Poisoned Isles is a joint exhibition project between the photographer Dara McGrath and historian Ulf Schmidt of the University of Kent. It originated from their collaborative work on the exhibition catalogue, ‘Project Cleansweep’.
‘Project Cleansweep’ takes its name from a Ministry of Defence investigation from 2011 which assessed the risk of residual contamination at sites in the UK used in the manufacture, storage, trials, and disposal of chemical weapons from World War I to the present day. The project epitomises the ‘terrible beauty’ of landscapes that were once at the heart of Britain’s offensive warfare programme.
The aim of the project is to stage a series of ‘travelling exhibition’ to a total of 10 places stretching across the whole of the UK, from the south of England (Weymouth) to the north of Scotland (Ullapool), via Shingle Street, Suffolk, in the east and Rhydymwyn, Flintshire in Wales in the west.
The project wants to engage local communities with the research findings about chemical and biological warfare trials conducted since the First World War. Much of the material (incl. photographs and artefacts) and information (incl. interviews) gathered originates from the very communities in which the exhibitions would be staged. However, the communities themselves often have only limited, or no, access to the findings and conversations to which they made such an important contribution.
Rather than inviting the ‘communities’ to attend art galleries, workshops and lectures in a major UK cities, the project aims to take a different route by returning to the very communities and engage them in a conversation about the extent to which the experience of chemical warfare munitions production, storage, and trials affected their lives and local communities.