ArtsHub spoke to three Australian artists whose insights regarding their own works on nuclear themes remind us of art’s role as a provocateur in these consequential conversations.
Sydney-based artist Adam Norton admits that he’s always been someone preoccupied with ideas of an impending apocalypse.
‘I think my practice has always intersected with the various ways that apocalypse might happen,’ he reveals.
Growing up in the UK amid postwar/Cold War tensions, Norton explains that his art has also been shaped by early experiences of seeing nuclear-fuelled political tensions infuse everyday life, and seeing science play a defining role.
‘Science has always been a big part of my work,’ he explains. ‘I like to use it as a filter for how we are getting on.
‘I also like to remind people that we are yet to solve some of the technological problems we have created in the past, even as we keep moving faster into the future with freshly developed, new technologies.’
Norton’s piece Prohibited Area, 2010 speaks to some of these core concerns. As part of a series of what the artist describes as ‘landscape paintings’, the work focuses on natural environments that have been marked as off-limits areas – either for safety or secrecy reasons.
‘At the time I made Prohibited Area I was picking up on signs from various nuclear sites around the world,’ Norton explains. (Prohibited Area depicts signage from Woomera, not far from Maralinga.)
‘It seems to me that there are a lot of the world’s landscapes that, as humans, we are not allowed to go into. So the work is symbolic of the geography of a place that we are barred from entering. All we get is the boundary and the sign of that place we are not allowed to see.
‘It’s really a strategy of making “landscape paintings” of landscapes we are not permitted to visit,’ he continues.
‘That features a lot in my work, because it allows me to reflect on how humans are going to survive in these future worlds.’
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image details: Adam Norton, Prohibited Area, 2010, synthetic polymer on board, wooden poles