Monday, 5 October 2009

When The Wind Blew

Recently I revisited this animated film I had seen in my childhood. My cloudy memory could only recall two sequences. These images plagued my thoughts whenever I lay in bed at night, for a considerable time after having seen the film. Powerful images, that depicted the heat of a nuclear blast flowing across the idyllic English countryside. These images have stayed with me for over 15 years. For a long period this film was my only understanding of how horrific a nuclear attack could or would be.

The story follows an elderly couple that live in the countryside. Their limited understanding of the dangers brought about post-nuclear attack had been issued to them by the Protect and Survive handbook. The couple are naïve and vulnerable… though they try to prepare, their efforts are frustrating as well as futile.

The film was inspired by Raymond Briggs’ graphic novel of the same title and directed by Jimmy Murakami.

After seeing this film again, I became intrigued by the human instinct for survival. This animated classic has heavily influenced this project.

Protect and Survive?

My research connected with this project has highlighted an aspect of public information unfamiliar to those of my generation. I have become fascinated with this aspect of social history; though see little use for the information contained within these pamphlets. After close scrutiny, I have only been able to conclude that this official literature, distributed in the early 1980s, was the product of a government confront with the possibility of mass panic in the midst of the Cold War. The advice offered seems impractical, only to appease the general populace. The book presents an overly optimistic attitude towards the possibility of survival and gives little or no mention of its futility.

Though there is little evidence to suggest that the information contained within Protect and Survive was ever intended for public consumption, the phrases included within the publication have been immortalised through popular-culture, appearing in the lyrics of songs and featured in television programmes such as the 80s BBC cult classic, The Young Ones (Bomb).

Project proposal

Through my previous research and based upon my own personal experience of such places, I have become interested in structures designed specifically for shelter from conflict or threat.

Throughout this project I will concentrate on nuclear bunkers built during the Cold War, in particular the decommissioned military facility based at Hack Green in Nantwitch, Cheshire. I intend for the images produced to explore the emotional impact of this confined space and to dwell upon the poignancy of such a purpose-built environment, designed exclusively for the survival of its inhabitants, however futile such an existence may be, post-disaster and devastation. I believe that for these reasons, the bunkers have a direct relationship with Psychogeography. It is this special and unusual relationship that I will try to convey through this project.

The definition of the term Psychogeography penned by Guy Debord (explained in his Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, 1955) lends itself to many situations. The effects that everyday environments have on our emotions and behaviour can sometimes feel heightened or more significant in specific places. I hope to be able to continue to explore this theme and these feelings brought about by different locations through a photographic body of work inspired by Debord’s definition of Psychogeography.

The photographs will act as a document or record of such places and the historical role they have played in our past. Though, hopefully, this body of work will also capture the atmospheric qualities of the environment and the distinctly eerie and unnerving tone ever-present in the shelter. The low-key lighting provided by the artificial lamplight, used throughout the facility, will create a sense of claustrophobia and invite the viewer to imagine struggling to survive such atrocities, initiated by advances in science made over 60 years ago as well as the age-old influence of man’s hunger for power and control.