A Field Users Guide to Dark Places - South Edition, Office of Experiments, 2010

An evolving, experimental database of techno-scientific and industrial sites in the UK. This first phase covers the South of England.

A Field User's Guide to Dark Places - South Edition Now Online.

This is an Arts Catalyst commissioned online database of sites of secrecy, science and technology in the UK by the Office of Experiments. The South Edition of the database was created and presented as part of our exhibition Dark Places, in 2009-10, curated by Office of Experiments, The Arts Catalyst, John Hansard Gallery, and SCAN.

It is part of the ongoing Overt Research Project, run by Office of Experiments. to map and record advanced labs and facilities around the UK, and to involve the public in this exploration and revealment. 'A Field Guide to Dark Places' is the first of these experimental resources. It draws on and develops responses to the vast infrastructure of the techno-scientific and industrial/military complex, probing aesthetic, political and philosophical questions around spaces that are inaccessible or in some cases secret. It is focused on physical sites in the South of England (with reach of Southampton where the exhibition was shown).


The initial research was conducted by artists Neal White and Steve Rowell. The artists' aim now is to extend the scale of this work by opening up this resource to enthusiasts, amateur scientists and urban explorers and extending it across the UK. If you would like to take part, we ask that you attend a physical event. We run a number of events at which you can register to become an official Overt Researcher. These have most frequently included 'Critical Excursions'.

In order to register here as an Overt Researcher, we ask that you attend an Overt Research Project event. For more information on these events, please use the contact form.

Critical Excursions

The form of a Critical Excursion is experimental and varies depending on context. Recent Critical Excursions have included an intellectual and emotional tour of physical sites by vehicle "Secrecy & Technology: Legacy of the Cold War' around Southampton, with around 50 attendees. We utilised an experimental mix of factual, historic -informational and conspiracy video / audio on board a coach whilst moving around physical sites. Exceptional highlights were entry into a former Nuclear Bunker, a drive-past of Porton-Down and lunch and lecture at ISSEE (International School of Security and Explosives Education) at the Department of Homeland Security. More information and responses to the Critical Excursion are available at the following links.

New Scientist Blog - New Scientists take.
Angela Last Blog - A Mutable Matter reflection.
Geoforum Editorial - Theoretical Framing by Dr Gail Davies for the Scholarly Journal Geoforum.


For over 20 years, Neal White has critically explored art in relation to new ideas, forms and technologies. As part of numerous collaborative endeavours – he has been developing projects, research and artworks, publications, archives, fieldworks, critical excursions as bus tours and exhibitions with academics, architects and activists. His current work explores situated practices and knowledge - drawing together environmental and ecological matters of concern with marine biologists, ecologists, coders, architects and volunteers in Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island, Dorset for Arts Catalyst's Test Sites programme.


BLUEPRINT has published an extensive six page full colour featureon office of Experiments Dark Places project in the April 2010 Edition. Only available as a printed publication.

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Dark Places: artists investigations of technological history

A session at the British Rocketry Oral History Project (BROHP) conference 2007

Arts Catalyst presented the work of contemporary artists who explore the cultural and architectural legacy of the Cold War nuclear and space programmes as part of the British Rocketry Oral History Project (BROHP) conference 2007.

Speakers included the novelist and journalist James Flint, artist Louise K Wilson, and curator Rob La Frenais. The session was chaired by Nicola Triscott, Director of Arts Catalyst.

James Flint discussed some of the issues raised in his novel The Book of Ash which wove American development of nuclear science into a gripping story of art, atoms, alchemy, politics and paranoia, and was inspired by the American “nuclear sculptor” James L. Acord. Louise K Wilson‘s artworks explore perceptual, social and cultural aspects of science and technology. In A Record of Fear, she created sound and video works for Orford Ness, Suffolk – formerly a secret military testing site. To create Spadeadam, she investigated a UK Cold War test site, now used by Britain's Royal Air Force as an electronic warfare training range. Rob La Frenais reviewed some of Arts Catalyst’s art projects in the fields of space research and nuclear science and its work negotiating artists’ access restricted sites of science and technology in the UK and abroad.


James Flint is the author of the novels Habitus (1998); 52 Ways to Magic America (2002), which won the Amazon.co.uk Bursary Award for the year 2000; and The Book of Ash (2004), winner of a 2003 Arts Council Writers’ Award. He has also published a short story collection Soft Apocalypse – Twelve Tales from the Turn of the Millennium (2004). His short fiction has appeared in collections published by Penguin Books, the New English Library and the ICA. When it was published in France in 1992, Habitus was judged as in the top five foreign novels of that year's Rentrée Literaire. Time Out called it "probably the best British fiction début of the last five years". He has worked as a section editor for Wired UK and science editor of the technology and art periodical Mute, and has written features and reviews for many national newspapers and magazines, including The Guardian, The Observer, The Daily Telegraph, Time Out and Arena.

Louise K Wilson is a visual artist, whose work includes installations, sound pieces and video. Her recent work which springs from a curiosity into how the technology of flight affects our physiological states and psychological selves. To this end, she has participated in a movement experiment in zero gravity, co-opted a team of air traffic controllers in formation cycling on Newcastle Airport runway and been a passenger in an aerobatics plane repeatedly looping the loop. Previous associations have included the Montreal Neurological Institute, the Science Museum, London, the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre, Russia, the RSPB and Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service. Exhibitions have included Artists Airshow, RAF Farnborough (2004); Arena, Baltic (2003); Blue Streak, Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle (2003), Runway/ Spadeadam, Gallery TPW, Toronto (2003) and A Record of Fear, Orford Ness, for Commissions East (2005). Her video Spadeadam is in the Archive at the Imperial War Museum, London.

Rob La Frenais, Curator, Arts Catalyst

Nicola Triscott, Director, Arts Catalyst


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KiiCS: Knowledge Incubation in Innovation and Creation for Science

The Arts Catalyst is a partner in KiiCS (Knowledge Incubation in Innovation and Creation for Science), a 3-year European Commission Seventh Framework funded project (February 2012 – January 2015) which aims to:

  • Develop and explore original and innovative processes, methods and tools to "incubate” interdisciplinary arts, science and technology projects. Artists and scientists are brought together to produce and work on new, innovative ideas thus providing evidence of the positive impact of art and science interaction on creativity and innovation.
  • Encourage young people to engage in scientific activities and raise their interest in science and technology. Young adults (14-17 years old) are invited to discover new ways to look at science with the support of creative and artistic interventions.
  • Explore business partnership and market potential for the most innovative ideas stemming from art and science interaction. 

The Arts Catalyst was one of seven city nodes across Europe. Our activities included workshops with scientists and artists and other 'incubation' activities in The Arts Catalyst's London Project Space (between February 2012 and July 2013), including MadLab's 'Lab Easy' residency and workshop series, a one-day workshop with scientists including Dr Ceri Brenner, artists including Torsten Lauschmann, Lindsay Seers and Adam Chodzco, and designer Anab Jain, artist Alistair McClymont's residency at the Central Laser Facility, and artists' research and development projects by Torsten Lauschmann, Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen, and Andy Freeman.


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Cultural Utilisation of the International Space Station

The Arts Catalyst's Study for the European Space Agency

The Arts Catalyst is working with the European Space Agency (ESA) to develop a cultural utilisation programme for the human spaceflight, microgravity and exploration division.

In 2005, the European Space Agency (ESA) contracted The Arts Catalyst in London to carry out a study into cultural utilisation of the International Space Station (ISS). A report from this study was submitted to ESA in February 2006. In September 2007, Arts Catalyst was awarded a contract extension to further elaborate and implement some of the policy recommendations from the study, and to undertake some pilot cultural activities, including artist residencies within the Human Spaceflight, Microgravity and Exploration directorate.

Progress Reports 

Update - 31 July 2009

There have been some delays to the project associated with the ISS programme. We hope to announce two artists' residency opportunities shortly, which are funded by ESA and the Arts Council England.

Update - 12 November 2007

The Artist as Space Explorer: exhibition in Berlin curated by The Arts Catalyst

In November 2007, The Arts Catalyst curated and organised an exhibition of art projects demonstrating the potential cultural dimension of space exploration for ESA/DLR International Space Exploration Conference, Berlin. The exhibition, titled 'The Artist as Space Explorer' was commissioned by ESA and presented in collaboration with transmediale, the Berlin-based festival for art and digital culture. It included works by Tomas Saraceno, Marko Peljhan, Kitsou Dubois, Tim Otto Roth, Agnes Meyer-Brandis and Simon Faithfull.

Update - 30 September 2007

Contract extension awarded to The Arts Catalyst

The Arts Catalyst has been awarded a contract extension by ESA to further elaborate and implement some of the policy recommendations from the International Space Station cultural utilisation study, specifically:

* To further develop the proposed pilot projects, in particular by setting up a pilot artist residency programme at ESTEC (European Space Research & Technology Centre). This programme would enable the familiarisation of interested artists with the technical, operational, procedural, and administrative possibilities and constraints of the International Space Station's in-orbit and ground-based facilities for cultural utilisation.

* To propose and support the implementation of further activities and utilisation projects that can reach the European public.

Update - 5 October 2006

Final study report submitted to the European Space Agency

The Arts Catalyst submitted its report to ESA in February 2006. It is still to be approved by ESA, however permission has been given to makes its contents public.

Update - 25 November 2005

Preliminary report & workshop completed

From the responses to the consultation phase, the study team submitted its preliminary report to the European Space Agency in early September. This report comprised:

1 Draft Policy Recommendations

2 Selection of Project Ideas by Type/ISS Feature

3 Historical Contextualisation of Art in Space, Space Habitats and Related Facilities

At the beginning of November 2005, a 2-day workshop was held at the European Space Agency's International Space Station - Erasmus User Centre, ESTEC, Noordwijk in the Netherlands. The aim of the workshop was to discuss and refine the draft policy recommendations for cultural utilisation of the International Space Station. It brought together representatives from the European cultural community and from the European Space Agency for a stimulating 2 days of discussion. These discussions will inform the recommendations that will be presented to ESA's Director of Human Spaceflight, Microgravity and Exploration.

From these recommendations, we hope that there will be put in place a structure within ESA for considering and assessing cultural proposals for utilisation of the International Space Station and its ground-based facilities. It is also possible that, prior to or alongside this, a small number of "demonstrator" projects using ground-based facilities may take place.

As representatives of the cultural community (however diverse), our aim is for the cultural community to be accepted within ESA as a user group for ESA's ISS facilities.

Announcement - 31 May 2005

Contract for study on cultural utilisation of space awarded to The Arts Catalyst

The European Space Agency (ESA) has awarded The Arts Catalyst in London a contract to carry out a study into cultural utilisation of the International Space Station. The study sets out to investigate and focus the interest of the cultural world in the International Space Station, to generate a policy for involving cultural users in the International Space Station programme in the longer term and to develop a representative set of ready-to-implement demonstrator projects in arts, culture and media. Under the lead of the Arts Catalyst (GB), the study team also comprises Association Leonardo- Olats (F) and Delta Utec (NL), with the MIR network.

Media Articles

Jonathan Jones, art critic, in The Guardian - Universal Studios (UK)

Jens Hauser, art critic, in Arte - Space Art for the International Space Station (D/Fr)

Other Relevant Links

Nice article on the contemporary reality of living in space



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Airships and Rainforests

An invitation-only informal discussion and social event on the eve of A Treetop Odyssey.

Confirmed participants include Dr Graham Dorrington (Queen Mary, University of London), Marion Laval-Jeantet and Benoît Mangin (Art Orienté Objet). We hope to encourage a lively exchange of ideas which will fuel the ICA event the following day.

A Treetop Odyssey

(3pm Saturday 30 October, ICA, London) is a screening and discussion event focusing attention on the one of the world’s most inaccessible and under-explored area, tropical rainforest canopies. Some of the rarest plants and animals on earth are found in such locations, where undiscovered species live exclusively in these tree tops and never set foot on the forest floor. Until now, the rainforest canopy has been virtually inaccessible to scientists.

The afternoon will start with a screening of Werner Herzog’s 2004 film, 'The White Diamond', which eloquently illustrates the complexity of human desire and our need to further explore the planet and its resources. Set in the Kaiteur Falls in the heart of Guyana, it features the efforts of one of the world’s leading dendronautics engineers, Dr Graham Dorrington, in his attempts to test his airship designed to explore the forest canopy. The discussion afterward will be chaired by Quentin Cooper of BBC's 'Material World'.

This event is a partnership between The Arts Catalyst, Queen Mary, University of London and LCACE and has been developed as part of The Inside Out Festival.

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From Farm to Pharm

From Farm to Pharm: The Evolution of Artificial Selection

New York artist Brandon Ballengée was artist in residence at Gallery Oldham in November 2002 as part of the CleanRooms exhibition. Working in collaboration with a small group of unemployed young people, he developed a project which explored the origin and growth of current practices in genetic engineering. The group visited English farms, pet shops, urban parks, markets, and biotech laboratories to help trace the history of humankind’s struggle for dominance over natural evolutionary forces. According to the Ballengée, “the ‘Unconscious’ selection of our early ancestors shifted to selective breeding or artificial selection and has now evolved into the manipulation of individual genes to create entirely new species.”

Creating images of hundreds of species/breeds, they created two enormous visual time-lines exploring the changes in plant and animal life over the last 25,000 years. The work became an integral part of the CleanRooms exhibition and toured with it to the Natural History Museum in London in 2003, where Ballengée was again artist-in-residence and further developed the work in collaboration with the public and museum scientists.

Brandon Ballengée creates multidisciplinary works from information generated by ecological field trips and laboratory research, exploring the boundaries between art, science and technology. Since 1996, Ballengée has collaborated with numerous scientists to conduct primary biological research and advanced imaging procedures. His works have been exhibited in New York, Beijing, Vienna, London and other cities. He has also conducted many workshops on the themes of ecology, field biology and genetics with children and the general public.


Gallery Oldham, Oldham, Greater Manchester, UK

5 October - 30 November 2002

Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7, UK

20 June - 3 August 2003


Arts Council England

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Ecology Action Research

A schools project investigating the secret life of ponds

Antony Hall worked with Heathbrook School in South London. The school has a beautiful and flourishing wild life garden that contains a pond. Antony explored the garden and pond with the pupils to develop an informed sense of wonder and respect for the animal life they find there. They pond dipped, used pooters and inspection lids. From these activities, they furnished an aquarium and installed an underwater web cam in it thereby making the secret life of the pond creatures visible on computer for the whole school to enjoy.

Using drawing and videos of insects, the children looked at modes of movement and transformation to create basic screen based animation. Worm palaces and ant houses were built and, after investigation into the best shape, colour and materials to use to attract the insects, were developed into collaborative sculpture pieces. The children worked in small groups to create a story based on their favourite animal. They recorded these stories which were played from miniature speakers placed in the wildlife garden, creating a sculptural sound installation.

Sally Hampson worked with Oakley Special School in Tunbridge Wells. Sally worked with narrative and with the school’s garden. Pupils created the artefacts of an imaginative nature expedition in the wildlife garden, using drawing, painting and sculpture. By using close observation to recreate organisms, imagination and natural science were linked.

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Laurie Anderson (Space Soon)

NASA's former artist-in-residence, returning to the UK after the success of her show End of the Moon, reflects on her NASA experience and her visit to Russia’s space programme.

When NASA appointed the musician and artist, Laurie Anderson, as their first official artist-in-residence, they probably had in mind a celebratory and hi-tec output – perhaps lasers bouncing off the moon. But Anderson, disturbed by NASA’s revived plans to revisit and exploit the moon, created the performance piece The End of the Moon. NASA swiftly decided that there would be no further artists-in-residence.

In 2005, Anderson visited Russia’s space programme – the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre and mission control – with The Arts Catalyst and saw a very different side of the human spaceflight story, where the post-Soviet cash-strapped Russian space agency sells flights into space to Japanese dotcom billionaires at $20 million a time.

Anderson paid a special flying visit to London to take part in The Arts Catalyst's Space Soon event at the Roundhouse on Tuesday 12 September to reflect on her experiences, show her photographs and videos from her visit to Star City, in conversation with the author and critic Kodwo Eshun.

Artist's website:

Laurie Anderson


Laurie Anderson's trip to Star City was supported by The Arts Catalyst and Forma.


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