Blogging from the Edge

signals, reports, and creative responses

10/10/08

FIELD NOTE: TOURING THE NEVADA TEST SITE




This field note was filed for the Testing Ground project.

More fiction than reality can contain.
Showing us less than what we should know.
Being with what we're not supposed to know.

The second question we posed at the start of the field trip asks:
How might media be enlisted to make the hidden visible and show us "more of what we should know" by generating views and perspectives that give experience-able form to invisible forces, histories, and assumptions?

Yesterday we spent eight hours on a bus tour of the Nevada Test Site. We were given permission to join a tour that had been scheduled for the community advisory board--they review environmental restoration (groundwater contamination, historic nuclear test area clean-up, etc.) and waste management (radioactive waste transportation and disposal) activities at the Nevada Test Site.

We were not allowed to bring cameras, cell phones, recording devices of any sort. We did bring pen and paper. The tour was completely “unmediated,” except for the narration of our guide. He said his job was “strategic communication.”

Struggling to respond, as humans, to the enormous complexities that unfolded throughout the day ...
... to grasp what it means that some of the contaminants created by weapons and nuclear energy will outlast the Earth itself (their half-lives are longer than our Sun's life expectancy).
... to muster some sort of response, even if only imagined, to the guide when he says without irony that nuclear-powered rockets developed at the NTS for space travel "worked great" and are a "viable form of space travel" except for the fact that they spew an "extensive radioactive plume" into the atmosphere on their way into space.
...to process the shock of learning that there's such a thing as "biotrubation:" that's what it's called when ants living in the soil of the Nevada Test Site excavate potentially harmful radioactive particles of earth the surface if nuclear waste isn't buried at least 12 feet deep.
...to witness ground zero of one of the atmospheric tests, and its still-radioactive debris, being used as a training ground for hazmat and anti-terrorist workers.
...to see the tower that was erected within a mock Japanese village for the purpose of radiating the village homes and shops from various elevations in order to study the doses that people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki received.
...to hear the guide "slip" twice during our tour and call the dropping of the second bomb on Nagasaki a "test" of the bomb, and then correct himself and call it an application of the bomb.

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Frenchman Valley, site of the first atmospheric atom bomb test at the Nevada Test Site.
He said: "Eye witnesses tell of physical phenomena that go on ...The intensity of the photons (light) from the blast is 4,000 times brighter than the sun. The sheer magnitude, intensity of light has strange effects on clothes and skin. It vaporizes the moisture on your skin. It looks like your skin is steaming."


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cyanotype created at the Nevada Test Site, site tour, October 8, 2008
(Elizabeth Ellsworth and Jamie Kruse)


When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb. --J. Robert Oppenheimer

"One of the most remarkable attributes of the Nevada Test Site is its location. Founded on the need for concealment, it lies adjacent to a city famous for its extravagant display—Vegas is the town where anything goes and the nation-state is somehow conceptually absent. But the serious politics of concealment at the NTS and the (seemingly) frivolous politics of display in Las Vegas are mutually reinforcing, like those at the NTS, Yucca Mountain, and Rachel. . . . A favorite pastime of the era was to take a cocktail up to the top of a casino in the morning, to search the northern horizon for a flash of light or a mushroom cloud and toast America's superpower ascendancy." --Joseph Masco, "Desert Modernism"


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The mirage of Las Vegas is one block thick, founded on the need for concealment--Cesar's Palace: front, back.

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Paris: front, back.

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Bally's: front, back.

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MGM Grand: outside, inside.




16 comments:

anniesays.... said...

“Struggling to respond, as humans, to the enormous complexities that unfolded throughout the day ...to hear the guide "slip" twice during our tour and call the dropping of the second bomb on Nagasaki a "test" of the bomb, and then correct himself and call it an application of the bomb.”

This comment, in the midst of all this talk about media as a truth revealer, inspired me to remember again that language, too is a medium. Post 3 discusses how language will disappear or, well, change and is not an effective tool to communicate to people 10,000 years from now. How does language, as a medium, inhibit our contemporary abilities to communicate the problems of environment? In what ways are uses new media entangled with the past politics of language, politics imbedded within language? How can we “free” it?

nayaurena said...

"Eye witnesses tell of physical phenomena that go on ...The intensity of the photons (light) from the blast is 4,000 times brighter than the sun. The sheer magnitude, intensity of light has strange effects on clothes and skin. It vaporizes the moisture on your skin. It looks like your skin is steaming."

It is difficult to consider some of these things as “helpful”. The radioactive tests are the result of the military trying to protect us. Bombing other countries with radioactive bombs to protect our freedom, but how much of it is actual protection?. If these bombs are being tested in our own soil (it should not be in existence in the first place) and affecting us in a negative way how can it ever bring any positive?

Michelle said...

"... to grasp what it means that some of the contaminants created by weapons and nuclear energy will outlast the Earth itself (their half-lives are longer than our Sun's life expectancy)."

Did that make you feel small? It makes me feel small in comparison to the epic proportions of the galaxy we live in. It really gives you the sense that we are such a temporary part of this world. Our existence is a little blip of time, and after all our hard work preserving our histories and great works of art, it seems almost funny that the only legacy we will probably leave behind is a barren wasted planet riddled with radioactive waste.

Lena Huang said...

...to witness ground zero of one of the atmospheric tests, and its still-radioactive debris, being used as a training ground for hazmat and anti-terrorist workers.
...to see the tower that was erected within a mock Japanese village for the purpose of radiating the village homes and shops from various elevations in order to study the doses that people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki received.
...to hear the guide "slip" twice during our tour and call the dropping of the second bomb on Nagasaki a "test" of the bomb, and then correct himself and call it an application of the bomb.

Its interesting to find that you can just listening to the language and how its being said can reveal views and perspectives. I find the mock up village some what scary in away, especially after hearing that the guide said "test of the bomb"twice.

ryanriegner said...

I saw this passage and had to comment:
A favorite pastime of the era was to take a cocktail up to the top of a casino in the morning, to search the northern horizon for a flash of light or a mushroom cloud and toast America's superpower ascendancy.
I’m trying to place myself within the consciousness of these people in Vegas in those instances: to them that mushroom cloud was a symbol of power, of success, of dominance, and beauty. They would probably search and hope to see one of the horizon everyday.
and today, the atomic bomb is still a sign of power, but now it means chaos, murder, destruction and is more horrifying than beautiful. No one today would want to go to Vegas and see a mushroom cloud on the horizon for sure.
I just think it’s interesting to see how generations can view a subject differently such as this so quickly, all because of the simple fact of being aware of it’s use, not in a desolate landscape, but rather a living, breathing, city. All of a sudden this blind notion of beauty in a heartbeat turned to fear.

Yearning for a life less ordinary said...

"How might media be enlisted to make the hidden visible and show us "more of what we should know" by generating views and perspectives that give experience-able form to invisible forces, histories, and assumptions?"

I was doing research on the subject of Environment Media when I came across this blog. The article titled "Not enemies, but family" lists ideas related with communicating one's opinions when they are challenged by opposite opinions. The author has commented on a video post by a High School science teacher called Greg. Greg has filmed and documented webisodes on YouTube that take the arguments about global warming and organise them in a meaningful grid, to visualise the risks involved with each argument. He arrives at the approach that should be taken to deliever the most effective result. He proposes that instead of arguing whether global warming will take place or not, we should be looking at what will happen if action is taken or not. His illustration interprets his argument visually, thereby convincing many. He doesn't impose his thesis, but encourages you to use his approach to arrive at your own. His webisode can be found here.
I decided to apply the ideas in the above field note to the possibilities that new media have generated. Greg's webisodes provide an example of the capacity of new media to empower any individual to interpret and communicate his/her ideas visually and influence millions through the internet.

-Pritika Nilaratna, EMS

D.V. Caputo said...

It's strange how both the Nevada testing ground and Las Vegas combine to create this sort of extreme caricature of America. It contains its kitsch, its paranoia, its spectacle, its blindness, its surface self-unconsciousness/subconscious self-awareness and superpowerful self-centeredness. To a certain extent its 90s architecture even contains a healthy dose of its postmodern era, during which Las Vegas learns from itself. It's America's 20th century in a single state.

What state will be our 21st century, I wonder?

nina said...

In response to Ryan's post about the difference in our generations though about the atomic bomb it makes me wonder if before the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings anyone really thought about the devistation on those who it would effect. Obviously now we think differently about doing such an act because we know of the impact but how could someone not think about the consequences. I feel like it may not be the difference in generation but the fact that we have witnessed the act. Hopefully we are better for knowing in some sense???

Anonymous said...

I agree with the 2 post, I don't think all these new weapons are necessary and protecting us, I'm not sure if people know of this T.V show called future weapons and it basically tests out new weapons that the military has created. I watched it for the first time 2 days after the Field Trip happened and I thought it was ridiculous that it was being promoted/showed off on T.V. I agree with other people that these weapons are more sign of power than protection.

Andrew Tatreau said...

I think about these images of both the fronts/backs, insides/outsides of these casinos, and I can't help but think that this is reflective of a larger social issue with Americans for many reasons. I think about McMansions, strip-malls, etc, and how they all present this two dimensional awe-inspired presentation. But when you enter these homes, the walls are white, the furniture tacky, and electronics have become aesthetic staple pieces. This is a very general statement, I know, but it just feels like we have detached ourselves, personally, from our homes, our possessions, our memories, and have traded them in for empty representations of our lives. I fear that we will become so consumed with how we should present ourselves to others, versus who we really are as individuals that we will lose touch of that, and have nothing but empty identities.

Jason M said...

"...to hear the guide "slip" twice during our tour and call the dropping of the second bomb on Nagasaki a "test" of the bomb, and then correct himself and call it an application of the bomb."

This statement to me seems somewhat unsettling because of the nature of the situation. The fact that the guide refers to the application of the bomb as a "test" reveals how the people at the testing ground view the realities of something so catastrophic as the bomb that was "tested" on Nagasaki.

Jen said...

Whenever I hear the word "Nuclear", I had to think about WWII and the science behind the radioactive materials that were made and discovered in the 20th century that changes everyone's lives and for the next generations to come. Around 1940's when the Manhattan Project was developing the first nuclear bomb, I learned that it was part of the military secret plan to end the war. Before internet, they have newspapers as printed media and radios to spread the word about the Manhattan project telling the public about "what we should know".
Fast forward to the present day, we see nuclear power is part of our economic, political, and environmental concerns. We see pros and cons. Pro: Generating electricity to power homes and offices. Con: Developing weapons of mass destruction, environmental problems, cancer in human health, fallout and death.
Today, we hear news about nuclear energy from all over the world today. Developing countries like Iran, wanted their own nuclear weapons, uranium metals mined, the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 (declared the world's worst nuclear disaster in history), and storing the radioactive waste materials in Yucca Mountain. The illustrations from "How Art History is Used to Mark Nuclear Waste" sets an example of storing the nuclear waste and waiting for at least 10,000 years to degrade. Spikes would represent the time line of how the waste will degrade in many years. Just to imagine how many generations will come if the continuing rate of nuclear waste piles up at the burial site? That would have been a large number! These illustrations warned us about the continuing use and dispose of nuclear energy many cause problems and making the planet uninhabitable for humans and living organisms.
We think differently about how we can handle nuclear waste at this age because it provides us energy and negatively affect human health and environment. I think political leaders should re-think about the possible consequences of "protecting" their country.Weapons are mass destructive and could possibly be the end of the world.

Lisa said...

Trying to wrap my head around the idea of all of these different "testing grounds" this one seems to be the one that just sticks out. What are the real beneficiaries of creating these nuclear weapons? I mean really the first "slip" cause over 200,000 deaths in Japan and since then people have died from illnesses from the radiation exposure. We have scientists trying to find cures for diseases like cancer and aids, what about exposure to radiation? If one day we do go to war and these bombs are used again, will we have to find some sort of radiation prevention? It all seems so pointless. Just get rid of the nuclear warfare, don't even have it so that we don't remain a target and that we don't cause anymore problems. Now it's humans not only indirectly harming their environments, but if we do have these nuclear weapons around, they're directly harming themselves.
Perfect example would be putting these wastes in dumb places, we have limited/no control over natural disasters, well what happens when one occurs in a waste place?

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0CE1DD1131F937A35754C0A964958260

Lisa said...

Trying to wrap my head around the idea of all of these different "testing grounds" this one seems to be the one that just sticks out. What are the real beneficiaries of creating these nuclear weapons? I mean really the first "slip" cause over 200,000 deaths in Japan and since then people have died from illnesses from the radiation exposure. We have scientists trying to find cures for diseases like cancer and aids, what about exposure to radiation? If one day we do go to war and these bombs are used again, will we have to find some sort of radiation prevention? It all seems so pointless. Just get rid of the nuclear warfare, don't even have it so that we don't remain a target and that we don't cause anymore problems. Now it's humans not only indirectly harming their environments, but if we do have these nuclear weapons around, they're directly harming themselves.
Perfect example would be putting these wastes in dumb places, we have limited/no control over natural disasters, well what happens when one occurs in a waste place?

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0CE1DD1131F937A35754C0A964958260

Lisa said...

Trying to wrap my head around the idea of all of these different "testing grounds" this one seems to be the one that just sticks out. What are the real beneficiaries of creating these nuclear weapons? I mean really the first "slip" cause over 200,000 deaths in Japan and since then people have died from illnesses from the radiation exposure. We have scientists trying to find cures for diseases like cancer and aids, what about exposure to radiation? If one day we do go to war and these bombs are used again, will we have to find some sort of radiation prevention? It all seems so pointless. Just get rid of the nuclear warfare, don't even have it so that we don't remain a target and that we don't cause anymore problems. Now it's humans not only indirectly harming their environments, but if we do have these nuclear weapons around, they're directly harming themselves.
Perfect example would be putting these wastes in dumb places, we have limited/no control over natural disasters, well what happens when one occurs in a waste place?

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0CE1DD1131F937A35754C0A964958260

Hellface said...

For me, this field note brings to mind questions of public knowledge. What, as citizens of a country, should we be privy to? Everything? Selected things? The fact that no cameras were allowed at this test site is something that should be addressed with utmost seriousness. Why would they allow the site to be seen but not photographed? It reminds me of when a friend of mine went to go photograph certain areas in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where an enormous toxic waste spill occurred decades ago. When she began snapping photographs, the guard on duty threatened to take her camera and she was chased off of the site. What don't they want us to know? How is it legal to keep this information contained. It's very scary how little power "the regular" people have.