For 12 days in fall of 2013, smudge studio (Jamie Kruse and Elizabeth Ellsworth) traveled routes taken by transuranic waste headed for burial at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, near Carlsbad, New Mexico. We wanted to see what it would take for two humans to acknowledge, and briefly move with, this most abject material.
The nation’s four main routes for transporting transuranic waste — from sites as far flung as Washington, New York, California and South Carolina — converge on Highway 285 in southern New Mexico. We began our field research in Utah, visiting infrastructures and engineered landscapes that facilitate the movements of nuclear waste along interstate highways, including production sites as well as low-level waste storage facilities, uranium tailing piles, and earth and riprap mounds for shallow burial of contaminated tools and objects. We met humans who regularly move with nuclear materials, and talked with a truck driver, a nuclear waste shipment tracker at the Department of Energy’s TRANSCOM office, and citizen monitors at the Rocky Flats site near Denver. We encountered five waste shipment trucks and shared the road with them for short stretches. All told, we shot 20 hours of video on a car-mounted, wide-angle HD video camera, as well as 800 photographs and four rolls of Super 8 film.
On September 25, 2012 we were allowed to enter and photograph the Department of Energy’s TRANSCOM field office in southern New Mexico. Around the clock, staff at this high-security site monitor movements of satellite-tracked trucks that transport transuranic waste from sites of temporary storage to New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). At WIPP, nuclear materials are buried 1250 feet below the surface in a 250 million year old salt dome — where the design objective is to isolate the waste from humans and the environment for the next 10,000 years. On February 14, 2014, WIPP reported its first leak of plutonium and other radioactive material into the open air surrounding the site. WIPP is located approximately 300 miles southeast of Santa Fe.
The three-hour, two-channel video on display tells the “findings” of our field research from a point of view located somewhere within the material realities of TRU waste. Look Only at the Movement also includes photographs, graphic design, map, and written audience responses. Together, they create accessible, material tracings of the realities associated with this fact: the movement of nuclear waste through public spaces is (and will long continue to be) a condition of human life, landscape, and infrastructure design. Yet, citizens, architects, and engineers have virtually no models for how to design and maintain infrastructures capable of safely containing nuclear materials for the millions of years required by their potency. Looking only at the movement of nuclear waste, we have tried to redirect the polarized discourses that often “cloak” nuclear materials. We encourage new angles of civic exchange. We invite audiences to engage with contemporary material realities that are simultaneously of us, and far beyond us.
Sites visited include: EnergySolutions Clive Facility, UT; Moab Project, UT; Crescent Junction Disposal Site, UT; Mexican Hat Uranium Disposal Cell, UT; Shiprock Uranium Disposal Cell, NM; Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, NM; Los Alamos National Laboratory, NM; Rocky Flats, CO; and Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory, NY.
Look Only at the Movement is an exhibition relay among five venues between Fall 2013 and Spring 2015. Each venue is located near historical and/or contemporary sites and routes that are part of the research and resulting film/photography. As the exhibition is relayed from venue to venue, it will re-enact the route of the research trip, trace the spatial scope and topographies documented in the work itself, and traverse paths that waste materials will continue to travel for foreseeable futures. From the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, New York, NY (Fall 2013) the exhibition travels to the Santa Fe Art Institute, Santa Fe, NM (May 1st – June 12th 2014); The Center for Land Use Interpretation, Wendover, UT (Summer 2014); Rocky Flats Institute and Museum, Arvada, CO (Fall 2014); and the Center for Art + Environment, Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, NV (Spring 2015). We invite you to use the exhibition book to relay comments and responses to audiences along the route that Look Only at the Movement will travel from here. smudge studio is a collaboration between Elizabeth Ellsworth and Jamie Kruse.
Learn more at smudgestudio.org