Joana Ricou talks to artist Bryan Wilson. Bryan investigates nuclear technology and its ramifications, with a focus on the legacy of the atom bomb and the management of nuclear fall out and waste.
“The cave is an attempt to create a television show to explicate a lot of this information. I’m building the set for that.”
BW: This began with an interest in trinitite, which is a glass formed from the first nuclear explosion and subsequent nuclear explosions but, specifically, that moment being a literal distillation of the turning point in human history when we started impacting the world on geological time scales. A lot of these nuclear materials are volatile in excess of 100’000 years into the future.
Burial becomes the most economic way to deal with this. So it becomes a very interesting design problem of how do you create monuments, language or symbols to communicate in excess of 50’000 years into the future. What does that look like?
56B: Yes: “don’t open this door.”
BW: I’m reading through designs, strategy propositions, academic papers, and I came across Thomas Sebeok, who was a semiotitian. He put forth this idea that, in addition to whatever monuments we made, there would be a group of people in every generation at these sites that would retain this information, a type of secret society, an atomic priesthood. And he set forth some loose guidelines for that it would have to be: somewhat terrifying, off-putting to the general public.
For this last year I’ve been trying to form what that priesthood might look like, creating drawings, sculpture, the tattoos I have on my arm, a film that is a part of the ritual that was done all under the guise of this…
56B: Are you part of the atomic priesthood?
BW: I’m making it up as I go along so nobody has imbued me with the authority…
56B: I think if you’re making it, you get to call yourself whatever you want.
BW: Indeed. And that’s where this kind of art process starts to step in and it becomes an interesting way of engaging not only history but what the future might look like.
All of this started with me doing a performance: I drove from my home in Montana to the Trinity, which is the test site of the first explosion.
The interesting thing there is there wasn’t much of a crater but there was a thousand foot by ten foot deep lake of green glass - trinitite. Essentially the tremendous force and temperature created by the bomb sucked up and in a flash *snaps fingers* melted the sand to the extent that it started to behave like water vapor and it came up into the mushroom cloud and, just like water vapor as it starts to clump together, it rained back down on the desert floor. The lake of glass is no longer there because it was bulldozed away but the site itself is now a historic monument.
[There’s no lake of trinite anymore but there is an obelisk, made by the United States government.]
BW: Shortly after the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he became very political and the result of that was him being publicly humiliated. I kind of look like him so I dressed as him as a way of paying homage to this site, as a way of conjuring his spirit. There was something very sacred about this site and the language about it, trinity, test site. There was a grave feeling about everything there.
We just got funding from the Art Council of England to make a book and do an exhibition of this project. What does that mean like, informing people, getting people present to this notion of we’re all in this nuclear age - we’re still in it. We’re at a point where really action is necessary. What does that look like? What might that world look like?