The Atomic Priesthood: A visual investigation into fiction’s ability to shape reality and the future of nuclear waste.

I’ve been debating whether or not to put my own art work on my blog or to just keep it separate, however, I’ve decided to share it with you all. I’d really love you’re honest thoughts and input(but please be gentle). This project is the result of all my studio work in the first semester of my second year of studying Fine Art. I based this whole project around the idea of anthropocentricity/Anthropocene Era (definition below) with special attention to nuclear energy.

ANTHROPOCENE: The period of time during which human activities are thought to have had a significant impact on the global environment, regarded as having begun sometime between eight thousand years ago, with the spread of agriculture, and two hundred years ago, with the advent of industrialisation. The Anthropocene has been proposed as a new epoch of geologic time, following the Holocene.
Sacred Decay (fig. 1), LED strip stuck to the inside of a plaster cast of the model of a church made originally of modelling card,  60 x  25 x 30 cm
Sacred Decay (fig. 1) detail

My work is entrenched in questions surrounding the future of humanity in the wake of their discovery of nuclear power and its consequential relationship with the environment. This was a concept I first centred on having visited Venice Biennale, where most pavilions centred on themes of climate change and extinction anxiety. Reading Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus (link below) at the timeI was astounded by his predictions that our species would evolve beyond our cognitive comprehension. This linked strongly to Ane Gaff’s work at the Biennale, in Ethnologies of a homespun spinelessness cult and other neighbourly relations(2019)(Reference 1), where she used installation to explore the varied relations between human and nonhuman as life on earth as we know is threatened by human activity. I adopted this confrontational stance, using art to re-evaluate our responsibility as humans and start acknowledging our legacy. The sculpture’s organic nature fed into my plaster sculpture, Sacred Decay (fig.1), which seemed to grow on around the shape of the man-made church structure. This unites the theme of the atomic priesthood with humanity’s relationship with nature.

‘A Message From Our Generation to Yours’ (2019), video (Fig.2)

Furthering my interest was Michael Madsen’s Into Eternity(2010)(Reference 2), a documentary about a Finnish nuclear power plant faced with the challenge of ensuring it stays untouched for the next millennia. Through the power of film, Madsen creates a haunting reflection on the mortality of humanity and how we create something that will outlast ourselves and everything we understand – the challenge indeed is “to remember to forget” (Madsen, 2010). This challenged me to experiment further with film, using it as a medium to communicate with the future generations as seen in A Message From Our Generating To Yours(fig.2). When researching nuclear energy, it became clear what was originally viewed as the solution to climate change, “a fire so powerful that it could never be extinguished” (Madsen, 2010), is a horrific legacy of ours endangering not only for future generation but the  whole Earth and all life forms. By using samples in my experimental video – Anthropocentrism(fig.3) – from the Panorama’s ‘If The Bomb Drops’(1980) and nuclear holocaust film, ‘The Day After’(1983), I was able to explore these fears in reference to the past and future of nuclear power.

‘Anthropocene’ (2019), video (Fig.3)

In Care Notes(2019)(Reference 3) Ian Nesbitt not only uses film to present the complex ecological relationships but presents a futile attempt at apologising to nature for all the harm humanity has caused; layering the text from John Newling’s Dear Nature(2017)(Reference 4) piece, Nesbitt touches on the very intimate relationship between man and nature. This inspired my series of hand-written love letters to Earth from Homo Sapiens(Fig.4) and my feature of the natural environment in A Message From Our Generating To Yours(fig.2). The irony of this work remains that we may never be able to communicate with nature, hence the art pieces stand as a meditation for humanity instead and perhaps a call to action in improving that relationship in the future. Nesbitt also inspired my exploration of alternative modes of communication as he used Morse as a background noise for his video as seen in my work in figure 2 and the use of code in Figure 5, The Order of the Atomic Priesthood website.

(Fig.5) Fictional Keepsake, plaster cast

Humanities ability to “weave intersubjective realities” (Harari, 2017) is what makes them so unique in their ability to form civilisations, hence when the UN commissioned the Human Interference Task Force to solve this problem, Thomas Sebeok presented the idea of the ‘Atomic Priesthood’(the concept which directly inspired my web piece, fig.6). Stemming from the remarkable power of religion to not only install obedience through a supernatural order but also be preserved, he suggested it be created to deceive future generations into compliance. I fixated on the idea as it explored the nature of contemporary religious institutions, human communication, our future as a species and our relationship to the planet. I was reminded of the work of Avi Lubin’s work at the Biennale, Field Hospital X (2019)(Reference)as it was an interactive piece which replicated a hospital environment – she used an immersive, imitative environment to produce obvious connotations and make certain statements about society’s inability to deal with emotional traumas, to the extent that the theatrics were close enough to reality to fool me into thinking it was an actual hospital on site. I used this method in my own work through producing a website (Fig.6) for the pseudo-religion, creating a whole doctrine, hierarchy and community in a fictional narrative. I adapted the religious vestments of Catholicism, fused ironically with a laboratory coat, to comment on the religiosity of contemporary science(fig. 7). Fictional Keepsake(fig.5) is a piece of fictional archaeology which represents these ideas.


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