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  • the nuclear sublime

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    super/collider’s newest contributor, Melanie King, catches up with art historian and curator John O’Brian, who is currently exhibiting part of his vast personal archive of nuclear photographs at WORK Gallery, London

    In the ‘Through A Radioactive Lens’ symposium you mentioned that growing up in New York City and participating in duck and cover exercises affected your perception of the world. Can you say more about how your personal experiences have contributed to your current work with ‘Camera Atomica’ and ‘After The Flash’?
    Most of the experiences have come into focus only in hindsight. Watching President Kennedy announce the Cuban Missile Crisis on October 21, 1962, during my first year at university, is a “flash memory”. I remember precisely where I was at the time, in which chair I was sitting, and who I was with. (“We’ll all go together when we go,” goes the chorus of the Tom Lehrer song.) I also grew up in an air force family, British and Canadian, that moved from one fighter base to another in Britain, Europe and the United States. When my parents died, I became interested in what they had done (and not done) and in what they had said (and not said). The Cold War has shaped my perspective on the world.

    Atomic Postcard - Explosion at Yucca Flat, n.d.  Collection of John O'Brian

    Atomic Postcard – Explosion at Yucca Flat, n.d. Collection of John O’Brian

    At the ‘Through A Radioactive Lens’ symposium, you prepared a panel of speakers to discuss public perceptions of nuclear culture. On this panel you included artists and art historians, why do you think art is valuable in the field of nuclear science?
    Art helps to keep open spaces for debate and discussion. And it allows for varying points of view. A central argument of the book and the exhibition is that the interrelationship between camera technologies and nuclear technologies is closer than generally acknowledged. The contributing essays in the book touch on this in one way or another.

    Photo-H-Bomb Can Destroy City, New York, March 31 1954

    Photo-H-Bomb Can Destroy City, New York, March 31 1954

    What do you think our biggest nuclear threat is at the moment?
    Nuclear energy, someone once said, is a future technology whose time is past. The risks associated with nuclear weapons, power stations and sacrifice zones used to dispose of nuclear waste, I’m convinced, outweigh the benefits associated with health and climate change. Substantially outweigh them. The human species has demonstrated an terrible inability to manage the risks associated with nuclear technologies. Amnesia about what has taken place up to this point may be the greatest threat of all.

    When people think of ‘nuclear warfare’, the atom bomb springs to mind, but is there a less obvious threat that we are less knowledgeable about?
    A hidden threat is that the mushroom cloud, the logo of logos during the twentieth century, has become a sign of nostalgia. It’s looked upon as kitsch, especially by younger generations.

    Due to nuclear warfare in the past two centuries, we can now imagine the end of the world in ways that we could not imagine before. With this in mind, how do you think that the history of nuclear science has changed our perception of the future?
    Sci-fi films and novels can answer this question better than me. There are over a thousand nuclear films, many of which imagine the end of the world or at best dystopian futures. My favourite post-atomic novel is Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban (1980). The author invents a language that has been formed by the catastrophe.

    In the past two centuries, we have created a substantial amount of radioactive waste. Do you have advice on how we can safeguard future generations from radioactive material? Do you consider nuclear semiotics within your research?
    The nuclear field is a complex semiotic. One proposal for safeguarding future generations from radioactive material is to create a nuclear priesthood at burial sites for the waste. How would the semiotics of clothing come into play at the burial sites? Would the priests wear black with green trim, or green with black trim? No colour says nuclear like green, at least in the West. But is that also the case in China or Japan?

    Atomic Postcard - Britain, n.d. Collection of John O'Brian

    Atomic Postcard – Britain, n.d.
    Collection of John O’Brian

    In the exhibition ‘After The Flash: Photography From The Atomic Archive’ you explore the parallel histories of photography and nuclear technologies. Could you say more about the role of photography, not only in the recording of important events, but also in constructing the public image of the atomic age?
    This question goes to the heart to the exhibition. From the beginning, which is to say since 1945 and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the United States government has attempted to control which atomic images will circulate and which will be censored. The control of nuclear images continued with the tests in the South Pacific and Nevada. The government worked to create a public image of the bomb that emphasized flash-and-bang imagery – fireballs and mushroom clouds – downplay images of death and destruction.

    Why has it occurred to you to create a photographic archive? Why are photographic archives important?
    When I began putting together an archive of atomic photographs in 2002 it was for research purposes. I couldn’t locate the images I needed for my work. With the development of the Internet, the range of nuclear imagery on offer has become more widely available.

    At the ‘Through A Radioactive Lens’ symposium, Susan Schuppli talked about her research on the interactions between radioactive energy and photosensitive material. Is this something that interests you?Yes, Schuppli’s work is foundational. In Atomic Light (Shadow Optics), Akira Lippit covers some of the same ground.

    Could you say more on your thoughts of the technological sublime in light of your research?
    There has been a surplus production of nuclear sublime images – mushroom clouds, missiles, fireballs – that has served to separate the spectacle from the socially produced environment in which it has occurred. You rarely sees images of uranium mines and miners, nuclear technicians assembling missiles, workers manufacturing uranium hexaflouride, victims of radiation poisoning. The atomic age is haunted by excess. It’s imagery is also haunted by excess, haunted by the nuclear sublime.

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    to find out more, please visit ‘After the Flash: Photography from the Atomic Archive’

    image

    top: atomic postcard – Britain

    credit

    collection of John O’Brian

    pop culture pulsar

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    fifty years ago today, astronomers working at the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory in Cambridge discovered an unusual signal coming from deep space: a steady, rhythmic pulse unlike anything seen before. the radio signal, which repeated every 1.33 seconds, seemly oddly unnatural and was soon nicknamed LGM-1 for “Little Green Men” by its discoverers, Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Antony Hewish, who briefly considered but then ruled out the possibility it had originated from some far-off extraterrestrial civilisation

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    all that glitters

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    from the ancient Aztecs to Versace’s new Spring 2018 collection, gold has transcended fashion and culture to remain relevant across millennia. it’s one of humanity’s most enduring precious metals, but it’s taken science until this week to finally pin down exactly where it comes from

    the short answer is that gold and other heavy elements are formed by the explosions created by merging neutron stars – super dense suns that weigh twice as much as ours but are only about 10km across. the long version of how we figured this out is an amazing story of cutting-edge physics, astronomy and some timely international cooperation.

    read more in our new post for AnOther

    space age

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    following on from two successful gallery exhibitions, the Vintage NASA Photographs project has just released a new set of photographs for sale, including this one of the Gemini-7 spacecraft as seen from Gemini-6. other highlights of the collection include orbital tests high above the Earth, various Apollo astronauts on the Moon and even some shots from the Voyager probes taken in the 70s and 80s

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    deep space

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    deep down in the depths of the Earth’s oceans lies a world in many ways more mysterious than outer space. blanketed by darkness and the crushing weight of billions of tons of seawater, this alien abyss is the focus of the Parley Deep Space Program, which we recently profiled for a special insert inside Dazed Magazine…

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    Cassini: a spectacular end

    Wednesday 22 November 2017

    after two decades in space, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has completed its remarkable mission to Saturn. orbiting the planet and its many moons, the probe captured incredible images and made a number of new discoveries before being deliberately plunged into the gas giant to keep its moons pristine and uncontaminated. although the spacecraft is gone, researchers will be studying the rich trove of data from the mission and its grand finale for years to come

    join us hear Professor Michele Dougherty, the Principal Investigator for the magnetometer instruments for Cassini, discuss what new discoveries came from the probe’s long journey and ‘end of mission’ science

    7-9pm
    Second Home
    68 Hanbury Street / London / E1 5JL
    free for Second Home members
    £3 for non-members – please RSVP here

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    magic mushrooms

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    the complex and mutually-enriching interaction between soil, plants and fungi is similar to the fertile relationship between mushrooms, mankind and art – a dynamic explored in a new show curated by Francesca Gavin that opens tomorrow night in Paris. as she explains, “this simplest of organism has been at the core of ritual, power and ideas around immortality and strength for thousands of years. contemporary artists are continually drawn towards the mushroom for its references to nature, the psychedelic and the spiritual”

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    seeing science

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    launched in September last year, Seeing Science is a year-long project at the University of Maryland that examines and documents the ways in which science is represented through the visual medium of photography

    with online platforms, essays, events and exhibitions, the project looks at the ways in which science is represented as an industry and as an academic subject; the people involved and its myriad interactions with our everyday life. from Eadweard Muybridge’s pioneering studies of animal locomotion to NASA’s rich photography archive through to augmented reality goggles for surgeons, Seeing Science seeks to examine the various forms scientific images take, what they reveal and how they transform the disciplines they serve. Bobby Jewell spoke with the project’s curator and producer, Marvin Hieferman, to find out more

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    THE PLANT

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    a beautiful magazine exploring all things botanical, THE PLANT is ‘a curious observer of ordinary plants and other greenery’ put together by and featuring creative people who love plants

    Issue 9’s cover and monograph is dedicated to the humble yet irresistible geranium, with illustrations by Mélanie Dautreppe-Liermann, Ken Kagami, Jean Jullien, Mrzyk & Moriceau, Tim Lahan and Okamura Yuta. elsewhere in the issue, Brazilian artist Roberto Burle Marx talks gardens, designer Antoni Arola details his passion for seeds and seed pods, photographer Mark Borthwick explores the flora of Jamaica and super/collider provides text to accompany Kuba Ryniewicz’s incredible photos of the Danakil Depression – an arid, alien landscape in the Afar region of northern Ethiopia

    Issue 9 / £12
    SOLD OUT

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    deep impact

    Meteor Crater by Joe King

    in the first in a series of articles, we explore some of the places we’ll be visiting on our upcoming Total Solar Eclipse Expedition this August. first up is Meteor Crater, a massive hole in the ground in Arizona that helped scientists establish techniques for identifying meteor strikes…

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    ✺ solar eclipse expedition

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    14-22 August 2017

    join a small group of creative explorers as we travel across the spectacular deserts, forests and mountains of Western America to witness one of nature’s most incredible sights: a total solar eclipse

    click here to be the first to hear about upcoming fieldtrips and expeditions

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    a planet of oceans

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    from the depths of the Marianas Trench to the remote beaches of the Chagos Archipelago, we’ve rounded up five incredible places from around the planet in honour of World Oceans Day

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    L’Indifférence Des Etoiles

    L'Indifférence Des Etoiles

    88 pages / 26 × 19 cm / hardback
    41 photographs / full colour offset
    first edition of 500

    L’Indifférence Des Etoiles (The Indifference of the Stars) is French photographer Julien Mauve’s first book. filled with juxtaposed images of deep space and our world, it is about the quest for meaning and the difficulty to live with the knowledge that we exist. somehow, the stars become a shelter for the mind and help us bear the briefness of human life

    £25
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    the cosmic desert

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    stretching more than 7000 square kilometres across the barren deserts of Western Tunisia, Chott el Djerid is a vast salt lake that extends to the stars. an ‘endorheic’ basin, it floods in winter with rainwater and run-off from the distant Atlas Mountains, with dissolved minerals forming delicate pinks, soft greens, baby blues and other subtly beautiful colours. as spring turns to summer, crystalline structures emerge as the fierce Saharan heat turns the shallow waterways into glittering desert once more…

    read more about Chott el Djerid’s cosmic connections in our latest Where On Earth column for AnOther

    SUPER/COLLIDER X BOOK B

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    to mark the Hong Kong launch of our retrospective book, super/collider presented a two week pop-up shop at Book B, located inside the new mixed use space common room & co. in Hong Kong

    following on from this, our books have been now been added to the shop’s permanent selection, and we have more in the pipeline. next time you’re in Sham Shui Po, stop by to browse a selection of publications at the intersection of art and science…

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    Time Traveller by Seana Gavin

    TimeTraveller

    34x34cm glicée print
    limited edition of 50

    our collaborative collage series with artist Seana Gavin is inspired by our mutual love of vintage science books, world encyclopaedias and other educational treasures. combing the super/collider library for inspiration, Gavin’s meticulous hand-made collages reposition and reinvent Earth and space-based objects as new forms in surreal, otherworldly landscapes – strange realms devoid of a fixed time and place

    full series here

    £50
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    art and sci-fi in the Atacama

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    in one of the highest, driest and most remote landscapes on the planet, astronomers have constructed a series of megalithic devices to peer deep into space. these complex, futuristic artefacts and the strange landscape that surrounds them are what drew French artist Caroline Corbasson to the Atacama, where she’s currently shooting a new short film. you can read more about the project in our latest article for Amuse and check out this series of exclusive location scouting photos…

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    ten

    104-page retrospective book (2006-2016)
    first edition of 1000
    170mm x 240mm
    printed with vegetable-based inks on FSC-certified paper made from 100% post-consumer waste

    in 2006 we published our first fanzine and began a journey into science and culture. from the depths of interstellar space to the limitless subatomic horizons of particle physics to the most beautiful places on our planet, we’ve been privileged to spend the past decade exploring the wonders and aesthetics of science from a creative standpoint

    full of short stories and facts, ten is more than just a retrospective of our work. it’s a visual record of where science has taken us all in the last decade – told through 100 beautiful images from the worlds of astronomy, chemistry, mineralogy, physics, ecology, biology… and beyond

    £10
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    Platular ring by Noemi Klein

    Platular ring by Noemi Klein

    inspired by the intersection of earthly geology and crystalline geometry, Noemi Klein crafts intricate pieces in a range of fine metals. in her Epoch 5 collection, geological structures in the form of precious mineral clusters crystallise the natural environment and provide a sharp physical alternative to the ethereal and sensory world of the eye

    £189
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    the in sound from way out

    GOES satellite

    researchers at Queen Mary University in London are inviting filmmakers and creatives to experiment with sounds from space, as part of a new competition launched today. to find out more about these cosmic noises, we caught up with project lead Dr Martin Archer…

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    islands of ice

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    in our latest column for AnOther we overfly the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, which is about to unleash one of the largest icebergs the Earth has ever seen

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