Studio of Exhaustion

Clifton Meador

Recent artist’s books.



Project Statement

The phenomenon of technology-obsessed men who have no concern for the impact of their obsessions is not new. The early years of the twenty-first century have been marked by social disruptions caused by the thoughtless introductions of new tech—media, processes, and computing systems that have resulted in significant detrimental costs to humanity and the environment. This project is about a 20th-century example of the same reckless impulse.

Peenemünde is an island off the Baltic coast of Germany, a low-lying marshy area with few inhabitants. During the 1930s, the Nazi government spent the equivalent of billions of dollars building a vast research and manufacturing complex to develop and then mass-produce a liquid-fueled ballistic rocket—a rocket that was intended as a terror weapon. This weapon, called the V-2 by the German military, was meant to subdue enemies of the Third Reich. It was also the first manufactured object to fly into outer space; launched from a test stand in Peenemünde, it crossed the Karman line in 1944.

Wernher Von Braun was fascinated by rockets as a young man. He joined rocket clubs, built model rockets, graduated to larger and larger rockets, and eventually went to graduate school to conduct serious research into rockets. His fascination with the possibility of human flight into space was fueled by many influences, but Fritz Lang’s 1927 science fiction film, Frau im Mond, crystalized Von Braun’s desire to build rockets that could reach interplanetary space. When Hitler came to power in Germany, the remilitarization of the country included investments into rocketry as a potential weapon. Von Braun was probably not a dedicated fascist, but he was a person who saw a way to fund his research passions regardless of the social costs of that source. The Nazi regime made use of slave labor and genocide to support the research and production, but for Von Braun, those were acceptable costs for the ability to realize his dreams.

In the summer of 2023, I photographed the remains of the vast facility at Peenemünde. There is little left of the sprawling infrastructure from the 1930s, since the area was heavily bombed in the latter part of World War 2. The power plant, a large fascist-modernist building designed to serve the electrical needs of the facility, is one of the  principal remnants.

The story of Werhner Von Braun, and his determined focus on the research with no thought for the consequences, anticipates the disturbing spectacle of contemporary billionaires conducting their own private space race. These are men and technologies that have disrupted societies in ways that have largely benefited the most privileged. The page structure of Peenemünde offers alternating page-spreads of color and black-and-white versions of the same images. I have collaged small, high-contrast icons onto those pages as footnotes or visual annotations for the color images. I have included these annotations to reveal the invisible history of the development of the first liquid-fueled ballistic missile, and the terrible costs paid by the victims of the Nazi genocide.

Peenemünde comes with a folded print that offers an index to the visual annotations of the book and a brief narrative that details the themes of the development of the V-2.

Folded print included with Peenemünde. 19 x 27 inches.