Category: Bus Tour

Experimental Ruins

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

The Secrets of Portland

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.


Secrecy and Technology – Mediated Bus Tour

Secrecy and Technology Bus Tour (2009)

On the final day of the exhibition Dark Places, at John Hansard Gallery, the Secrecy and Technology bus tour took place, exploring the Cold War’s legacy in the South. Neal White and Steve Rowell led the critical excursion, a performance -led, mediated experience meticulously planned with Lala Thorpe of Arts Catalyst. The journey was timed to allow an in depth spatial and archival tour of sites of advanced technological development in the South of England, focusing on points of interest that emerged during the tensions and paranoias of the Cold War. 

The tour visited the sites of Chilbolton Observatory, Porton Down and RAF Boscombe Down, stopping off at a nuclear bunker, before lunch at the International School for Security and Explosives Education. In the afternoon, we took the bus of experimenters to RAF Blanford to visit the Signals Museum, pausing for tea, before heading back to the John Hansard Gallery, where a small evening event laid on by the gallery launched Office of Experiment’s publication The Redactor and allowed the bus tour participants to view the exhibition.

Being the first critical excursion, the tour was in an experimental form at this stage. Further to gaining access to sites, additional material had been obtained as part of the Overt Research project that gave travellers through the landscape access to a narrated series of films, you-tube videos, archived materials, and some classified films that we had gained access to through our research. One or a number of these were played between each visit, and informed the tone and sense of unease at the veracity of information both being shared on the bus, and with the public at each of the sites of interest.

The Office of Experiments’ Overt Research Project was supported by UCL Department of Geography and The Media School, Bournemouth University. Led by Neal White with Steve Rowell and Lisa Haskell.

Dark Places is commissioned by The Arts Catalyst and co-curated with the Office of Experiments, John Hansard Gallery and SCAN.

Further information is available at: (14/2/2013)

Participants arrive at the observation point for Chlibolton Observatory
Approach to Military Drone Site
Winners of a Raffle get to explore hidden Nuclear Bunker
Down the Hatch
Miscellaneous artefacts inside the bunker
Arriving at ISEEE
Inside the Signals Museum