The old airfield buildings are soon to meet their fate

11th April 2013

The old airfield buildings are soon to meet their fate. Razed to the ground that has been encouraging them downwards in entropy for the last 60 years, they will, in the next few months or years, finally meet it in a greatly prolonged sigh of dust and rubble.

The council seems to have finally decided after 30 years of to-ing and fro-ing on allowing the used units to remain as long as the rest of the place is ‘cleaned up’. A passage through the bureaucratic red tape may have been found. A complex mess of re-development laws, planning arguments and a change of use status, a few months might be the expiry date for the derelict buildings. The structures thrown up in a hurry to have a temporary existence to facilitate air fighting in the war  have somehow persisted on the landscape. Most are in tact except for where they have been pulled apart by the farmer for allowing livestock to move about more easily. As inertly as they have stood decaying for years they will now passively watch their own tear-down. A place of much history and importance in a time gone by, used to being forgotten and ignored and then re-discovered occasionally by those who felt a great nostalgic feeling of the need to preserve and discover. A place of great yearning for the persistence of memory.

I visit there feeling the weight of urgency, willing the remnants to give something up to me which they rarely do. An exhausted disappointment now fills each successive visit, despite the excitement of discovery which used to spur me onwards. I now visit out of habit and comfort. It’s something to hold on to. I keep looking and waiting for something, but I don’t know what it is I want from the place. Questions. Answers. A sense of ownership or responsibility maybe. But indifference and inertness still greet me there, and hostility from the animals and sometimes the workers who occupy it permanently. I’m just a passing visitor.

I’ve started my persistent collecting and recording again. It has only recently dawned on me that much of what I do at the airfield is an attempt to preserve, not it, but the memory of it. Taking much footage records the feeling and elemental being of the place, its movements and its activity; the photographs are a record of the structure and detail of the surfaces; and the physical collecting is a (sometimes desperate) grasp at a material relationship to the remnants of the place. The collecting seems like a pertinent necessity now that the buildings will be going. The parachute store is the focus of all this, but the others too. Recording keeps it all safe somehow, safe from the erosion of memory and safe from its forthcoming erasure from the landscape in its material reality. Somehow the erosion by time and decay does not seem like a bad prospect in comparison, that seems natural. For the buildings to quietly fall, slowly withering under the power of plants and animals to reclaim nature and the wind, rain and beating sun which erode it further, brings an acceptable end without the agency of deciding its fate.

If the plants I have collected can live on I’ll be satisfied, as they (and maybe this is a false certainty) contain in their biological make up a part of the airfield which they have grown from. It is contained within their own matter, absorbed as nutrients; the airfield is now physically contained within them, in a small way. The forthcoming destruction of those buildings forces me to be selective about what I take away – be that physical or information based. Seeing the tear-down is also important now, for me to realise the change that this project will then take. And maybe seeing the end of the place will allow me to dislocate my mind from it, forsake my attachment and accept all parts of its reality – past, present and future. No doubt it will stay with me anyway, as long as memory allows.

Catriona Gallagher 2013