86_AC04_Glessing_Camera Obscura
Camera Obscura, exhibition view, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, 2015.
Photo : courtesy of Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto

Deconstructing Nuclear Visions

Jill Glessing
“I’m blown away that I made it through the twentieth century without being blown away.” James Bridle’s attempt to lighten the otherwise dark topics under discussion at the symposium Through Post-Atomic Eyes alluded to the exploitation of atomic science, for military and energy solutions beginning during the Second World War. But the anxiety expressed by Bridle’s joke, a seeming remnant from the last century’s Cold War culture, continues as an undercurrent of fear today. For, even as Fukushima’s long radioactive tail reaches Canadian shores — and it is just a sample of the nuclear particles let loose to roam the planet — nuclear arsenals are being revamped and reactor construction is surging.

Only an interdisciplinary approach deployed across various formats could take on a theme so layered with danger, history, conflict, and horror. In the Art Gallery of Ontario exhibition Camera Atomica, curated by John O’Brian in association with Sophie Hackett (July 8 – November 15, 2015), archival materials and artworks spread across three large galleries illustrating the wondrous element of uranium in diverse ways: its mining, its processing, and the wreckage that it causes. Intertwined with the topic was the integral role of photography within nuclear research, the formation of an accepting public, and resistance through art and journalism. The accompanying symposium, Through Post-Atomic Eyes, organized by O’Brian and Claudette Lauzon (September 23 – 25, 2015), presented a mix of aesthetic and academic projects related to film, video, and photography.1 1 - For symposium website, speakers, and abstracts, see http://www.postatomiceyes.net. Additional images and essays were presented in the Camera Atomica catalogue, edited by O’Brian. Among the threads that tied together the exhibition, catalogue, and associated conference were the science, design, administration, imaging, victims, and activist critique of nuclear technology. The symposium also stretched this conversation into the current terrain of military drones and surveillance systems.

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This article also appears in the issue 86 – Geopolitics - Géopolitique

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