Nuclear Art and Archives at Dundee Contemporary Arts


Saturday 8th April may have been the hottest day of the year so far but X-10ers Helen Grove-White and myself spent the majority of the day in a darkened space happily absorbing ideas and images about the nuclear industry (both civil and military) and it’s impact on society and the environment. The day was organised by Ele Carpenter of Goldsmiths as part of the Nuclear Culture research project she has been running in partnership with Arts Catalyst.  It was generously hosted and partnered by Dundee Contemporary Arts and the Visual Research Centre of the University of Dundee who have a project space in DCA and Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design via Gair Dunlop. Helen attended a similar event in Umea, Sweden back in November last year and we were both keen to continue the Nuclear Culture dialogue.

The day started with a film screening in the DCA cinema, this was a unique opportunity to see films from the Perpetual Uncertainty exhibition that Ele has curated  The full show is currently touring internationally, next stop Belgium. The films ranged in length from 8 minutes to 54 minutes and were similarly various in their style, location and approach to the subject matter. We were treated to visual feasts, high definition shots of sumptuous landscapes and naturally occurring geological phenomena in Susan Schuppli’s Trace Evidence, Karen Kramer’s The Eye That Articulates Belongs on Land and Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway’s Kuannersuit; Kvanefjeld . We were given an insight into the domestic life of nuclear submariners in Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson’s Courageous and finally blasted with images from the internet by Andrew Weir in his The Plural Deal. Schuppli, Crowe & Rawlinson and Autogena & Portway used a documentary style approach; whereas Kramer and Weir took us into a more futuristic, fantastical, mythical realm combining digital animation with real world imagery. I would not attempt to give you in depth reviews of these films here but would urge you to see them yourselves, great excuse to go to Belgium!

The next part of the day (after a lunch in the sunshine) was a set of presentations, followed by a roundtable discussion (see image above). The presentations centred on the role of archives and archiving in the context of Nuclear Culture. Ele set the tone giving more detail about the Nuclear Culture project and the Perpetual Uncertainty exhibition. She was followed by Garance Warburton from Nucleus, a new organisation based in the far North East of Scotland (Wick). Garance works as the community engagement officer for the Nuclear and Caithness Archive which is being housed in a brand new purpose built facility. Fresh into the post, Garance explained that the archives are still in the  being sorted and transported from various civil nuclear facilities around the UK so it is very much a work in process. Next Gair Dunlop gave us an insight into his new film Yellowcake, explaining his use of a wide range of archive footage from early government infommercials, to Sci Fi movies. We were treated to a premier of the film in the evening. Helen and myself then presented about Power in The Land, focusing mainly on the archive show Wylfa Story and how we interacted with the local population in order gather objects and information for it.

During the roundtable discussion Garance fielded many questions about Nucleus ranging from the security clearance levels required to work with highly sensitive information, the military influence within the organisation and the role for the arts within the process of archiving and making that archive accessible. We discussed the responsibility that our generation has towards future generations to ensure information is stored and passed on in such a way as to keep them safe; as well as the potential impossibility of this task given the vast timescales involved in radioactive waste deterioration. Points were made about risk and safety management strategies being centred on human parameters rather than measuring the impact on the environment or animal and plant life. Comments were made about the importance of recording the personal and individual stories of people associated with and affected by the nuclear.

We talked for an hour, we could have talked for more…..but we had a book launch to attend! The Nuclear Culture Source book was launched in the DCA bookshop and then to top off the day we watched Gair’s excellent film Yellowcake.


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