A One Day Field Guide to the Secrets of Portland (2011)

This Bus Tour took in a number of sites around which rumours and conspiracy have helped shape the experience of Portland, an island situated off the coast at Weymouth. Home to military research, bird watching, prisons, and not least the quarrying of Portland Stone (as used in many buildings in London), the place has a reputation shaped by a unique landscape.

The tour of some of the now defunct sites on the island were punctuated throughout the day by extracts from an interview conducted by Neal White with local activist, Mike Kenner. Mike introduced himself and then responded to questions relating to specific sites, information that circulates as both conspiracy and as fact.

One of the sites discussed, the Portland CEW R1 ROTOR Radar Station, a subterranean bunker site was according to Kenner, a site that his father worked in and which has a concealed entrance in the moat that surrounds ‘The Vern’ a local prison and Citadel. Both were sites we visited. Kenner drew attention to the sites that were used by nearby Porton Down to test Biochemical Weapon distribution on the public – an Experiment known as The Lyme Bay Trails.

Alongside Kenners commentary we provided information about the experiments conducted by Porton Down with maps and former Classified and Secret Documents. ‘Operation Portland’ by Harry Houghton, a book about the ‘Portland Spy Ring’, which was based in the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment was distributed in book form.

Information films on contemporary Underwater Weapons Technology, to be used in the Olympics the following year, were played alongside film extracts, including the The Damned (Joseph Losey, 1963). The film, which is an unusual mix of biker gangs and science fiction, explores the idea of an experimental underground city in which radioactive children are kept. Key to the film are the sculptures of Elizabeth Frink, featured as the work of an artist whose studio on the cliffs and abandoned quarries of Portland features key action.

The Critical Excursion was commissioned as part of ExLab – a festival of contemporary art and took place on the 14th May 2011.