Experimental Ruins

Participatory Research for Experimental Ruins

The twenty places of our Experimental Workshop were filled immediately. The aim was to introduce to participants questions around how our personalised knowledge of urban and rural landscapes is shaped. Probing how we might respond to new sites that might in turn inform our own understanding of a recent cultural and political heritage.

Following a brainstorm, the group was divided into two groups; Knowing and Not Knowing. Each were taken to the Ossuary at Museum of London. Led through a steel framed retail park scale catacomb by Dr Roy Stephenson, this archive of death contains 17,000 exhumed skeletons from London excavations. In this smoke black brick building, the centre of a major roundabout in the heart of the City of London, a context was given through which volunteers might explore how best to approach experimental fieldwork.

Exploring in turn, the impact that an informational landscape makes to such experiences, with personal responses, individuals worked on ideas of how to interpret this institutional trespass; from digital recordings, to work with pinhole cameras, from situational interventions and personal mapping, a range of experimental approaches through which this landscape can be explored and represented were devised.

Experimental Ruins – Critical Excursion

A few weeks later, the Experimental Ruins critical excursion took place. Workshop participants were joined by other members of the public in a day long tour through the transport and production infrastructure of military power and its temporary sites of resistance within the context of cold war landscape of West London’s suburban fringes.

The day was framed by JG Ballard writing on suburbia, as we headed to Dollis Hill 1970’s housing estate, situated above the second (now abandoned) cabinet war rooms that ushered in the Cold War. A tour devised by our partners for the day, Subterranea Britannica, provided the perfect start to a journey which headed west beyond the M25 to extracts from the Ian Sinclair film, London Orbital.

In a circuit that led us towards the Atomic Weapons Establishments at Burghfield and Aldemaston, we stopped to take on a guide who would inform participants how and where these nuclear/military /scientific sites are monitored buy anit-nuclear groups. Contrasting the temporary sites of peace camps against the backdrop of these seemingly unassailable sites, we headed towards Greenham Common Air base the former US Nuclear Missile site, an acclaimed trophy of the CND and Womens protest movement. 

Extracts from experimental film maker Bruce Connor’s acclaimed work ‘Crossroads’, with haunting soundtrack by  Patrick Gleeson and Terry Riley, were supplemented by archive footage of nuclear explosions. These in turn were juxtaposed with footage of protest and occupation, problematising the official historical representations of such sites.

Provoking volunteers and the public alike, the project questions what we know and understand about the nature and dimensions of our shared heritage.

Participatory Publication

As an addendum to the workshop and tour, participants were asked to submit their own images, thoughts and reflections of the events and sites. A temporal map was created and published, and distributed to those who took part. Further copies are available upon request to Arts Catalyst.


Experimental Ruins was conceived through a number of projects, the first being an ESRC funded workshop led by Dr. Gail Davies at UCL Department of Geography.

Participatory workshop was conceived and produced with Lisa Haskel, Lala Thorp and Luce Choules

Experimental Ruins was funded by Arts Catalyst and the Heritage Lottery Fund with support from The Museum of London. 

Experimental Ruins: Extract from the Office of Experiments publication: Experimental Ruins. West Edition.
Designed and printed by Luce Choules.

Experimental Ruins Workshop – Arts Catalyst
The Ossuary, Museum of London. Experimental Ruins Workshop
The Ossuary, Museum of London. Experimental Ruins Workshop
Experimental Ruins Workshop
Experimental Ruins Workshop – with Roy Stephenson at Museum of London
Overt Researcher ID for participants
Tour of Cabinet War Rooms – facilitated by Subterranea Britannica
Sites of Interest: Experimental Ruins
Experimental Ruins – Map and Guide