, the Peak District, the woodlands of Yorkshire and out across the open rolling countryside of the Salisbury Plain, all the way from the coastlines of East Anglia, the West Counties and Wales to the remote Scottish Highlands and the Irish Sea. The work marks the influence of military activities upon the British landscape, provoking deeper consideration of their lasting social and environmental impacts.
Dara McGrath is a photographic artist based in Cork City, Ireland. His photo works look at transitional spaces, in-between places where architecture, landscape and the built environment intersect, where a dialogue – of absence rather than presence – is created. Recent exhibitions include: Sirius Arts Centre, PhotoIreland, Belfast Exposed, Format Photo Festival, Espace Lhomond Paris Photo, New Irish Works II, PhotoHof Salzburg, Gallery of Photography Dublin, Photo Biennale Thessalonika, Centre Des Beaux Arts Brussels, Voies-Off Arles, Venice Biennale of Architecture, Landeskrone Photo, Kaunas Photo Days, Singapore Photo Festival, Photo Week DC, Copenhagen Photo Festival. McGrath is the winner of the Remote Photo Prize 2017, the RAC Photo Award 2017, the AIB Arts Prize, European Now Award, a Solas Prize and was recently nominated for the Prize Pictet 2016.
Derry based artist Catherine Ellis is a multi-disciplinary artist who uses visual metaphor to comment obliquely on Northern Ireland’s ‘troubles’. For Elephants in the Room she has created a number of interrelated pieces, manufactured using both industrial and natural materials (cement, plaster, steel wool, wood, feathers) and employing industrial and hand-made processes (casting, carving, weaving).
This exhibition “Sundance” was based on the miracle of the Sun in Fatima, Portugal. The Miracle of the Sun was an event which occurred on 13 October 1917, attended by a crowd of 70,000 people who had gathered near Fatima, Portugal in response to a prophecy made by three shepherd children that the Virgin Mary, referred to as “Our Lady of Fatima”, would appear and perform a miracle on that date. Thousands bear witness to seeing the Sun dance in the sky that day. This exhibition showcased photos & testimonies of the witnesses, religious artefacts and some original artwork produced by the artist.
About the Artist: Mary McClelland
Based in Co. Donegal, Mary is a mixed media artist, specializing in photography and sculpture. She graduated in Visual arts practice with a BA hons degree in 2016 from IADT, Dunlaoghaire, Co. Dublin. “As an artist, I create images and objects in an attempt to capture the struggles, pains, joys, and beauties of our human existence; which in times of grace, I believe, interacts with a divine presence. Whether through a sculpture, installation, photo or video, the objective is the same. I aim to express the sacred in our daily lives in a contemporary way based on my own personal faith journeys. I hope that viewers of my work will contemplate what they see and feel that connection of the divine in their own lives and maybe reach out to that ethereal higher loving entity, which is God, to me.”
For the past few years I have been considering forms of cultural expression and identity, and how art can help create community within our society. My original source of inspiration for this collection of work was a Rag Tree I encountered on a desolate stretch of road in the middle of nowhere, in County Mayo. The tree was festooned with a bizarre array of cast off clothes, children’s toys, rags and scraps. Whilst there was no obvious sense or signpost to meaning, it was obvious that deep meaning was present. I have since learnt that Rag trees are sites of pre-Christian votive offering; here you encounter the timeless, instinctive impulse we all share to externalise our thoughts, feelings, fears and wishes – in this case through appropriated or created objects – which when viewed become a primitive definition of art.
At a time when the ‘celebrity’ art market has warped our appreciation and understanding of art’s place in society, this encounter prompted me to consider the purpose of art and the idea of art as a shared experience, with a value - and speaking of values - beyond the financial. My piece “Placebo-Panacea : Give Me Something to Believe In” is a commentary on this continuing marginalisation and de-valuing of the power of our imaginations –often associated with ‘spirituality’ or magic when linked to healing or wellbeing - to affect change, in favour of instant, packaged, profit-making solutions for the mind.
For my other pieces I have experimented with a range of media - from pencil drawing to installation, from video to print - to explore this human impulse for creativity in times of crisis or intense emotion, as a means of provoking empathy and understanding in the viewer/reader. Through these creative acts we can create community and a cultural, social cohesion.
As an extension of this idea, local artists were invited to join me in a closing event, which was titled "Message In a Bottle”. I would like to thank all the artists who contributed a bottle containing their artwork (too many to mention here), which we will be casting out into the waves at Fort Dunree, as a gesture of “free art”. Hopefully I will receive some responses from recipients at some point in the future (via Facebook) and create a new community online!