I'm at Cove Park artists residency center in Scotland. I've come to write up some of my research, get some clean air and explore the nuclear culture of the area. Cove Park is on the Rosneath peninsula between Loch Long and Gare Loch. On the west of the peninsula is Coulport (where nuclear warheads are taken on and off submarines), and on the west side of Gareloch is the Faslane Naval base where Britian's Trident Submarine fleet are based.
This a sublime landscape is so many ways. This morning the mists are rolling down the fells to reveal the bluest sky. The hills are floodlit with gold in the morning, then thrown into dark silhouette in the late afternoon, as the police patrol boat from Coulport chugs up and down the loch. It's like living in a moving painting, a shifting landscape where mountains are submerged in fog and sharp vistas come into focus. And it's cold, and so far always below freezing at night.
Yesterday I went to the magical Peaton Wood, a peace sanctuary in the midst of an otherwise militarised landscape. Like Cove Park, it's a respite from the world, a place to think, reflect and be creative. It's a fairy place where you might believe your wishes could come true. But there's another sense of awe hanging in the air. A fact lodged in the back of everyone's mind: down the road and round the corner, is our national stash of nuclear weapons. The taxi driver tells me he feels safe - he knows the people who look after the weapons, and they are bright folk. I'm mildly reassured. We drive past the Faslane Peace Camp - there seems to be two schools of thought about the camp. Some think that they are wasting taxpayers money (although not as much as Trident), others think they are an important part of the democratic process. Perhaps the camp functions as the good fairy on our shoulders - an expression of conscience, or the safety valve for a fear that otherwise would remain repressed, denied.
Gone are the days of real fear, the cold war, when mutually assured destruction seemed a possibility. When two red telephone's connected two presidents on either side of the globe whose stockpiled nuclear weapons pointed very clearly at each other. Today we live in a world of distributed communication networks and warfare, and global citizenship is an increasingly cultural identity if not one recognised by nation states. This much we know. But what no one seems to know is: why do we still have these weapons? what are they for? who are they aimed at? are they worth the financial cost? and are they worth the safety risk?
These arguments are so well rehearsed it feels rather dull just typing them out. Somehow there must be other ways to think about these things - the warheads, the submarines, the equipment we each think we need to survive in this cold climate. This week I'm reading about the agency of objects along with my students, and will try to apply some new perspectives to the nature of objects within our nuclear culture. And immersing myself in the magic of Cove Park.