In advance of major intelligence leaks in the USA from Chelsea Manning (2010) and Edward Snowden (2013), in 2008-9 in the UK, independent researcher Mike Kenner generously donated his own archive of classified documents on scientific research. The collection was facsimiled, archived and put on public display as part of the exhibition Dark Places at John Hansard Gallery in 2009, and remains an Office of Experiments resource for public access.
Mike Kenner amassed a collection of many thousands of formerly classified documents, media and other materials obtained during his research through FOI (Freedom of Information) requests concerning the activities at the Biochemical Research Centre at Porton Down, Wiltshire (referred to as MRE) and other sensitive science research establishments. As a considerable resource (Porton Down has since lost its own archive of such materials) Mike Kenner’s records of activities provides insights into the recesses of scientific research at its most secretive, and is based on evidence and careful research, rather than conspiracy theories associated with recent movements that challenge scientific expertise.
Working with assistant Ross Robertson (Arts Catalyst), the collection that contains photographs, de-classified but restricted secret and top-secret documents, cabinet office and official correspondence, experimental data, images, diagrams , analysis, video, photographs, newspaper cuttings etc was classified and labelled by Office of Experiments. A catalogue enables for a full search of the archive.
Many of the documents in the collection highlight scientifically classified experiments that had a significant impact in the region of Weymouth and Salisbury in the UK, with many conducted on the public using live pathogens, largely around Lyme Bay, Dorset. These experiments were not disclosed to the public at the time. Far from being historic research alone, Kenner’s work points to controversy generated by ongoing scientific trials and experiments at sites of exception. Whilst the nature of these has shifted today, many continue as field trials in extra-territorial spaces (overseas) to this, and whilst often concealed from public scrutiny, many operate in plain sight.
For a more detailed history of Porton Down, published in 2015, see Secret Science. A Century of Poison Warfare and Human Experiments by Ulf Schmidt.
The Archive itself is available for public exhibition or display and was seen in a number of venues between 2008-11. Extracts were taken to create the Micro-Exhibition – Proving Grounds of Coast and Sea for an exhibition ‘EXLAB’ at Bridport Arts Centre, near to where many of the experiments took place. It also informed a Bus Tour or Critical Excursion in and around Portland, in 2011, that featured an interview with Kenner.
The Mike Kenner Archive can be displayed in a number of formats, and is transported in an Aluminium Container with 352 folders stored in 12 Box Files with a corresponding Catalogue for searching and retrieving specific documents. It can be displayed for public access, although visitors from Intelligence agencies are asked to register their names.
The archive as a resource is available for access, and has been accessed by a number of artists and researchers conducting work in this area, including Dara McGrath whose extensive research ‘Project Cleansweep’ was published by Kehrer Verlag.
Images below are from the John Hansard Gallery exhibition, and a singular display taken from the archive shown at UCL, London, and consisting of a subterranean map and codenames from a classified site that remains surrounded by information and counter information – Corsham.
The ARC – Autonomous Research Collection (initiated in 2010)
Whilst the Mike Kenner Archive is a standalone resource, Office of Experiments interest in the display of this work stemmed from our work with a range of autonomous (non-academic) AND academic or investigative researchers, activists, journalists who have similar bodies of evidence.
To this end, and over ten years on from this initial project, we are specifically interested to access resources that explore the military-industrial and techno-scientific complex as it becomes more inter-connected, and in relation to evidence based work undertaken across our current areas of research including; Sites of Special Scientific Investigation (UK/International), GM organisms – including insects, all post-natural field trials and sites (International) cryogenic and gerontological sites (US), and the impact of extraction science on sensitive ecologies and natural resources (International).
Office of Experiments as an organisation and network of individual practitioners remains dedicated to the pursuit of transparency in science, technology, as well as emerging areas of innovation where concealment or non-disclosure undermines public confidence in these areas. To this end, we work in the area of art in order to expand our own and others work that uses evidential aesthetics to counter-conspiracy and other post-truth based cultures that emerge from the redaction and concealment of matters of public interest.
See The REDACTOR