February 23, 2018

Underground/Overground. Roundtable on Art and Radioactive Waste Storage in Belgium

by Ils Huygens

On November 17 last year, the seventh Nuclear Culture Roundtable took place at Z33, a day of debates accompanying the exhibition Perpetual Uncertainty. What exactly is nuclear culture, and what’s the origin of the Nuclear Culture Roundtable?

Text. Z33 House for Contemporary Art.

Man-made nuclear fission products will last for up to one million years. Warning messages at nuclear repositories need to last more than 100,000 years, about 4,000 generations. What does this mean in human terms? About 100,000 years ago, Europe was populated by a different species of human, Homo neanderthalensis. We know they had ape-like facial features, and used basic hunting tools, but we have no knowledge of the language they used.

What will humans be like in 100,000 years? What will be the dominant species? How will they think? Will they understand our languages? How to prevent future civilisations from disturbing a nuclear waste repository, and how to ensure their safety? What signs, language and solutions can we use to talk to our future selves? And what should be the message’s content? Do we actually have a language to speak about deep time? How to extend the lifespan of our digital data? Can we keep the memory of nuclear sites alive so that they can be managed in perpetuity, and how can artists be involved in this process?

Semiotician Thomas Sebeok once proposed (1984) the creation of an atomic priesthood order to pass on information about nuclear waste sites, for thousands of years to come. Bryan McGovern Wilson, The Alchemic Host, 2012. © Bryan McGovern Wilson

Semiotician Thomas Sebeok once proposed (1984) the creation of an atomic priesthood order to pass on information about nuclear waste sites, for thousands of years to come. Bryan McGovern Wilson, The Alchemic Host, 2012. © Bryan McGovern Wilson

Enough food for thought to organise a ‘Nuclear Culture Roundtable’ day to discuss the less tangible, more philosophical, ethical and social questions around radioactive waste storage in Belgium. The event took place on November 17 last year, and was organised by Z33 research to accompany the exhibition ‘Perpetual Uncertainty’ curated by Ele Carpenter.

The roundtable is part of a series of Nuclear Culture Round Tables worldwide, bringing together experiences and approaches from artists, architects, philosophers, sociologists along with nuclear agencies, scientists, stakeholders and NGO’s. These roundtables aim to cross the fields, break down artificial mental barriers, include a wider range of perspectives to incite a cultural debate on nuclear issues.

The Round Table events are inspired by the legacy of artist James Acord, the atypical student of nuclear science, and the only individual in the United States to receive a Radioactive Materials License (so pleased was Acord that he had the license number tattooed onto the back of his neck). Acord built the first roundtable in his Hanford studio (USA) in the nineties, bringing together nuclear engineers and environmentalists to discuss how to clean up the nuclear weapons Hanford site.

James Acord at his roundtable, Hanford site USA, 1999.

James Acord at his roundtable, Hanford site USA, 1999.

Nuclear culture itself can be defined as “the complex and varied ways in which people control, respond to, resist, and represent the complex influence of nuclear science and technology” (2016, J.Hogg). Since the beginning of the 21st century, the nuclear industry is turning more and more towards the humanities to explore the conceptual, ethical and social processes needed to make decisions on siting, monitoring, marking and archiving geological repositories for long-lived radioactive waste.

The roundtable on November 17 included artists participating in the Z33 Nuclear Culture programme, researchers and stakeholders from the Belgian Nuclear Waste Management project, artists from the ANDRA art programme, researchers on MODERN 2020, and students.

For a more thorough reflection on the topics that were explored during the day, we are happy to refer you to Ele Carpenter’s report of the day, illustrated by Pieter Fannes’ drawings.

David De Bruijn from ONO architectuur, during the morning presentations. Nuclear Culture Roundtable, 17 November 2017, Z33. © ONDRAF/NIRAS, photography by Buket Dorbar.

David De Bruijn from ONO architectuur, during the morning presentations. Nuclear Culture Roundtable, 17 November 2017, Z33. © ONDRAF/NIRAS, photography by Bert Stephani.

Discussing 'Deep Time communication through long term projection'. Nuclear Culture Roundtable, 17 November 2017, Z33. © ONDRAF/NIRAS, photography by Buket Dorbar.

Discussing ‘Deep Time communication through long term projection’. Nuclear Culture Roundtable, 17 November 2017, Z33. © ONDRAF/NIRAS, photography by Bert Stephani.

Robert Williams, chairing the table 'Deep Time communication through long term projection'. Nuclear Culture Roundtable, 17 November 2017, Z33. © ONDRAF/NIRAS, photography by Buket Dorbar.

Robert Williams, chairing the table ‘Deep Time communication through long term projection’. Nuclear Culture Roundtable, 17 November 2017, Z33. © ONDRAF/NIRAS, photography by Bert Stephani.

Citizen Science and Participation 21st Century, the discussion group of Anne Bergmans. Nuclear Culture Roundtable, 17 November 2017, Z33. © ONDRAF/NIRAS, photography by Buket Dorbar.

Citizen Science and Participation 21st Century, the discussion group of Anne Bergmans. Nuclear Culture Roundtable, 17 November 2017, Z33. © ONDRAF/NIRAS, photography by Bert Stephani.

Ciel Grommen reporting for 'Citizen Science and Participation 21st Century'. Nuclear Culture Roundtable, 17 November 2017, Z33. © ONDRAF/NIRAS, photography by Buket Dorbar.

Ciel Grommen reporting for ‘Citizen Science and Participation 21st Century’. Nuclear Culture Roundtable, 17 November 2017, Z33. © ONDRAF/NIRAS, photography by Bert Stephani.

Deep time communication through intergenerational relay, the discussion group chaired by Jasmine De Bruycker. Nuclear Culture Roundtable, 17 November 2017, Z33. © ONDRAF/NIRAS, photography by Buket Dorbar.

Deep time communication through intergenerational relay, the discussion group chaired by Jasmine De Bruycker. Nuclear Culture Roundtable, 17 November 2017, Z33. © ONDRAF/NIRAS, photography by Bert Stephani.

Pieter Fannes, visual reporter of the day. Nuclear Culture Roundtable, 17 November 2017, Z33. © ONDRAF/NIRAS, photography by Buket Dorbar.

Pieter Fannes, visual reporter of the day. Nuclear Culture Roundtable, 17 November 2017, Z33. © ONDRAF/NIRAS, photography by Bert Stephani.

Speakers, Chairs and Artists Biographies:

Alexis Destoop (BE) is an image-maker, with a background in photography & philosophy. His productions examine the experience of time, elements of storytelling and procedures of identification and memory. Informed by the strategies of minimalism, his works, often seductive in appearance, function as lures that explore the deceptive nature of the images. Alexis regularly works in collaboration with writers, performers and musicians. His project Kairos (2009-2010) re-signifies Australia’s desert landscape and its history through a science fiction narrative, resonating with colonial history and the omnipresent actuality of the mining industry, and questions the relationship between fiction & reality. In recent years the landscape has become his primary subject matter, with all its stratified meanings and histories. What distinguishes Alexis’ work is his interest in the artificiality of landscape: not as a natural object but as a thoroughly human construct. With the ongoing project Four Directions of Heaven, he re-visits a series of “precarious” environments as expressions of the contemporary sublime through fictional narratives, exploring the complex fault lines and dissonances they reveal. His most recent film in this series focuses on the contested area around Murmansk. www.alexisds.com

Alice and David Bertizzolo (FR) are visual artists, designers, art directors and photographers. Alice studied philosophy, David is an architect. They often work “in situ”, in harmony with architecture and landscape. In 2015, they won first prize at a competition launched by the French nuclear waste agency ANDRA, looking for ways to keep the memory of nuclear storage facilities alive. Their Cloud In / Cloud Out project links art with archaeology and consists of thousands of half-spheres made from artificial stone, mounted on metal poles to evoke vapour clouds. Other half-spheres are buried in the ground, containing engraved pictorial messages addressing future generations. Their work is specifically designed to mark the CIGEO research site, a deep geological disposal facility to be built in Bure, north-eastern France. This outdoor installation is at the development stage, a physical model is currently under construction. www.aliceetdavidbertizzolo.com

Andy Weir (UK) is an artist and writer, regularly exhibiting and publishing work internationally. He is currently completing his PhD in the Art Department at Goldsmiths, University of London, where he also graduated from the Fine Art MFA and Contemporary Art Theory MA. Previously he completed a postgraduate in Sonic Cultures (University of East London) and an undergraduate degree in Literature & Philosophy at University of Edinburgh, as well as co-founding the artist duo allsopp&weir. His specialist background is in digital video, and he is currently researching concepts, affects and politics of ‘deep time’. His artwork Pazugoo, presented in the Perpetual Uncertainty exhibition at Z33, is built from 3D-scanned museum artefacts according to the morphology of Pazuzu – the Babylonian-Assyrian demon of dust and contagion, a figure with an excess of wings, raising one hand upward. Andy proposes the Pazugoo(s) as future markers for deep geological repository sites of long-term nuclear waste storage. By using open source processes, digital file sharing and 3D-printing, the Pazugoos can act as navigation devices between now and deep time.  www.andyweir.info

Anne Bergmans (BE) is lecturer and senior research fellow at the University of Antwerp’s Faculties of Law and Social Sciences. She holds a PhD in Sociology (University of Antwerp, 2005). Her research interests are situated in the field of science and technology governance, environmental sociology and sociology of safety and risk, with an empirical focus on questions related to the long-term governance of radioactive waste, and on public engagement in radioactive waste management. In that respect, Anne acted as supervisor and coordinator of the InSOTEC project, funded under the 7th Framework Programme (EURATOM; 2012-2014). This project focused on boundary work between the social and the technical in R&D and planning for geological disposal. Anne was furthermore involved in the MoDeRn project (Monitoring Developments for safe Repository operation and staged closure), a four year collaborative project funded under the same programme, where she coordinated the social sciences work addressing possibilities for early stakeholder engagement in defining monitoring strategies. She is currently involved in its successor project, MoDeRn2020 (EURATOM – H2020; 2014-2018).  www.modern2020.eu

Bridget Kennedy (UK) lives in the midst of a post-industrial landscape on the outskirts of a remote North Pennine village in the UK. Through installation, sculpture, photography and video she investigates the impact and evidence of societal change on the landscapes she encounters, seeking to bridge the gap between conventional forms of knowledge and a more sensory, material experience. She is part of the visual arts project Power in The Land, engaging with issues of nuclear energy and the land with a specific focus on the closure of Wylfa (Anglesey, Wales) the last Magnox fuelled nuclear power station in the UK. Bridget gained her MFA from Glasgow School of Art in 2007 and is currently Associate Lecturer in Fine Art at the University of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. She has shown in a variety of venues throughout the UK, as well as taking her work to Berlin, Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Akureyri. Bridget’s artwork is featured in The Nuclear Culture Source Book (Carpenter, 2016).

CAIT (SP) the Center of Integral Analysis of the Territory – is a research group of the Department of Architecture at Rovira i Virgili University in Tarragona, Spain. Architects Carlos Gonzalvo Salas and Juan Fernando Ródenas García have been researching the decommissioning process of the Vandellòs-I Nuclear Power Plant, which was closed in 1989 due to an incident in its cooling system and will be completely decommissioned by 2028. Currently, they are working on a project to turn the power plant into a cancer treatment center; from radiation as cancer-causing to cancer-treating. No such center exists in Spain because of its high construction costs. The Proton therapy Center has similar technical requirements to a nuclear power plant, such as high-density concrete walls that can be built for almost the same cost as decommissioning the plant. www.carlosgonzalvo.com/16-nuclear-power-plant

Cecile Massart (BE) is an artist whose works include drawings, engravings, installations, photography, video, and books. Since 1994, Cécile focuses on the identification of radioactive waste repositories in the landscape. By developing ‘archi-sculptures’ and on-site laboratories, she wants to raise awareness among all stakeholders. Her work has been exhibited in Le Musée d’Art Moderne de Bruxelles, Museu de Arte Contemporanea de Sao Paulo, and art galleries in Belgium and abroad. Her works belong to private and public collections. Cécile is represented in the Perpetual Uncertainty exhibition with her series Laboratoires, a conceptual proposition for working laboratories, to be located within the perimeter of radioactive waste storage sites. Massart proposes that these places should facilitate multidisciplinary research on nuclear issues in the world of tomorrow. The laboratories form an architectural marker in the landscape to pass on the knowledge and memory of the place. www.cecile-massart-lisibilite-dechets-radioactifs.com/en

Ciel Grommen (BE) extended her training in architecture at the University of Leuven with a master in contemporary art at the HEAD in Geneva. She is building a trans-disciplinary practice, playing with models, maps, constructions, texts and more. At Z33 she recently coordinated Kolenspoor City, a participatory design project challenging 300 people to imagine a future for the mining region of Limburg. Ciel also coordinated the production of the Perpetual Uncertainty exhibition in Z33 together with Ils Huygens and Ele Carpenter. www.projectkolenspoor.be

Dave Griffiths (UK) is an artist who explores photographic images as lenses through which we commemorate and navigate history. He combines image fragments and acts of durational seeing, in hybrid assemblages of film, animation, sound, print and data. His compressed narrative maps consider media artefacts as observatories for locating our being in deep time and space. Currently Dave is using the material and historical potential of analogue microfilm to depict transition, chaos and extinction. As an archival media durable for 500 years, microfilm can be understood as a mythological solution to digital insecurity. Through participation with art and science communities, Dave Griffiths encourages us to speculate about the future survival and reception of images, and what it means to transmit and translate contemporary information through deep time. Dave Griffiths is an organiser of Manchester’s Film Material, and teaches at Manchester School of Art. Dave participated in one of Z33’s field trips to the Belgian nuclear sites in Mol and Dessel which resulted in the microfiche fanzine DeepField (UnclearZine), presented in the Perpetual Uncertainty exhibition. www.davegriffiths.info

David De Bruijn (NL) studied architecture at the TU Delft and ETH Zürich and was co-organiser of the conference ‘Projective Landscape’ (2006). He worked as an architect at LÖHMANN’S architecture before becoming project architect at ONO architecture in 2011, where he is currently working on the communication center Tabloo, which is being commissioned by the Belgian Agency for Radioactive Waste Management (NIRAS) as part of the cAt-project for the storage of low-level nuclear waste in Dessel. David de Bruijn was an editor at OASE Journal for Architecture and a guest tutor at the Faculty of Architecture at TU Delft. He won the Young Architects Award 2016 together with Sarah van Apeldoorn, with whom he currently works on the research project Gewenst verdichten with support of the Vlaams Bouwmeester (Flemish Government Architect). www.ono-architectuur.be

Ele Carpenter (UK) is Curator of the Nuclear Culture curatorial research project. Her research investigates nuclear aesthetics through commissioning new artwork, publishing, curating exhibitions and roundtable discussions in partnership with arts organisations and nuclear agencies. Ele is convenor of the Nuclear Culture Research Group at Goldsmiths University of London where she is Senior Lecturer in MFA Curating. Recent curated exhibitions and roundtable discussions include: ‘Perpetual Uncertainty’ Bildmuseet, Umea University, Sweden (Oct 2016 – April 2017), Z33 House of Contemporary Art, Hasselt, Belgium (16 Sept – 10 Dec 2017) and Malmo Konstmuseum, Sweden (24 Feb – 26 August 2018); ‘Material Nuclear Culture’ KARST, Plymouth, UK (June-Aug 2016); ‘Actinium’, S-AIR, Sapporo, Japan (July 2014). www.nuclear.artscatalyst.org

Ils Huygens (BE) is one of the main curators of Z33 House for Contemporary Art, where she curates exhibitions and leads Studio Time, one of Z33’s Research studios. For Z33, she has curated thematic exhibitions such as Design by Performance, Architecture of Fear, Space Odyssey 2.0, Sense of Sound, and solo exhibitions of Jasper Rigole, Thomas Lommée, Konstantin Grcic and Basim Magdy. She holds a degree of Art Sciences and has previously worked as a researcher working on film, philosophy and affect at the Jan Van Eyck Academy in the Netherlands. She is also part of the team of the yearly cult film festival Offscreen in Brussels.

Jasmine De Bruycker (BE) is an interdisciplinary researcher and writer of essays for the Parliament of Things in Amsterdam since 2016, and recently for the research studios of Z33, House of Contemporary Art in Hasselt. She also works as a creative strategist and storyteller for Base Design since 2010, a design studio in Brussels, Geneva and New York. In the past, she curated the philosophy programme of Background Educations, gave guest-lectures on science communication at the Catholic University of Leuven (KUL), made more than 15 documentaries on the stories – highs and lows – behind scientific discoveries for the tv-series OverLeven on Canvas, the arthouse channel of the Belgian National Television (VRT). She was also a videojournalist for the culture site Cobra.be (VRT), where she captured the Belgian art, theatre and literature scene in short video reports. Her background is diverse. Jasmine graduated as a bio-engineer with specialisations in environmental technology (soil and water conservation) and tropical agriculture, followed a Master in Journalism at the Erasmus University College Brussels, and supplementary evening courses in philosophy, graphic design, filming, interviewing techniques, video-editing and storytelling. She currently combines her work with studies in philosophy at the Free University of Brussels (VUB). www.theparliamentofthings.org

Jean-Noel Dumont (FR) is the senior advisor and coordinator of the Memory Programme of the French Nuclear Agency ANDRA, where he is in charge of socio-technical aspects of the waste management strategy. When he joined ANDRA in 1999, he started working on the technical aspects of waste packages for both the Aube surface repository and the Cigeo project of deep geological repository. Before ANDRA, Jean-Noël worked in engineering companies for 18 years. He graduated from Mines ParisTech. www.andra.fr/international

Jon Thomson & Alison Craighead (UK) work across video, sound, sculpture, installation and online space. Over the last twenty years, they have produced artworks that examine the changing socio-political structures of the Information Age. In particular they have been looking at how the digital world is becoming ever more closely connected to the physical world, becoming a geographical layer in our collective sensorium. Solo shows include Wake me up when it’s over, Young Projects Gallery, Los Angeles; Party Booby Trap, Carroll/Fletcher, London; Maps DNA and Spam, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee, UK (2014), Not Even the Sky, MEWO Kunsthalle, Memmingen, Germany (2013). Recent group exhibitions include The New Observatory, FACT, Liverpool (2017); Electronic Superhighway, Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK (2016); Big Bang Data, Somerset House, London, UK; Art In The Age Of…Asymmetrical Warfare, Witte de With, Rotterdam, Netherlands; How to Construct a Time Machine, MK Gallery, Milton Keynes, UK (all 2015) and the Nam June Paik Award, Haus Lange, Krefeld, Germany (2014). They live and work between London and the Scottish Highlands. Jon and Alison also participated in multiple field trips as part of the Nuclear Culture project. Z33 they produced a new prototype of their Temporary Index project, which operates as a signpost that maps the distance between Z33 and the Category A Radioactive Waste Facility to be built at Dessel, Belgium, 44 km from the gallery. The Temporary index is a counter that publicly presents invisible data through a numeric counter, which counts down to the probabilistic decay of radioactive materials in seconds. www.thomson-craighead.net

Maarten Van Geet (BE) obtained his PhD in geology in 2001 at the KU Leuven. That same year he started research on geological disposal of radioactive waste at the Belgian nuclear research center SCK-CEN. He was mainly involved in geological, geochemical and geo-mechanical studies and also coordinated several experiments in the underground research laboratory HADES. In 2007 he joined ONDRAF/NIRAS, the Belgian Agency for Radioactive Waste Management. In the first year he was mainly involved in the studies concerning geology and evolution of the geological repository. In 2008 he became coordinator of the team that covers all studies (phenomenology, engineering and safety assessment) concerning geological disposal. In 2016 he became RD&D manager. Maarten and his team are responsible for all studies, research and demonstration that involve the management of radioactive waste (re-) processing techniques, rehabilitation of non-conform waste streams, and the final disposal of waste. Since the beginning of his career he was strongly involved in international collaborations, especially at the European level (EC projects, IGD-TP, and more) and he is also member of several advisory groups outside Belgium (e.g. the Netherlands and France). www.niras.be

Mona (BE) is a non-profit organisation co-founded in 2000 by the municipality of Mol and NIRAS, the Belgian Agency for Radioactive Waste Management. MONA looks after the interests of the local community with regard to nuclear matters in Mol and Belgium, it informs them and gives them a voice. Today, MONA specifically follows up the development of the final disposal site for low-level nuclear waste in Dessel, the municipality bordering Mol. www.monavzw.be

Pieter Fannes (BE) is an illustrator who works and lives in Brussels. His technique of ‘Visual Reporting’ documents the dialogue of conferences and debates by drawing live accounts of the group dynamics and dialogue. He draws with brushes for the looseness it allows and the accidents along the road, and illustrates children’s books and either draws musicians or draws wíth them on scene. His books include Pieter Fannes & Yann Bagot Live (Bries, January 2018), Zora en Mira, and Mon en Gies, written by Do Van Ranst (WPG, 2016), and Nog Lang en Gelukkig, by Dree Peremans (EPO, 2015). Pieter will be drawing a ‘Visual Report’ of the roundtable and his drawings will be on display at the end of the day. www.pieterfannes.com

Régine Debatty (BE) is a writer, curator, critic, and founder of we-make-money-not-art.com, a blog which received two Webby awards and recently received an honorary mention at the START Prize, a competition which acknowledges “innovative projects at the interface of science, technology and art”. Régine writes and lectures internationally about the way in which artists, hackers, and designers use technology as a medium for critical discussion. She also created Artists in Laboratories (A.I.L.), a weekly radio programme about the connections between art and science for Resonance104.4fm in London (2012–14), and is the co-author of the “sprint book” New Art/Science Affinities, published by Carnegie Mellon University focusing on artists working at the intersection of art, science and technology. www.we-make-money-not-art.com

Robert Williams (UK) is a professor of Fine Art at the University of Cumbria Institute of the Arts. Williams’ practice includes contemporary art projects in the UK, Europe and USA with close collaborators such as artists Mark Dion and Bryan McGovern Wilson; conceptual writers Professor Simon Morris and Nick Thurston; archaeologists Dr. Aaron Watson and Dr. David Barrowclough; conservation biologist Dr. Andrew Ramsay, cultural sociologist Dr. Hilmar Schäfer; and with his son, Jack Aylward-Williams. A recent major project with American artist Bryan McGovern Wilson explores the confluence of nuclear energy, extraction industries, archaeology and folklore in the North-west of England. Cumbrian Alchemy (2011-2016) is currently presented in the Perpetual Uncertainty exhibition.

Sigrid Eeckhout (BE) is a Doctor in Geology. She was active for several years in fundamental research and further obtained a Master’s degree in Science Communication. Sigrid is currently responsible for the public participation project for high-level and/or long-lived waste at ONDRAF/NIRAS, the Federal Agency in charge of the safe management of all radioactive waste in Belgium. www.niras.be

Stora (BE) is a non-profit organisation co-founded by the municipality of Dessel and NIRAS, the Belgian Agency for Radioactive Waste and Enriched Fissile Materials. The organisation looks after the interests of the local community, monitors all nuclear activity in the region, involves and informs the population. Several nuclear companies are located in Dessel, and they transport, process and temporarily storage both high- and low level waste for decades. Since 2006, the integrated cAt-project is underway to finally dispose the low-level waste in Dessel. STORA came to a binding agreement that states the rights and duties of all parties concerned, and will keep on monitoring the project. www.stora.org

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