|THE HUSH HOUSE
Some of the most enduring images
of the Cold War were the glimpses of military bases protected by
layers of wire fencing and observation towers that scanned the skyline.
Within the perimeters of these military zones aircraft taxied menacingly
along runways, awaiting take-off.
Between the 1950s and the 1990s large areas
of Eastern England became occupied by the Americans – Yankee
culture was literally installed. As these airbases became decommissioned
in the 1990’s, it was possible to get a more intimate view
of these alien landscapes. Architectural structures that seemed
both awesome and sublime. Bunkers and bomb storage areas, hangars
and other strange outbuildings featured among manicured lawns. These
landscapes were flat and the horizon emphasised the strangeness
of these sites hidden within the English countryside.
The term Cold War has an ominous sound to it. The awe that it invokes
was never really played out but nevertheless the threat that prevailed
made the fantasy of its potential almost more terrifying. These
scenarios have a way of working their way deep into the unconscious
mind. Many of these sites had nuclear capabilities and for those
growing up in the time of the Cold War, there was a deep sense of
foreboding concerning the future if nuclear arms were deployed.
Military terminology such as ‘arms race’ and ‘four
minute warning’ was not exactly a call for optimism. Yet in
Britain, the Cold War seemed somehow absent or staged elsewhere
– Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Russia and Germany. As an island ‘we’
had nearly always felt safe but nuclear war has no respect for national
or geographic boundaries.
What these sites evoke, if nothing else, is
a sheer sense of overwhelming power that post-war military technology
was capable of unleashing. Among the trees in deepest rural England
lay a totally unnerving presence of might. What remains of this
presence is still palpable. Many of the structures that remain have
become modern ruins, overgrown and camouflaged once again, only
this time naturally.
The sculptural aspect of these military sites can be seen to resemble
the work of the artists Robert Smithson and Robert Morris who created
work in the 1970s that examined the relationship between sculpture,
landscape and architecture. These sites also suggest Cold War films
such as Dr Strangelove in which apocalyptic scenarios are played
The photographs from the forthcoming
book (The Hush House: Cold War Sites in England) allow the Cold
War to become located within a very rural setting often hidden behind
regimented pine forests and rarely signposted. These images reveal
a part of history that already seems long ago yet threatens to return
with fresh military tensions.
© 2004 Frank Watson