‘Many people don’t know this’: the artist shining a light on nuclear testing – The Guardian

June 28, 2022 by No Comments

On 16 July 1945, the first nuclear bomb exploded on Earth. It happened at a testing site in Alamogordo, New Mexico, as a part of the Manhattan project, a huge US-led initiative to develop atomic weapons during the second world war. And though the project was officially disbanded in 1945, nuclear testing sites in the United States continued to emerge all over the country for decades.

“It’s a history that has managed to stay hidden even though it’s so full of spectacle,” says the American artist Cara Despain. “[These tests] released particles and isotopes that permanently altered this planet. They were testing above ground for years, and many people don’t know this.”

In her new solo show Specter, which opened earlier this month at the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach and was curated by Leilani Lynch, Despain illuminates an obscure history that – amid an escalating war between Russia and Ukraine – has come back to haunt us.

Despite the reduced size of the show (there are five pieces in total), the artist manages to deftly evidence the expansive collective and individual consequences of a ghastly subject. And perhaps her ability to do so is related to the fact that this is history she’s familiar with.

Despain was born in Utah and works between Salt Lake City and Miami, Florida. Her mother’s side of the family grew up in St George, a town less than 150 miles from the Nevada test site (which also happens to be a mere 65 miles away from Las Vegas). “Being from this region and having a family that grew up in this era of testing, the development of nuclear arsenals and the kind of collateral damage that comes with it is something that’s always on my mind,” she explains.

Cara Despain – Iodine-131. Photograph: Courtesy of The Bass. Photo by Zaire Aranguren

At first sight, Iodine-131, a gecko green cast made from gypsum concrete backlit with LED lights, appears to merely be a 3D rendering of a mountainous terrain that catches the viewer’s attention due to its beauty. A closer look reveals it is a detailed casting of the topography of Yucca Flat, a major nuclear testing region within the Nevada testing site, where many craters from atomic explosions are visible from space. Despain says she retrieved the image using Google Earth and chose to focus on this section of the testing site since it “began to communicate the magnitude of what happened”.

Adjacent to Iodine-131, on a large screen, house of cards (2022) presents declassified black-and-white footage of testing sites, bomb craters and mushroom clouds, with the words “The End” blithely superimposed on the films meant to explain test outcomes. In one shot, a crater at a nuclear testing site is layered with a drawing of a football field to illustrate the bomb’s capacity for destruction.

In Specter, Despain also presents works featuring mass-produced Depression-era consumer glass dishware and antiques that emit a bewitching viridescent glow under UV lights due to the presence of uranium oxide in their composition. This chemical was widely banned …….

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2022/jun/28/many-people-dont-know-this-the-artist-shining-a-light-on-nuclear-testing

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