Saturday, 2 December 2017


Afterwords from B4 films on Vimeo.
The connection between science fiction and (eerie) landscape is one that my colleague Bruce Bennett and I were keen to investigate when we were making Afterwords, a short film about a young woman traversing an empty, post-peak oil landscape. In particular, we use both visible signs of human presence in landscape, connected with energy infrastructure and networks: wind farms, pylons, power stations. The soundtrack we composed refers directly to modes of music identified with an electric modernity: Kraftwerk (another ‘power station’), analogue synths, glitches, electric white noise and hum. It’s not the kind of electronic distillation of the sound of folk horror and hauntology identified by Simon Reynolds and Mark Fisher in the work of The Advisory Circle, The Focus Group and Belbury Poly, all on the Ghost Box label. Belbury Poly’s name, of course, refers to CS Lewis’s That Hideous Strength, a novel at the science fantasy/ planetary romance end of the ‘eerie landscape’ mode, which reads the ‘occupation’ of the English landscape by malign forces in an overtly theological (and Grail legend-inflected) mode.

We filmed part of Afterwords around the lake at Trawsfynydd, one of three that lie in sequence as you drive into the southern foothills of Snowdonia: Llyn Tegid (at Bala), Llyn Celyn, and then Trawsfynydd. Only one of these is natural, the first. The other two are valleys flooded at different points in the 20th century. There are several of these lakes dotted across the landscape of North and Mid-Wales. Llyn Celyn submerged a village, Capel Celyn, in the mid-1960s at the behest of the Corporation of Liverpool, displacing a village in the name of providing Liverpool with fresh water, for which the city council has subsequently apologised. This drowned village figures strongly in the contemporary cause of Welsh nationalism, and if you drive south from Aberystwyth into Ceredigion on the main coastal A-road, you pass a famous painted rock outcrop with the words ‘Cofiwch Dryweryn’ (Remember Tryweryn) which is re-painted on a regular basis.

Lake Trawsfynydd was flooded in the 1920s, and its water was used to power the hydro-electric plant at nearly Maentwrog. In 1965, however, the same year as the flooding of Llyn Celyn, a nuclear reactor came onstream there. The Trawsfynydd power station was designed by Basil Spence, best known for the Coventry Cathedral commission. The power station was constructed to sit in the landscape like other monumental (English) buildings that ring North Wales: the aforementioned Norman castles of Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech. Ironically, in attempting to historically ‘camouflage’ the building, Spence’s design recapitulates the symbols of English occupation and control of Welsh land. Most importantly of all, Trawsfynydd was a Magnox reactor. Magnox technology was an inefficient and dirty nuclear technology, and its most significant by-product was plutonium. This plutonium was used, of course, for nuclear warheads. There were two clusters of Magnox reactors in England, Wales and Scotland; one based around the Irish Sea, the other on the South West and South East Coasts of England. The Irish Sea stations were, from the North, clockwise: Hunterston A (Ayrshire); Chapelcross (Dumfries and Galloway); Calder Hall/ Windscale/ Sellafield (Cumbria); Trawsfynydd; Wylfa A (Anglesey). And in the South: three in Gloucersthire and Somerset, and Sizewell A (Suffolk), Bradwell A (Essex), and Dungeness A (Kent).

The most well-known of these, perhaps, is Dungeness, and this is through the connection to Derek Jarman, whose Prospect Cottage was on the headland and whose garden was the location for his 1990 film of the same name. Jarman is an important reference point for Afterwords. Our film was shot on Super 8, like Jarman’s early, experimental films. His Journey to Avebury (1971), with its evocation of the standing stones in that charged landscape, was something I had in mind when visiting Anglesey for a family holiday a couple of years ago. I particularly wanted to see the neolithic burial chambers that can be found on the island, but as it happened, we were staying not far from Cemaes Bay in the north of Anglesey. From the upstairs window of the cottage, you could see in the distance the massive square bulk of Wylfa A, which they decommissioned just a few weeks after we visited. Pylons carried cables in multiple lines away from the power station. Wylfa stood like a Modernist version of the standing stones, intruding on the skyline like Garner’s Jodrell Bank radio telescope: territorial, imposing, a sign of human domination of the environment and its resources.

This, then, is part of the narrative of Afterwords, the use of Wales by England, the extraction of its resources, the impositions on its landscape by castles and lakes and power stations. The networks of communications – road, rail, canal, dykes, power lines – are inextricably bound up with this historical process of extraction. Far from being an isolated and neglected adjunct to England, North Wales is in fact an integral part of a modern, capitalist, infrastructure network, whose resources are extracted and distributed along those networks. But if anything goes wrong with one of the power stations – well, it’s still a long way from London.

Many thanks to James Riley and Evie Salmon of The Alchemical Landsxape project for hosting a showing of this film this week.

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