elin o’Hara slavick

elin o’Hara slavick, Distinguished Term Professor at University of North Carolina, will be giving an Artist Talk, After Aftermath, at Hallock Auditorium in the Environmental Studies Center at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 8.  In her talk, Professor slavick will discuss her series of cameraless photographic images depicting the  ongoing and invisible history of Hiroshima’s nuclear aftermath.

The Fire that Doesn’t Go Out features ten drawings from her earlier series, Protesting Cartography:  Places the United States Has Bombed (from which the images here are taken).

World Map, Protesting Cartography:  Places the United States Has Bombed, 1854-ongoing

History is amoral: events occurred.  But memory is moral; what we consciously remember is what our conscience remembers. If one no longer has land, but has memory of land, then one can make a map.    –Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces, quoted in BOMB AFTER BOMB

Protesting Cartography or Places the United States has Bombed (1998 – 2005) by elin o’Hara slavick

 …These drawings are manifestations of self-education on the subjects of U.S. military interventions, geography, politics, history, cartography, and the language of war. The drawings are also a means to educate others. I make them beautiful to seduce the viewer so that she will take a closer look, read the accompanying information that explains the horror beneath the surface. I wish for the viewer to be captured by the colors and lost in the patterns—as one would be if viewing an Impressionist painting—and then have the optical pleasure interrupted by the very real dots, or bombs, that make up the drawing. Unlike an Impressionist painting, there is no sense of light in these drawings. And unlike typical landscape paintings, these drawings are based on surveillance, military, and aerial photography and maps.

 As Miles Harvey writes in The Island of Lost Maps, “In the seventeenth and eighteenth century mapmakers were referred to as ‘world describers.’ In geometry, describe means to draw or trace the outline of something; in poetry, it means to get at the essence of something, to bring it to life in a way that’s both startling and beautiful. You’ve got to do both kinds of description – and do it in a medium that’s partially visual, partially mathematical, partially textual, a complicated miscellany of scale, orientation, projection, grids, signs, symbols, lines, colors, words….”

The following is a selection of the drawings in the current Oberlin exhibit.

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Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, USA 1942 – Ongoing

Dugway is a “massive firing range that for 50 years was the U.S. Army testing ground for some of the most lethal chemical, biological and nuclear weapons ever made. A slope of mountains to the east is pockmarked with hundreds of fortified bunkers storing enough toxins to eradicate mankind. Ground water is fouled with carcinogens. This was where the cold war was waged, not in battlefields in foreign lands, but in factories, laboratories and testing ranges.” – Tony Freemantle, Houston Chronicle

Mississippi, USA 1964-1970

The Salmon and Sterling Nuclear Test Sites were the locations for two nuclear detonations performed in a subterranean salt dome formation in Mississippi, as part of an Atomic Energy Commission Test. The test program, Project Dribble, called for creating an underground cavity, using a nuclear bomb to do so, then later detonating a second nuclear device, as well as two gas explosives, inside the cavity. The first detonation, to form the cavity, code-named Salmon, took place in 1964 using a 5.3 kiloton bomb. The second nuclear blast, a relatively small 0.38 kilotons yield shot code-named Sterling, was exploded within Salmon’s 110 foot diameter cavity more than two years later.

Nevada Test Site II, USA 1955 – 1968

The drawing takes as its reference a photograph from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory of a Project Schooner (part of Project Plowshare) crater and football field (for scale), which was made by a 35 kiloton nuclear bomb.

“From 1957 to 1973, scientists and engineers working under the direction of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and its Livermore laboratory investigated, experimented with, and promoted the idea of “peaceful” uses of nuclear explosives through a program called Project Plowshare. Proponents confidently argue that the “geographical engineering” of harbors, canals, dams, and mountain passes could be accomplished safely, economically, and scientifically by means of nuclear-blasted excavation. But the nuclear earthmoving explosions produced large amounts of radioactive fallout, and with it, significant challenges to the program on scientific grounds.  The Project Schooner cratering explosion produced the highest levels of fallout in Utah recorded since 1962, and sent radioactive debris across the Canadian border.” – Scott Kirsch, Peaceful Nuclear Explosions and the Geography of Scientific Authority

Amchitka Island, Alaska, USA 1965 – 1971

This midway point on the great arc of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands was designated a national wildlife refuge in 1913. The Pentagon and the Atomic Energy Commission went looking for a place to blow up H-bombs. As a result, Amchitka was the site of 3 large underground nuclear tests, including the most powerful nuclear explosion ever detonated by the United States. In 1965 the Long Shot test exploded an 80-kiloton bomb. In 1969 the Milrow Nuclear test was of one megaton, 10 times more powerful than Long Shot. In 1971 the 5 megaton Cannikan Bomb was exploded, 385 times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Independent research by Greenpeace and newly released documents from the Department of Energy show that the Amchitka tests began to leak almost immediately. Highly radioactive elements and gasses, such as tritium, americium-241 and plutonium, poured out of the collapsed test shafts, leached into the groundwater and worked their way into ponds, creeks and the Bering Sea.” – Jeffrey St. Clair, In These Times


Hypocenter in Hiroshima, Japan 1945

The atomic bomb called Little Boy “dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 turned into powder and ash, in a few moments, the flesh and bones of 140,000 men, women, and children. Three days later, a second atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki killed perhaps 70,000 instantly. In the next five years, another 130,000 inhabitants of those two cities died of radiation poisoning. Those figures do not include countless other people who were left alive, but maimed, poisoned, disfigured, blinded.

A Japanese schoolgirl recalled years later that it was a beautiful morning. She saw a B-29 fly by, then a flash. She put her hands up and “my hands went right through my face.” She saw a “man without feet, walking on his ankles.” – Howard Zinn, Hiroshima: Breaking the Silence

 Baghdad, Iraq 1990 – 2011

This drawing takes as its reference a newspaper map showing the targets hit during the first 24 Hours of the first “Gulf War” in 1990. “…dropping 177 million pounds of bombs on the people of Iraq in the most concentrated aerial onslaught in the history of the world.”  – William Blum, Killing Hope

“Every day for years after Gulf War I, British and U.S. warplanes bombed Iraq, and civilians and children died. Children also died every day in Iraq because of the U.S. sponsored embargo. Then George W. Bush came to the White House and invaded again, with civilians in Iraq now being killed at the rate of more than 3,000 per month.  The loss of life among Iraqi civilians is especially startling. In November, 2004, the British medical journal The Lancet reported that up to 100,000 civilians had died so far as a result of the war, many of them children.” – Howard Zinn, A Power Governments cannot Suppress

Afghanistan II, Operation Enduring Freedom  2001 – Ongoing

This drawing takes as its reference an Associated Press/Department of Defense photograph made from a gun camera video that was released during a Pentagon briefing in Washington, October 11, 2001. It shows a target as a blast erupts during a strike by U.S. forces on a surface to air missile site located within Afghanistan in retaliation for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S.

“Thousands of civilians in Afghanistan have already been killed as a result of our military operations, and countless thousands more are being wounded, losing limbs, blinded. Often these are children, victims of unexploded land mines, or cluster bombs. But the American people are not told these stories; we are kept ignorant of what the “war on terror” means in human terms. Sayed Salahuddin of Reuters reported on October 28, 2001, from Kabul: “A U.S. bomb flattened a flimsy mud brick home in Kabul Sunday, blowing apart seven children as they ate breakfast with their father. Sobs racked the body of a middle-aged man as he cradled the head of his baby, its dust-covered body dressed only in a blue diaper, lying beside the bodies of three other children, their colorful clothes layered with debris from their shattered homes.” – Howard Zinn, A Power Governments Cannot Repress



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