Saturday, February 7, 2009

Halfway to Invisible

Halfway to Invisible
Eve Andrée Laramée
Emory University Art Gallery, Evolution Revolution series of works commissioned by the Center for Creativity and Arts

Halfway to Invisible, an installation by Eve Andrée Laramée, raises questions about the environmental legacy of uranium mining for atomic weapons and nuclear power, and its biological impact on the peoples of the American West. Between 1949 and 1989, uranium mines in the Western United States produced more than 225,000,000 tons of uranium ore. This activity affected a large number of Native American nations, including the Navajo, Laguna, Zuni, Southern Ute, Ute Mountain, Hopi, Acoma and other Pueblo cultures. During the “Uranium Boom” in the Grants area of New Mexico, many of these peoples worked in the 1,200 uranium mines. Others worked locally in the almost 4,000 mines, mills and processing plants in the Four Corners region (where New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado converge). These workers were not only poorly paid, they were seldom informed of the dangers of working with uranium nor were they given appropriate protective gear. Due to the Cold War demand for increasingly destructive and powerful nuclear weapons, these laborers were both exposed to and brought home (in the form of dust on their clothing and skin) large amounts of radiation. Epidemiologic studies of the families of these workers have shown increased incidents of radiation-induced cancers, miscarriages, cleft palates and other birth defects. The government, mine owners, scientific and health communities were all well aware of the hazards of working with radioactive materials at this time. Diseases related to working in the mines include cancers of the lung, bone, stomach, brain and skin, as well as kidney and liver damage. After the mills were closed and torn down, some of the local people in the area used the contaminated rebar-reinforced concrete debris to build foundations for their houses, as these materials were left lying out in the open land. Uranium mining is one of many issues surrounding the environmental and health impact of atomic weapons and nuclear power. Others include the research, production and testing of atomic weapons, as well as the storage of waste from nuclear reactors.
These stories of our atomic legacy should not remain buried in the deserts of the Southwest, but rather be discussed in numerous venues by a wide range of individuals. We must question how "Atomic Age" events may have influenced evolutionary processes and produced genetic casualties in these communities caught in the crossfire of atomic war. Halfway to Invisible does not seek to propose a pat answer, conclusion or solution to these complex problems; rather, it proposes these questions: Is our atomic legacy producing genotoxic effects in indigenous human populations? If so, what is the extent of DNA damage, and how might this affect these populations in the future?

Halfway to Invisible – description of work
This multi-media installation includes several allegorical components:
• A reactive kinetic sculpture made from stainless steel laboratory animal cages.
• A video projection of the “comet assay” pattern (single cell gel electrophoresis) showing DNA breaking off from a cell exposed to uranyl acetate.
• A "researcher" equipment case containing an interpretive video on evolutionary processes, an light box with informational text, and Cold War era Civil Defense Geiger counter in a Halliburton case
• Sixty small light-boxes. One series include superimposed images of genome maps, woven baskets and images of cells, the other series contains images of extremophile organisms that have the property of surviving in extreme environments such as geothermal springs and the pools in which radioactive fuel rods from nuclear reactors are stored. These extremophile organisms may in fact be the beneficial allies needed to help remediate land and water that has been polluted with radioactive waste. On the other hand, bioengineering them to perform such tasks may but create new problems.
• An information archive in an aluminum box

The artist would like to acknowledge the following individuals: Courtney “scrap” Wrenn, Jamilah Abdul-Sabur, William Thomas Porter, Gregory Barsimian, Chelsea Noggle, Erika Wanenmacher, Mary Beath, Neal Reinalda, Bernard Klevickas. Thanks go out to the Emory University community, especially: Mary Catherine Johnson Linda Armstrong Leslie Taylor Emma Greenberg, Kerry Moore, Sidney Perkowitz, Emory College Center for Creativity and Arts for their generous support