Tuesday, June 2, 2009

[Yasmin_discussions] Art and Atoms: Fusion and Fission

Dear Roger and all,

Thank you very much for inviting me to participate to the discussion
on art and the atom. My background being art (and visual cultures), it
is from this standpoint that I would like to address some of the
problematic encountered so far. Few generalities I will first start
with: cultural artefacts relating to nuclear technology can be found
for all types of arts (theatre, design, literature, music, painting,
sculpture, etc), and mainstream, avant-garde, un-official, commercial
and/or popular culture covered the subject in myriad of ways. (From
these, the mushroom cloud and Geiger counter are definitely recurrent.)

Much art has been done also in response to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
(The fact of simply evoking their names suffices to bring in mind
their (global) history.) In France, "Hiroshima mon amour" is indeed
counted as one of the first representation of the Japanese Holocaust,
avoiding the mushroom-like icons, contrary to Stanley Kubrick's
"Doctor Strangelove, or How I learnt to Stop Worrying and Love the
Bomb", whose final scene shows footages of actual nuclear explosions.
Earlier in the 50s, the Italian group the Nuclearists are also of
interest, for their desire to represent in painting a new era: the
nuclear age. But the one who addressed/distanced the anxieties of
total atomic destruction the most efficiently is probably Jacques
Derrida in "No Apocalypse Not Now". The text is very dense and it
would take more than an email to summarise. The main idea perhaps is
the designation of the politics of "deterrence" as being particular to
the 'nuclear age'. Maybe if anyone read it, he/she could give a
reading of it along the discussion? (I am happy to send a pdf to
anyone wanting to read it, or give more details later).

Chernobyl is also recurrent. The man-made catastrophe gives undeniably
distance to nuclear energy now and then. In and around the various
power plants however, Sheila Pinkel, James Acord, Brandon Ballengée
and Cornelia Hesse-Honegger are probably the most interesting among
others. The compound-like nuclear power-plant (that you mentioned
Roger through James Acord), is at stake, as much as the complicated
scientifico-corporate-political interplays sometime leading to
disastrous effects. In times of so-called energy crisis, a similar
anxiety for such uncertain technology (questioning the "clean, C02-
free" energy) is present. For instance, I will give a paper in July
for the conference "Literature, Art and Culture in the Age of Global
Risk". The conference intends to question the "technological sublime",
and the possible revival of "Nuclear criticism" in our contemporary
context. And in this context, I can't think of any other text than
Martin Heidegger's "Question Concerning Technology", in which he
states that, even if modern technology acts as a revealing, it is
nature that challenges man (humans) rather than the other way around.
(This of course, can be questioned too).

Much has been said and done on the American bombings and the power
plants. But beyond the duality of the atom - atom for war or atom for
peace - is there any artistic disruption of the bi-polar understanding
of the atom itself? Perhaps, this is the main question I would like
to address.

Gabrielle Decamous
Visiting Tutor
Ph.D. Candidate
Goldsmiths College, University of London
Department of Visual Cultures
London SE14 6NW
United Kingdom

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