Art Exhibitions Examine Atomic Legacies As 75th Anniversary Of First Nuclear Detonation Approaches

Art by Mary Kavanagh. Courtesy/University of Lethbridge

Professor and artist Mary Kavanagh. Courtesy/University of Lethbridge

University of Lethbridge News:

University of Lethbridge (Alberta, Canada) professor and artist Mary Kavanagh explores the atomic bomb and its legacies in a series of art exhibitions presented across Canada and the United States: the multi-faceted Daughters of Uranium and Trinity3, a two-channel video project.

Trinity Site in New Mexico anchors the exhibitions which build connections between nuclear technologies and their lived effects, the nuclear site and irradiated bodies, nuclear fallout, waste and material evidence. Her exhibitions include multi-screen video projections, photography, drawing, artifacts, and a provocative series of sculptures using light, glass and lead.

Conducted under the auspices of the Manhattan Project, the Trinity test took place on July 16, 1945, deep in the desert. The purpose of the test was to explode an atomic device to prove the viability of the bombs that were used in attacks on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki three weeks later. Situated on an active military range, today the Trinity Site is accessible by the public during bi-annual open houses that attract thousands of visitors each year.

“I was not prepared for the thousands of people who came through on this one day,” Kavanagh said about her first visit in 2012. “So that piqued my interest, raised the questions: who are all these people and why do they come? Which then became the essential questions in my applications for funding.”

In addition to receiving grants from the Canada Council for the Arts and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, in 2017 Kavanagh was awarded an Insight Research/Creation Grant from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

Her project Atomic Tourist: Trinity received nearly $150,000 over four years to support fieldwork, mentor graduate students, and access the equipment and infrastructure needed to conduct the research. She has returned each year since to interview visitors about their personal connection to the bomb, amassing a living archive of beliefs and viewpoints about this shared history.

The first scholar at the University of Lethbridge to receive a SSHRC Insight Research/Creation grant, Kavanagh’s research straddles the academic and art worlds.

“Interpreting historical, political and cultural dimensions of the nuclear age is a challenge for any artist,” shares Kavanagh. “It’s important not to lose sight of an essential, visceral experience and expression while addressing complex issues in material form.”

Originating at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery in Lethbridge and travelling to the Founders’ Gallery, The Military Museums, Calgary, and the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, Daughters of Uranium has an accompanying exhibition catalogue with essays by Peter C. van Wyck, cultural theorist, Concordia University, Montreal; Jayne Wilkinson, Editor-in-Chief, Canadian Art, Toronto; as well as curatorial essays by Christina Cuthbertson and Lindsey Sharman.

The publication is scheduled for launch in mid-October 2020 and will be available for purchase through the partner galleries. Kavanagh’s works are currently on display in a large online group exhibition Trinity: Reflections on the Bomb at the Albuquerque Museum in New Mexico. A portfolio of her work is included in an anthology edited by John O’Brian and Claudette Lauzon, Through Post-Atomic Eyes, published by McGill-Queens University Press, due for released September 2020.

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