Nuclear Reliquaries and Transmutation

James Acord created a series of Nuclear Reliquaries and Transmutation work from his residency at Imperial College London for the exhibition, Atomic

Self-styled 'nuclear sculpture', James Acord lived on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, near Richland, Washington, USA, where the plutonium for the first atomic bomb was processed. He moved there and lived there for 15 years to have easier access to radioactive materials produced at Hanford and in order to get to know the scientists and other workers employed on the site. 

Invited to undertake a residency in the Physics Department at Imperial College, London, in 1998 by The Arts Catalyst and Imperial College's then arts curator, Acord was inspired to create a series of nuclear reliquaries, in which symbolic items from the nuclear age were housed in boxes modelled after the medieval reliquaries used to preserve sacred Christian objects. As Acord told the Guardian in 1999, “I can’t help feeling that today’s nuclear industry is not unlike the church of the 12th and 13th centuries. We have a priesthood living in remote areas, interacting only with each other. Yet these are the people who make decisions for you and me.” He also created a blackboard piece, Transmutation, detailing the formulae of his proposed transmutation project for a nuclear experimental reactor.

The reliquaries were first shown in the Arts Catalyst exhibition Atomic, which also featured the work of artists Mark Aerial Waller, and Carey Young, exploring the economic and cultural legacy of atomic power, and were exhibited at Imperial College, Kluze Fortress, Bovec, Slovenia and Yard Gallery, NOW, Nottingham, UK.

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The Urpflanze (Part 2)

A new commissioned body of work and installation by Melanie Jackson, shown in Transformism at John Hansard Gallery, University of Southampton in January 2013, and as a solo show at Flat-Time House, London, in March 2013.

In a series of moving image works and ceramic sculptures, Melanie Jackson continues her ongoing investigation into mutability and transformation, which takes its lead from Goethe’s concept of an imaginary primal plant, the Urpflanze, that contained coiled up within it the potential to unfurl all possible future forms. Contemporary science likewise imagines the potential to grow or print any form we can envisage, by recasting physical, chemical and biological function as an engineering substrate that can be programmed into being. These emerging technologies present new possibilities for the instrumentalisation of life on a previously unimagined scale.

In March 2013, Jackson's multifaceted work was installed throughout the ground floor of Flat Time House, the former home and studio of artist John Latham (1921-2006).

In the eighteenth century, the development of sophisticated techniques of ceramic production signified a victory of chemistry, culture and capital over formlessness. It pushed the capacity of the material to accommodate highly detailed representations, to radiate colour and sheen, to perform. Like clay, liquid crystals also have a visceral biological and mineral morphology that can collapse into formlessness, whilst harbouring the potential to assume (or emit the image of) any form. The mastery of the material is played out in a desire for the real in high definition, and a longing for the appearance of unknown and fantastical forms.

Jackson’s exhibition extends fairytale themes of absurd disruptions in vegetal scale, from Zola's ‘revolutionary’ carrot to the fantasies of remediation that science may have in store for us. The work begins in the botanical garden and leads us to the laboratory, from the clay pits to the factory floor, from its own animated voxels to the interior of the screen, and the forms and processes of its own production.

Melanie Jackson has collaborated with writer Esther Leslie on the production of a text that has informed the work and a publication that will be distributed as part of the exhibition.

In her essay for the exhibition guide, Isobel Harbison describes: “Jackson’s is an expansive, ambitious and intuitive work not easily reducible to cursory description. Her attention to the illusory surface textures of protean forms is not solely attentive to liquid crystals but extends metaphorically to other social and scientific developments (a fictional Jack-and-the-Beanstalk becomes a modern genetic scientist, or crystals self-organise into a palace whose display function changes consumer society forever). Perhaps most interestingly, her work carries within it a reflection on the new nature and task of the contemporary artist. Jackson’s real enquiry seems to be about the modified face of representative sculpture in the digital age, from Greek mythology’s morphology to natural biology, and from the produce of the clay factory floor to the process of 3d printing.Significantly, her sculptural inquiry is brought forward in video in conjunction with three-dimensional form embodying both kinds of contemporary physical encounter, now as often on screen as in the flesh.”
 

Biographical information

Melanie Jackson inhabits different tropes of art making to interrogate possibilities of representation against the engaged practices of the world. She is interested in ways in which thought and affect is conducted through the material, and much of her work has explored this against the context of work, production and the flow of international capital.  She is currently investigating the relationships between nature and technology through a series of experiments with fauna and flora, and the technologies available to her. Melanie is a lecturer at Slade School of Fine Art, her solo exhibitions include The Urpflanze (Part 1), The Drawing Room, London (2010), Road Angel, Arnolfini, Bristol (2007), Made In China, Matt’s Gallery, London (2005).  She won the Jerwood Drawing Prize in 2007.

Support

Melanie Jackson's commission has been supported by a Wellcome Trust Arts Award and the Slade School of Fine Art. The exhibition is supported by Arts Council England.

Website links

Melanie Jackson

Flat Time House

 

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Atomic

James Acord, Mark Waller, Carey Young explored the economic and cultural legacy of atomic power in a series of new commissions

The 'Atomic' exhibition confronted fears and assumptions about science and the nuclear industry. Featuring the work of the American 'nuclear sculptor' James Acord, the only private individual in the world licensed to handle radioactive materials. 'Atomic' dealt with the tricky issue of the idealism behind the 'white heat of technology' of the fifties and sixties and attempts to break down the wall of secrecy which has shielded the nuclear industry since the cold war. 
 
Acord had an ambition to break down the wall of secrecy which has shielded the nuclear industry since the cold war. His 15-year self-organised residency on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, home of the atomic bomb, was a tragi-comic dance between Acord and the US Department of Energy as he sought permission to sculpt with the stuff of the nuclear age. Atomic leads us through his perilous journey to a site-specific display of his nuclear reliquaries - specially commissioned for his UK residency at Imperial College London.
 
As a counterpoint, artist Carey Young travelled to the former USSR to photograph the remnants of the nuclear-fuelled space race, the hero-worship of Gagarin and the ironic spectacle of the pride of Russia's technological achievements displayed among knock-down Western consumer goods.
 
Meanwhile, Mark Waller gained access to some of Britain's nuclear power stations to film a short thriller, 'Glow Boys', to be shown as an installation, about itinerant nuclear power workers who mysteriously develop superhuman qualities, featuring Mark E. Smith of The Fall. 
 
2 - 27 October 1998, Imperial College Gallery and Queen's Tower, Imperial College, London, UK
The exhibition at Imperial was accompanied by a round table discussion Art & the Atomic State. A schools programme led by James Acord supported the exhibition.
 
July - August 1999, Kluze Fortress, Bovec, Slovenia
The Atomic exhibition was shown at Kluze Fortress near Bovec. The fortress is at the head of the Soca Valley, near one of the main entry points to Slovenia from Italy and the exhibition has received a constant stream of visitors, mostly European tourists. James Acord gave his notable lecture-performance in the capital, Ljubljana.
 
2 Oct - 28 Nov 1999, Yard Gallery, NOW, Nottingham, UK
Atomic toured to the Yard Gallery at Wollaton Hall Museum in Nottingham as part of the NOW Festival, a festival of contemporary arts organised by the City Council. James Acord was artist-in-residence at the NOW Festival. Accompanying the exhibition was a schools programme, led by James Acord, who also gave a talk.
 
Atomic catalogue available from Cornerhouse.
Softback. Glows in the dark.
Essay by James Flint.
48 pages. 21 colour, 10 b&w illustrations.
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CleanRooms, London

New works by Gina Czarnecki, Neal White, Critical Art Ensemble with Beatriz Da Costa, and Brandon Ballengee challenge our responses to biotechnology and explore its origins and implications

Exploring ideas of contamination and containment, ethics and accountability, the works in the CleanRooms exhibition ask the audience to decide how far they themselves would go with the emerging powers of genetic manipulation.

CleanRooms included major installations by Gina Czarnecki, Neal White and Brandon Ballengee, with performances of GenTerra by Critical Art Ensemble.

In Gina Czarnecki's Silvers Alter, life-size human forms "live" within a large video projection in the gallery. They are the subjects for you to manipulate and mate. The 'beings' you create have never existed before. Silvers Alter raises a simple question; to what extent are we prepared to participate in all that we have made possible and that we aspire to make possible for ourselves?

Neal White's Uncontrolled Hermetic recreates one of the controlled areas or clean rooms used in industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. You, the visitor, fulfil the final part of this system, as the contaminating or contaminated body, the weakest link in the ultraclean technology chain: a human being.

US group Critical Art Ensemble with Beatriz Da Costa present their participatory performance GenTerra. Lab-coated representatives from the GenTerra biotechnology corporation introduce their transgenic bioproducts. An installation and a video of the performance explains their work and explores the pros and cons of transgenics

Brandon Ballengee's installation From Farm 2 Pharm, created as a participatory project alongside the Oldham exhibition of CleanRooms, traces the history of humankind's struggle for dominance over natural evolutionary forces with a gallery installation of images of domesticated/engineered organisms.

Events programme

The exhibition was part of the extensive programme of associated Darwin Centre Live events including artist residencies by Brandon Ballengee and Michael Carklin and the Working with Wetware forum.

Working with Wetware, 20 June 2002.
This forum explored the work of artists who work directly with living biological systems. Speakers included Steve Kurtz (US), Oron Catts (Aus) from SymbioticA, Marta De Menezes (Portugal), Ruth West (US), Sandy Knapp (UK), Brandon Ballengee (US) and Gina Czarnecki (UK). The forum was chaired by Kodwo Eshun.

GenTerra performances by Critical Art Ensemble, 21-22 June 2002

Biotech drama workshops led by Michael Carklin 7 - 18 July 2002

Catalogue

The CleanRooms catalogue is available to buy online from Cornerhouse Publications

Price £11.95
ISBN 9780953454617
Pages 48, Binding softback, illustrated in colour and b&w
Dimensions 220mm x 200mm, Weight 

Exhibitions

Gallery Oldham, Oldham, Greater Manchester, UK

5 October - 30 November 2002

Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7, UK

20 June - 3 August 2003

Stills, Edinburgh, Scotland

Gina Czarneckis's Silvers Alter was also show as part of the Designer Bodies: The Future Of Human Genetics exhibition at Stills Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland, 3 April - 6 June 2004

 

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CleanRooms, Oldham

New works by Gina Czarnecki, Neal White and Critical Art Ensemble with Beatriz Da Costa challenge our responses to biotechnology: a science often perceived as secretive and sinister.

Exploring ideas of contamination and containment, ethics and accountability, the works in the CleanRooms exhibition asked the audience to decide how far they themselves would go with the emerging powers of genetic manipulation.

CleanRooms included major installations by Gina Czarnecki and Neal White, and performances of GenTerra by Critical Art Ensemble.

In Gina Czarnecki's Silvers Alter, life-size human forms "live" within a large video projection in the gallery. They are the subjects for you to manipulate and mate. The 'beings' you create have never existed before. Silvers Alter raised a simple question; to what extent are we prepared to participate in all that we have made possible and that we aspire to make possible for ourselves?

Neal White's Uncontrolled Hermetic recreated one of the controlled areas or clean rooms used in industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. The visitor fulfilled the final part of this system, as the contaminating or contaminated body, the weakest link in the ultraclean technology chain: a human being.

US group Critical Art Ensemble with Beatriz Da Costa presented their participatory performance GenTerra. Lab-coated representatives from the GenTerra biotechnology corporation introduced their transgenic bioproducts. An installation and a video of the performance explained their work and explores the pros and cons of transgenics

Artists in Residence

The exhibition at Oldham was accompanied by an extensive programme of educational and interpretative events, including artist residencies by Ruth Ben Tovim and Brandon Ballengee, Saturday workshops for children, talks and demonstrations. New York artist Brandon Ballengee worked with local unemployed young people to explore the origin, growth and contemporary practice of genetic engineering. From visits to local farms, pet stores, parks and markets, Ballengee and his collaborators traced the history of humankind's struggle for dominance over natural evolutionary forces, creating a gallery and on-line installation from images of domesticated and engineered organisms, titled From Farm 2 Pharm.

Catalogue

The CleanRooms catalogue is available to buy online from Cornerhouse Publications

Price £11.95
ISBN 9780953454617
Pages 48
Binding soft back
illustrated in colour and b&w
Dimensions 220mm x 200mm
Weight 190g

 

Exhibitions

Gallery Oldham, Oldham, Greater Manchester, UK
5 October - 30 November 2002

Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7, UK
20 June - 3 August 2003

Stills, Edinburgh, Scotland
Gina Czarneckis's Silvers Alter was also shown as part of the Designer Bodies: The Future Of Human Genetics exhibition
3 April - 6 June 2004

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James Acord: A Life in the Nuclear Age "You Can't Make This Shit Up"

A tribute to James Acord, the nuclear scupltor

James Acord was the only private individual in the world licensed to own and handle radioactive materials. He is likely to remain so since the authorities closed the loopholes after he achieved his license. His work was a story of a 20-year performance, a cat and mouse game with the nuclear regulatory authorities, in which he pursued his dream of converting highly radioactive waste into inert metal for use in art. Along the way, he created sculpture and events that probed the history of nuclear engineering, often incorporating radioactive materials. His astonishing story shines light on the secrecy and security with which society cloaks the nuclear industry.

The evening will include an exhibit of work by James Acord, stories of his work, film clips, photos, and a reading from 'The Book of Ash', a novel based on Acord's life, by the author James Flint.

James Acord was a master storyteller, and we will also have an 'open mic' session, so that those of you who knew Jim can contribute your stories of him, or re-tell stories that he told you.

James Acord, the “nuclear sculptor”, passed away on the 8 January 2011. The Arts Catalyst worked closely with Acord over many years. We invite you to join us at this event to remember and celebrate his life and work.

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