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Dark Places - John Hansard Gallery - Southampton - 24 November - 23 January 2010

Commissioned by The Arts Catalyst, and co-curated by Office of Experiments, John Hansard Gallery and SCAN, this exhibition contextualises works which combine research into sites of scientific and technological interest in the UK, "sites of uncertainty" [1], with art language which often appears almost secondary, and yet which combines the aesthetics of science and technology, museums and visitor centres, with an often spare and documentary/conceptual approach.

The enthusiasm of the artists involved for their investigative practice is palpable, relating as it does to "... arts current fascination with grass-roots activism, amateurs and subcultures..." [2]

In 'A Field Users Guide to Dark Places - South Edition', 2009, Office of Experiments, Neal white with Steve Rowell, the gallery visitor is invited to enter a small orange site hut, sit at the window, outside of which are large projections of 'Abbots Cliff Sound Mirrors and WWII Gun Emplacements, Kent'. Inside the hut it is possible to interact with a computer to explore the field guide itself, which uses a Google map to show locations of interest in the South of England, and which includes documents of White and Rowell's research as 'professionals' and 'enthusiasts' into "Science parks, radar facilities, military testing grounds, nuclear experimentation laboratories and so on." [3]

By extending the documentary qualities of conceptual art, and continuing these with the enthusiasm of personal research projects, enhanced by new media, Office of Experiments draws attention in a political sense to the activities of government and of private organisations, and how these activities actually impact on the public in a local and in a broader international sense.

In Steve Rowell's 'Looped Four Screen Projection with Audio', part of his installation 'Mastering the Ultimate High Ground, UK', 2009, the viewer enters a closed room via a corridor where the walls are covered in reflective foil. The UK is analysed and portrayed as a 'research environment', and he looks at two locations in England, RAF Menwith Hill and RAF Fylingdales, reflecting on global networks and communications which obviously extend beyond national boundaries.

Meanwhile, in 'A Memorial for the Still Living', 2009, Beatriz da Costa's installation, reflects on rare and endangered species of birds, animals, insects and plants of the British Isles, her research involving identifying the species within the collections of The Natural History and Horniman museums.

This work, together with Victoria Halford and Steve Beard's film 'Voodoo Science Park', 2009, complements the other installations by White and Rowell, in terms of looking at the impact of technology on the population and the natural environment.

Halford and Beard's film "...traces a secret geography of The Health and Safety Laboratory situated in the Peak District..." [4] In an interview with the four artists, accompanying the exhibition, Beard explains that they are interested in accidents, and such aspects as the ratio of human fatalities deemed acceptable by the government. But the film, which has a complex sound track, is significant in terms of its exploration of the history of engineering, the landscape of the Peak District and imagining an asynchronous encounter between William Blake and philosopher Thomas Hobbes.

This film is almost pre-modern in its approach, although the research into the institutional archive of The Health and Safety Laboratory enables the work to also locate itself within the context of the other works in this exhibition. "The dark place they are mesmerised by... [is] the phenomenon of accidents themselves, of the physical world pitched against the frail human form." [5]