Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Re-envisioning nature: the representation of post-nuclear landscapes in contemporary art and culture

How does contemporary art and culture represent nuclear contamination in post-nuclear landscapes?

Duration
2015 - 2019
Contact
Anna Volkmar
Funding
NWO Graduate Programme 2014 NWO Graduate Programme 2014

Nuclear technologies have produced a significant number of contaminated sites ever since the first man-made nuclear reactor reached criticality in 1942. Due to radioactivity’s multisided transgression of human senses and understanding, the landscapes that emerged from these activities have become projection screens for sociological and philosophical criticism as well as a metaphor for nature’s revenge against human techno-scientific civilization. This is especially true for the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in Northern Ukraine – the site of what is still being considered the worst nuclear disaster in human history, but which is nowadays lauded for its lush vegetation and rich wildlife.

It is generally acknowledged that visual practices (such as tourist or corporate imagery, photo journalism and satellite images) have a substantial impact on how these sites are interpreted. However, the scholarly analysis of post-nuclear landscapes has traditionally been focused on textual documents at the expense of visual practices.

This research responds to the rapidly growing body of images that shape cultural ideas of existing  post-nuclear landscapes and negotiate some of the core assumptions of our techno-scientific civilization. These cover a wide area of institutional and non-institutional frameworks, media and aesthetic traditions, including artistic and touristic photography, video games (e.g. S.T.A.L.K.E.R., 2007-2009), movies, essay films (e.g.  The Radiant, 2012), and even an international film festival (The International Uranium Film Festival).

The two main ambitions of this project are, first, to scrutinize recurring narratives that are mobilized, negotiated and contested in nuclear imagery through the aesthetic registers of landscape and, second, to situate contemporary artistic practice within this discursive field. How do the aesthetic strategies employed in art overlap with, or deviate from those used in commercial, journalist, and tourist imagery? Might it indeed offer an effective counter-practice to dominant representations of post-nuclear landscapes?

Adopting an ecocritical approach, the modes of enquiry employed in this research cross through several disciplines, including art history and theory, cultural geography, cognitive science, philosophy, and sociology.

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