Social sculptures allow new conjunctions of history, social and political events, raising essential, sometimes subversive, ideas that can infiltrate the everyday. NukeNOtes is a social sculpture that transforms my anger into public interruptions asserting a participatory ethics for reconfiguration. The project addresses the rich history of tourism and outdoor recreation centering on the grand landscapes of the National Park System. Yet historically many of these pristine public lands and their surrounding areas have been tragically exploited by extractionary industries – including uranium mining and milling. Using art and design as vehicles, I am creating and distributing a series of printed “alternative fact sheets” (based on NPS brochures originally designed by Massimo Vignelli), that deal with the health, environmental and economic impact of nuclear legacy sites adjacent to specific National Parks. NukeNOtes draw attention to the use, misuse and commodification of our public lands by activities that produce serious environmental and health effects.
What at first appears to be a NPS brochure for Arches National Park, upon closer examination reveals information about the Atlas Uranium Mill, now a Department of Energy UMTRA site , located across the road from Arches in the Colorado River floodplain between the park entrance and the town of Moab. The mills unlined waste piles and tailings ponds contained sixteen million (16,000,000) tons of radioactive materials that had leached into the river and surrounding terrain for decades. The clean-up cost is estimated at one billion forty-three million dollars ($1,043,000,000). The funding schedule provides for “complete removal” by the year 2028.
What makes the timing of this project relevant is the fact that the U.S. Department of Interior (backed by several members of Congress) recently proposed a new multi-state National Park celebrating and memorializing the Manhattan Project’s creation and use of the first nuclear weapons. This formal joining of National Parks and our nuclear legacy raises an alarm that requires address. This artwork communicates with an international audience far beyond the traditional art audience. Through rigorous research of scientific and government documents, this project shares information, maps and photographs providing public awareness and involvement over short-term and long-term time frames. Urgency and necessity drive this work; strategic timing and placement are critical. When fully funded, the project will encompass a series of events engaging communities in directly addressing these issues, providing educational outreach in the form of creative workshops on health, and DIY water filter projects in the Parks’ gateway communities.
Disposition: a person’s inherent qualities of mind and character. Small local actions and interventions at strategic sites can unsettle cultural blind spots, leading towards reconfiguration into a disposition of caring and healing. We need an ecology of practices and behaviors that are sustainable and in sync with complex systems and life forms in the desert. Again, Massumi’s words come to mind, “A very small intervention might get amplified across the web of connections to produce large effects – the famous butterfly effect – you never know. So it takes a great deal of attention and care and abductive effort of understanding about how things are interrelating and how a perturbation, a little shove or a tweak, might change that.” Through exploring the desert over the years, alone and with others, on foot and in long road trips, it has taught me about the interconnectedness of systems, nested scales of phenomena, the correlation of above and below. The desert teaches us about its resilience and our own folly. Listen to its secrets. The present dissolves into geological time. Our bodies are part of the invisible aquifer below, the one that owns us.
 UMTRA, Department of Energy, Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action. http://www.gjem.energy.gov/moab/
Images: © 2012 Eve Andrée Laramée.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.