50 Years Later
Rejected proposal for 2008 Folly project grant - Folly is a "leading digital arts organisation. Working in Cumbria, Lancashire (UK) and online, folly is committed to enabling new audiences to explore art through technology."
The public relations victory that has finally brought mainstream acceptance of the facts of global warming and that has lead to widespread debate concerning fossil fuels and the future of the earth’s life systems has also tragically and ironically laid the groundwork for a more successful nuclear energy lobby and the expansion of nuclear power facilities around the world. Strangely and disturbingly, these new moves by nuclear industries are often said to be initiatives toward saving the planet from environmental destruction, thus contributing to a developing historical amnesia concerning the devastating potential of nuclear energy and weapons production. In this context the nightmarish realities of Chernobyl or Three Mile Island or Windscale or the many other accidental and intentional releases of radioactivity into the environment throughout the history of nuclear industries have seemingly faded into the background of popular concern – paving the way for the acceptance of the idea that nuclear energy is a reliable “clean energy” resource. Meanwhile, ramped up rhetoric in the west concerning the spread of nuclear weaponry to oppositional regimes works to legitimize continued nuclear weapon research and development despite the end of the cold war decades ago.
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Windscale reactor fire in the English county of Cumbria. The anniversary can serve as an important expressive and teachable moment for an international public largely unaware of the revitalization of nuclear industries now taking place throughout the world. This project will be an internet-based oral histories project that will attempt to recount the history of the nuclear industry in Cumbria through the voices of the people impacted by its effects beginning with the testimonies of those who remember the Windscale fire in 1957 and moving through the decades to the voices of those concerned with the activities more recently carried out at the Sellafield site. The project will take the form of an audio blog, which will allow project contributors from Cambria and surrounding territories to post their stories, reports and commentary and communicate with one another concerning the nuclear question at this urgent time in history. The audio blog will develop over the course of one year as a public art project on the web that will investigate both the specific subject of nuclear technologies as well as the possibilities for collectively generated documentary and participatory journalism using the participatory audio blog form (blogumentary). This strategy and architecture is also the basis of a recently initiated oral histories, participatory journalism project entitled Calling America which has received some noteworthy attention since my conception and development of it in the spring of 2007. See the Calling America website @
Technical and Procedural Notes
The project will be begin with a series public announcements and calls for participation from individuals and groups interested in the nuclear question from a variety of angles (pro, anti, and more nuanced positions concerning the economy, labor etc.) in Cambria and surrounding territories. Participants will receive a telephone number, which they will call and record their stories and commentary. All audio recordings that consider seriously the project parameters will be published on the 50 Years Later blog to which others may post in response. The project will then develop over the course of one year to be a deep reflection of the contested ground of nuclear research and development in the form of oral testimonies and responses. It is intended that the project become a platform for local debate with global consequences while using the public’s diverse knowledge and commentary from one small part of the world to teach and express to the rest of the world how communities are affected by and respond to nuclear research and development.