Radiation Room

Radiation Room is an interactive new media environment. The user is equipped with a circa-1950 Civil Defense radiation meter and proceeds to enter the space. The contents of the room are a regular grid of twelve pedestals, each presenting a unique sample of debris. The walls present images of the reality of what has become an abstract idea: the destruction of a city by an atomic bomb. This apocalypse is rendered in real, human, personal costs. There is nothing abstract about it. Each of the twelve debris sculptures reinforces the personal nature of the catastrophe. Among the broken bricks and concrete are the artifacts of everyday life: a woman’s comb, a piece of jewelry, a child’s toy, a book, a broken dish. The user browses the space and examines the sculptures with the aid of the meter. Some debris will register as radioactive: the needle on the meter will swing to the red and a high-pitched buzz will be heard.

The genesis of Radiation Room was my discovery of the Victoreen Instrument Company’s radiation survey meter. This is a circa-1950’s radiation meter meant for civilian use in the case of an ‘enemy attack or other nuclear disaster’. To me, this object is very strange and very evocative. It recalls an element of our culture that has completely disappeared. Very few people, in this day and age, would propose creating a stockpile of supplies in anticipation of a nuclear holocaust. Clearly, it is silly to do such a thing: the possibility of anyone surviving any sort of nuclear conflict seems slim at best. I think that, because of this, nuclear war and its effects have become abstract concepts in our culture. That is disappointing and it also seems a little dangerous. After viewing images from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, few people, at least for a short while, would feel that atomic bombs are an abstract concept. The culture that produced the Victoreen Instrument Company’s radiation survey meter had no such illusions. To them, atomic war was not only very much a real possibility, but perhaps an inevitability.

One role that an artist can play in society is that of ‘reminder’. It is inevitable that our culture will forget the lessons of our history without someone to remind us. Many thousands of nuclear weapons still exist, but our culture has been slowly letting the horror of them fade away. Perhaps, in a small way, this installation can help some of us remember that there was an enormous human cost and that we should not let that be forgotten.

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