Temporary peace garden over abandoned nuclear bunker
Curated by Mark Willsher and Emily Druiff
In a vacant plot of land, a shaft drops down to a concrete stairway leading into deep shadows. A corridor gives onto a network of flooded chambers echoing with the sound of dripping water. Power generators, an air filtration system, communications equipment, maps, charts and plans are still in place, but obsolete, decaying and forgotten in total darkness.
Built to accommodate council staff in the event of a nuclear attack, the bunker is a relic of the Cold War era. Today, as an astonishing economic regeneration gathers pace in Southwark, the land stands ripe for development in this most dynamic and promising area of the capital.
To recall the time when the world lived in the shadow of a nuclear holocaust, and to question the idea of closure, we created a temporary peace garden over the entrance to the bunker. The installation consisted simply of three trees, one palm, one laurel and one olive.
Clearly, attempting to symbolise a universal, lasting peace would be to deny reality and court failure. Instead, Words are not Enough posited a contingent, temporary peace, located on the threshold of credibility. We kept the trees in their plastic transit tubs to emphasize their status as commodities, to heighten the temporary, contingent nature of the garden and of the peace it symbolized.
If words are not enough, then action is required. But what, and by whom? The project aimed to leave visitors with a restless sense of insecurity or dissatisfaction, a mental space in which the desire for change might grow.
As Southwark Council was unable to accommodate the debate, we staged a public address on the site of the installation opposite the Town Hall. Paul Gough gave a public address on memorial representations of peace and victory, and explored the history of peace gardens in relation to the Greater London Council during the Cold War.