Mhairi first came across the main focus of Genesis Lost whilst researching the landscape of derelict military airfields around Lough Foyle. Part of the former Limavady Airbase stood out amongst the more conventional conflict architecture; an isolated, bitumen-black spherical structure, suggestive of an extra-terrestrial form, marked it out as having a particular purpose. The building was an anti-aircraft training dome, conceived, designed and built in order to train WW2 gunners to shoot down enemy aircraft. Over 40 were built throughout the UK in the 1940’s and this is the only one remaining in Northern Ireland.
Within these domes photography and the moving image were employed for the first time to help train gunners to improve the accuracy of their firing in combat. Films specially made by Pathé and Ektachrome were projected, with accompanying sound effects, against the interior of the dome, as trainee gunners, using a rotating gun tower, took aim at emerging filmic aircraft in the simulated day and night skies around them. The construction and immersive experience of the domes are acknowledged as being the forerunner of Imax cinema, gaming, VR and video technologies.
Mhairi was inspired by the idea of technological and other ‘firsts’ with a connection to photography and to place, and her research focused upon the architecture of the dome, through to archives and military archives, radiating out to the landscape of this part of Ireland itself.
This process became a kind of ‘reverse celebration’, reflecting on some of the connected origins of practices and technologies that have been celebrated in previous eras as markers of ‘progress’, but which are being unmasked in our generation as instruments of climatic and global change on an unimagined scale.
The late Paul Virilio, a French cultural theorist who wrote extensively on the synthesis between war, photography and entertainment, cautioned against the embrace of technology as a salvific form, saying that it led to an unthinking and passive relationship;
When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck; when you invent the plane, you also invent the plane crash; and when you invent electricity, you invent electrocution…every technology carries its own negativity, which is invented at the same time at technical progress.
Genesis Lost is an exploration of temporality, inspired by reflections on the landscape of the dome, which carries the marks of the origins of particular tools and technologies, mapping image, sound and place; a quiet witness perhaps to the daily sound of a dawn chorus to the deep time of the Mesolithic period - to a potentially very different future.
Genesis Lost includes HD video, a unique artists’ book with hand printed analogue and digital photographic prints, cyanotype and drawing, and sculptural pieces of gilded wood.
Mhairi Sutherland thanks the following:
Chris Ramsey, Limavady Agricultural and Building Supplies (LABS) Limavady
Sarah Carson, Museum Officer, Causeway Coasts and Glen Borough Council
Elsa Modin, Librarian, Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg
Gregory McCartney, Curator, Verbal Arts Centre
Bryonie Reid and Quatro Collective
Jim O’Neill, Ulidia Heritage Services
Mervyn Smyth, Belfast Exposed
Andy Warmington, Musician
Harry Kerr, Memory Factory Photography
Keith Connelly, Tonic Design
Arts Council of Northern Ireland
Staff and Board of Artlink
The Trainer Dome is a Scheduled Monument on private land and is not currently accessible or open to the public.
Virilio, P, Politics of the Very Worst, New York: Semiotext(e), 1999, p.89