‘Persistent Table of Elements’ is a series of data collages comparing the quantities of radioactive elements plutonium and uranium released during the well-remembered atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, with the little-known ‘subcritical’ nuclear trials at Maralinga, South Australia.
Between 1957–1963, the British government conducted 13 major nuclear weapon tests on Australian territory, as well as hundreds of smaller ‘subcritical’ trials. Despite being regarded as one of the best managed former nuclear test sites, recent surveys at Maralinga have revealed radioactive particles breaking down in the harsh, arid environment and releasing nanoparticles into the ecosystem. Of particular concern is these particles leaching into groundwater, which can be absorbed by plants and more easily inhaled or eaten by animals, including humans. Surprisingly few people know about the ongoing damage to the landscape caused by these tests.
The quantities of plutonium and uranium visualised here is just from one of the minor trials, known as the Vixen B tests, in 1960-63. Mushrooms are a pharmakon – remedy, poison, and scapegoat. They are used here to stand in for the complexity of human interference in these landscapes.
This set of data collages is a new iteration of the Endgame project, which I started in 2017. This ongoing series of visual experiments help me think through ways to communicate the dark history of nuclear testing in Australia, to avoid generational amnesia for the atrocities committed in this landscape.