30 Nov 2023 17:00 - 19:00 Online


An event by the Military Surplus: Toxicity, Industry and War research network

Speakers in conversation

  • Andrew Black (Film London)
  • Zsuzsanna Ihar (University of Cambridge)

About the event

The pastoral genre often invokes images and stories of idyllic naturescapes, brimming with greenery, beauty, and life. Townships are depicted as small and tight-knit, the land arable, and the surrounding environment unspoiled and peaceful. Rural spaces in the UK, however, complicate our assumptions about pastoral. Across the country, farms, crofts, and villages converge with the military-industrial complex — arcadian meadows brush against munition dumps, townships blur into garrisons, and arable plots merge with missile testing ranges. In their talks, researcher Zsuzsanna Ihar and filmmaker Andrew Black will complicate the pastoral genre, highlighting the way in which popular depictions of the British countryside have obscured, and continue to obscure, the activities of the military-industrial complex. Through multimodal and multisensorial interventions, they will re-purpose and re-politicise the genre, using the pastoral to examine the military’s (quiet) expansion into rural and peripheral spaces.

About the speaker

Andrew Black is an artist and filmmaker based in Glasgow. He makes experimental documentaries about individuals, communities and landscapes, and the narratives and desires that tie them together. Black was shortlisted for the 2023 Jarman Award, and was the 2021 recipient of the Margaret Tait Award. His film ‘On Clogger Lane’ premiered at Glasgow Film Theatre and at The Tetley, Leeds, in early 2023. His 2021 community film ‘Dàn Fianais’ was produced as part of Atlas Arts’ Plural Futures programme. Black’s work was recently exhibited at Centre Clark, Montreal as part of ‘The Magic Roundabout and the Naked Man’ with Aman Sandhu, and a solo exhibition of his paintings was exhibited at Cento, Glasgow, in early 2023. He studied at Leeds College of Art and the Glasgow School of Art, and was on the Transmission committee in 2016 and 2017.


Andrew Black
‘Tibby Bilton’

“It’s a curious fact that Menwith Hill may be significant as an ancient site for astronomical observations – which gives it a sort of continuity with its signals-intelligence role. There’s an area on the base below the ‘golf balls’, where there are some stones – and it might have been a circle of stones – on a site called Tibby Bilton … the Americans removed the last stone to put an aerial on on the site.”

My 2023 film ‘On Clogger Lane’ explores the countryside surrounding an American satellite surveillance station in North Yorkshire. The above observation made by peace activist, Communist and local historian Anne Lee connects ancient and futuristic presences seeming to prefigure and echo each other through millennia. In this landscape, generational roots are entangled with stories of exploitation of workers, state appropriation of land, and visions of the devil. This talk will bring excerpts from ‘On Clogger Lane’ into conversation with perspectives from the Scottish Gàidhealtachd, where my films ‘Dàn Fianais’ and ‘Revenge Fantasy’ were made. Here, a strong oral tradition conveys a refusal of the intrusions of imperialist and capitalist power, and an attachment to communal forms of belonging and mutual responsibility, as well as a sensitivity to the otherworldly. Through informal discussion I will explore how folk knowledge and old models of community specific to places with long collective memory could help us to understand and refuse the stultifying conservative narratives which are often now associated with our rural places, and imagine and institute ways of being resilient and attentive to each other and to our difficult histories.

Zsuzsanna Ihar
‘Will-o’-the-wisps and missile plumes: Theorising time, war, and memory in a Cold War archipelago’

In Hebridean folklore, there are numerous stories of travellers encountering spectral streaks and floating orbs of light when crossing bogs and marshes in the dead of night. Referred to as An Teine Mor (trans: ‘The Great Fire’), the atmospheric ghost light often served as a manadh – a warning or omen – to deter individuals from certain actions, paths, or decisions. This presentation takes up An Teine Mor, and its not-quite-material characteristics, to contemplate another seemingly evasive and elusive force in the Hebridean outer isles – that of militarisation. Despite hosting Europe’s largest military exercise since 1946, a deep range for complex weapons trials and in-service firings, several radar stations, as well as offshore munition dumps, the Hebridean archipelago is rarely thought of as site of military activity. By thinking with and through An Teine Mor, the presentation will argue that militarisation in the Hebrides appears in streaks, wisps, plumes, and traces – from the diffused light of rocket flames, the iridescent sheen of engine oil, to invisible asbestos fibres and anthrax spores. These immaterial and near-material residues of warfare will be examined through the use of both multimodal and multisensorial methods. Invoking an experimental form of academic storytelling, the presentation will also highlight the ways in which the ‘military-spectre’ alters and disrupts memories and recollections, shaping intimate relations between the local community, the landscape, and the more-than-human.

For enquiries please contact the Research Networks Programme Manager.

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