Art and radioactivity

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Nuclear power is re-emerging as a concern for our times, both as a generator of energy and as part of a defence strategy. Today it seems to stand for the failed utopian promises of modernism and a fresh hope for a carbon-free future. The contradictions that lie at its core have provided a rich source of questioning for artists, scientists, ecologists and activists for many years. The Arts Catalyst's exhibition NUCLEAR: art & radioactivity explores these intricacies through two new commissioned works by Chris Oakley and Simon Hollington & Kypros Kyprianou.

Last year, high court judge Jeremy Sullivan caused an apparent setback to the government's nuclear energy ambitions by ruling that public consultation into the creation of a new fleet of nuclear power stations was "misleading", "seriously flawed" and "procedurally unfair". The content presented to the public was so without substance that the judge ruled it would be "wholly insufficient for them to make an intelligent response". Soon after these events, Simon Hollington & Kypros Kyprianou started a residency at The British Atomic Nuclear Group as part of a public perceptions program initiated in response to the 2007 ruling.

Hollington & Kyprianou's work in NUCLEAR: art & radioactivity is the outcome from this residency, particularly their work within B.A.N.G.'s wide-ranging public consultation process into the possibility of siting a nuclear power facility in the heart of London. Their new installation, 'The Nightwatchman' takes the changing perceptions of the nuclear power industry over its 50 year history into a single immersive narrative environment. Combining the concerns of two different eras (that of the mid-80's and that of the present day), 'The Nightwatchman' blends fact and fiction into a darkly humorous journey from hard-nosed PR to a logical hysteria.

Chris Oakley's new film 'Half-Life' looks at the histories of Harwell, birthplace of the UK nuclear industry, and the new development of fusion energy technology at the Culham facility in Oxfordshire. Oakley has gained the cooperation of both these organisations in his research and filming. The film examines nuclear science research through a historical and cultural filter. It includes live action material alongside archive sources and animated sections drawn from scientific diagrams. With the recent widespread acceptance of the reality of climate change driven by carbon dioxide emissions, the work explores the realities and myths surrounding the nuclear sciences.

Accompanying events

Friday 14 November, 3-7pm
A 'Talkaoke' event is being hosted by The People Speak on the afternoon of Fri 14 November within the exhibition in the Nicholls & Clarke building. A mobile chat-show, the format allows all visitors to comment on the work and the issues around it in an informal and entertaining way.
Admission is free, no need to book, drop in any time after 3pm.

Friday 28 November, 10am - 6pm
Prominent artists, writers and experts will discuss their work and engagement with the issues around nuclear energy, from Hiroshima through the 50s' 'white heat of technology' and the Cold War nuclear tensions to present day energy debates. Speakers include the controversial American 'nuclear sculptor' James Acord, whose work caused huge public and media attention as the highlight of The Arts Catalyst's ATOMIC exhibition in London ten years ago. The RSA, 8 John Adam Street, WC2. Admission is free, please register at

About the Arts Catalyst
The Arts Catalyst commissions art that experimentally and critically engages with science. It brings together people across the art/science divide and beyond to explore science in its wider social, political and cultural contexts. It produces provocative, playful, risk-taking projects to spark dynamic conversations about our changing world.

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