UFO sightings, a Nazi invasion, nerve gas trials, unexploded bombs … the strange Suffolk enclave of Orford Ness has always inspired artists, and now it hosts the most unsettling project yet
It is one of Britain’s strangest landscapes, a spit of land off the Suffolk coast littered with the rusting junk of a mysterious and sinister past. Over the decades, musicians, film-makers, artists and writers have been sucked into its ghostly orbit, captivated by what the great existential wanderer WG Sebald imagined as “the remains of our own civilisation after its extinction in some future catastrophe”.
It’s now a nature reserve, but for much of the 20th century, Orford Ness was forbidden territory, sealed off for military purposes from the village whose picture-book church and castle can be seen from its desolate shingle beach. In 2014, Anya Gallaccio captured the decades of anxiety surrounding Ness with a series of hugely magnified photographs of a pebble believed to have been fractured by first world war bomb experiments. Jamiroquai used its strange colonnaded pagodas – designed in the 1950s to collapse in on themselves if a nuclear experiment went wrong – for the dystopian video of Automaton.