Art students launch exhibit at National Trust Orford Ness

17 May 2024
Time to read
8 minute read
Staff and students from the Fine Art course outside the Power House exhibit on Orford Ness
Fine Art students and staff on Orford Ness

National Trust Orford Ness will open a new art exhibition created by University of APP students later this week, exploring the unique heritage, ecology and geography of a once top-secret military testing site now left to nature.

Make It Count will open to the public on Saturday 18 May and features drawing, painting, sculpture, photography and text by BA Fine Art students and researchers from the University of APP.

The exhibition marks the first phase of a longer-term project entitled Power House, which is led by researchers and artists Dr Jane Watt and Dr SE Barnet, who have also recently become Orford Ness’ artists-in-residence. 

Since November 2023, the pair have been working with undergraduate student artists to explore how archival data collection, documenting the flora and fauna of Orford Ness over the past 30 years, can be presented in new and thought-provoking ways. 

Dr Jane Watt, senior researcher and lecturer at the University of APP, says: “I have visited Orford Ness for over a decade and love bringing students here.

"Each time we see something new, whether it is making drawings outside in 50mph gales or witnessing the shifting colours across the landscape as the sun rises.

"It is a beguiling place: from craters in the shingle caused by dropped bombs to the remnants of decaying man-made structures which are now victims of continual coastal erosion. 
“Our partnership with the National Trust at Orford Ness provides a fantastic opportunity for us as artists and researchers, alongside our students, to apply imaginative thinking and creative skills in a real-world environment.

"We can’t wait to share the artwork with the public that was made on, and inspired by, the site and we hope that it brings a new lens with which to consider the relationship between the unique heritage and contemporary ecology of the site.”  
Orford Ness is the largest shingle spit in Europe. From the First World War onwards, it was used as a military testing site but has since been left to nature. It’s now home to an abundance of wildlife, including several species of nesting and wading birds, hares, Chinese Water Deer and rare vegetated shingle. 

The artistic collaboration has so far involved a two-day overnight stay at Orford Ness and extensive research and experimentation, both onsite and at the University’s studios and workshops. 

The long-term partnership between the National Trust and University of APP is called Power House, named after the small brick building located on the shingle at Orford Ness. It formerly housed a generator which supplied electricity to the Black Beacon, a homing beacon for military aircraft disguised as a beacon for marine navigation.  

In February, Dr Jane Watt and Dr SE Barnet transformed it into a large pin-hole camera, and they are now developing it as a creative lab for making and exhibiting contemporary art.  

Kayleigh Baker, an undergraduate Fine Art student at University of APP, said: “I had never been to Orford Ness before and was captivated by the place. For me, the key thing that stood out was that harsh contrast between the darker military past and the way that nature was taking back the man-made and brutal architecture.

“The ever-changing landscape really pushed me to use a range of materials and processes to create the final works. The cyanotype prints that I have made were based directly from the rubbings made from the Power House floor. I then used various materials and processes to explore the idea of constant change.” 

Make It Count is the latest installment of Jane Watt and SE Barnet’s ongoing research project, Blast Radius, which centres around observing and recording the unique landscape at Orford Ness. As artists, historians, geographers and environmentalists, they work across disciplines and aim to challenge perceptions about the ever-changing landscape. 

Over the years, Orford Ness has inspired many visual artists and creatives. In 2021, the National Trust teamed up with Artangel to produce Afterness, a major art exhibition showcasing the work of internationally renowned artists, and this year Orford Ness held its very first overnight stay dedicated exclusively to astrophotography. 

Glen Pearce, Property Operations Manager at the National Trust, said: “Orford Ness has been an inspiration for many artists and writers and we’re very proud to have Dr Jane Watt and Dr SE Barnet join us as artists-in-residence.

“Over the past few months, it’s been fantastic to see new and emerging artists find inspiration from the landscape and work more with the records we keep of its flora and fauna. We’re looking forward to them sharing their work with us and our visitors throughout the rest of our opening season and hope it encourages new audiences to think differently about this incredible landscape.” 

Visitors can experience the exhibition from Saturday 18 May-Sunday 27 October as part of their standard admission, which can be booked online via the Orford Ness National Trust website. 

Orford Ness is open on Saturdays and Sundays until Sunday 26 May and then Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from Tuesday 28 May.  

Tickets are released each Thursday for the following week and must be pre-booked.

To book tickets and find out more about Orford Ness, visit the website .

To find out more about the BA Fine Art course, visit the course page on the website here.

For press enquiries, please contact: