The Culture of Nuclear Dismantling

The Culture of Nuclear Dismantling
(Concerning the nature of the object, invisibility and time).

Ele Carpenter will present the Nuclear Culture Research project at the 24th International Congress of History of Science, Technology and Medicine, due to take place in Manchester, July 2013. The presentation will introduce the curatorial research into the culture of dismantling British Nuclear Submarines in the 21st Century. The research aims to establish a context for commissioning artists to make new work alongside the process of dismantling nuclear submarines and the anticipated geological storage of nuclear waste.

The Submarine Dismantlement Project and its Advisory Group is hosting the first public consultation process led by the Ministry of Defence. This culture of openness about our collective responsibility for nuclear production and dismantlement creates a unique opportunity for artists to engage with the nuclear field. The complexity of dismantling nuclear submarines is a cultural as well as technological and political challenge that needs critique within a more conceptually nuanced understanding of materiality, ethics and aesthetics. Drawing from interdisciplinary knowledge and approaches from art, science, literature, philosophy and sociology, the research aims to map the conceptual scope of the nuclear field. Pertinent areas of investigation for this presentation include: the political agency of the object, the nature of invisibility, and the complex challenge of nuclear semiotics.

The Object: The argument that tools and machines are benign objects without political or ethical intent will be challenged in relation to current thinking about the nature of objects within art theory and sociology. Whilst language has been thoroughly investigated throughout the humanities, the agency of the object needs to be investigated with equal rigour. This will offer a new ethical framework for rethinking the language of nuclear culture and decision-making.

Invisibility: Radioactivity is the ultimate invisible power outside our field of sensory perception. The problem of trying to understand or represent something we can’t see engenders many myths and fears about radiation and submarines. Whilst artists rework modes of perception and representation, rendering the invisible visible, radiation creates an absence in an image of itself, bleached through the photographic image.

Time: Nuclear Semiotics is the discourse of language and meaning surrounding the ways in which we warn future humans not to interfere with underground nuclear storage sites. Storing nuclear waste for over 100,000 years shifts our sense of time and responsibility for the future. Belief systems such as religion, mythology and folklore are previously successful forms of passing information along the generations. But how does this new awareness of time affect our understanding of the present and what kind of archives do we need for the future?