On Change #6: Culture at a Crossroads
04.25.2014, 11:48 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Truck transporting TRU waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in 2012, still from Look Only at the Movement

For the next three weeks, smudge/FOP is based in Santa Fe, NM. While here, we’re catching up with the local New Mexican news, which includes the latest updates on “the radioactive puff” released from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) last February. In case you’re not familiar, WIPP is our nation’s only geologic repository for nuclear waste and specifically handles transuranic waste, not the high-level waste produced through nuclear power generation. The high-level waste continues to accumulate and shelter-in-place at hundreds of sites around the country.

The WIPP facility has been closed since the incident on February 14, 2014. Since then, there’s been scarce information about what happened and what has been done to address the accident (updated EPA reports can be found here). Wednesday night we tuned in to a live-stream town hall meeting from Carlsbad to learn the current status of the “recovery” (what caused the release stills appears to be a mystery) and to hear  a representative from the Department of Energy (DOE) disclose that the accident was entirely preventable, and had resulted from a long list of inefficiencies including poor of training, faulty design, disorganized protocols and lack of preparation. (download the full EPA report here)

93_WIPPcontainers TRUPACT-II containers in parking lot outside the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in 2012, still from Look Only at the Movement

What we found most notable was a remark describing worker culture at WIPP as being “more akin to that of a traditional mine than that of a nuclear facility.” Apparently most workers had no previous work experience in handling nuclear materials or nuclear waste storage. We find this surprising, given the extraordinary ways in which WIPP differs from a mine, perhaps most fundamentally in its mandate for isolating the enclosed materials from the environment for 10,000 years.

Yet, we can empathize with the workers, designers and engineers of this facility. There is no precedent to follow for maintaining deep geologic repositories for radioactive waste in the United States, especially those nested 2000 feet deep within enormous salt deposits, though there are less than encouraging examples to consider in Germany.

It seems important at this moment of change at WIPP that its workers be trained in the highly nuanced and complex skill sets required for preventing and handling nuclear accidents.  It also seems important to remember that right now, we are always, already, handling materials that exceed our human capacities to shepherd them into their — and our — deep futures.   We’re at the very beginning of an extremely long-term project (millennia, at minimum) of stewardship. We’re past the point of reversing our actions, so we must adapt  and attempt to meet these material realities — while recognizing that when we work with nuclear materials we’re engaging complex events of change that set themselves apart from other activities, such as mining, in exquisitely potent ways.

chihuChihuahuan desert along Highway 285 in southern New Mexico, still from Look Only at the Movement



Edge States: Wendover Launch
04.19.2014, 12:20 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

image_7residency support unit and Exhibition Hall 2, CLUI Wendover, UT

We’re happy to announce the opening of Look Only at the Movement in Wendover, Utah.  Wendover is located 2,292 miles west of New York City via Interstate 80. The  work can be found in Exhibition Hall 2 of the CLUI Wendover complex, directly next door to the Enola Gay Hangar on the Historic Wendover Airfield. The show is free and open to the public through summer 2014. The nuclear legacy of the area continues into the present:  the Clive Facility, the nation’s largest low-level waste site and included in our video piece, is also located about 50 miles east of Wendover (sign up for a tour here).

Each time we return to Wendover we’re reminded of the potent juxtapositions that are highly specific to this particular place.  They never cease to fascinate us and draw us back   (World War II history, contemporary casino culture, salt playas, empty endless roads, edgy contemporary art, a town divided between two States, to name a few). While here, in addition to installing our work and sharing the informal “opening” with an inspiring group of art students from Montana, we’ve had time to explore and experience some of the vivid contrasts this particular place in America offers.

image_4exhibit Hall 2, CLUI Wendover, renovated back of Enola Gay Hangar in background



image_12the semi-official opening, shared with students from Montana State University and faculty members Mellisa Raglan and Jim Zimpel

panoramapanorama of installation inside Exhibit Hall 2

image_9renovations to the Enola Gay Hangar

flatsview of Wendover and Bonneville Salt Flats

smithsSmith’s parking lot foreground, Nevada geology background

sunsetsunset over salt flats, 4.18.14, 8:15 pm MST, 63 degrees, 4mph wind



Forays: Into the World
03.21.2014, 4:52 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

still_spread_FINAL_webvideo stills, from Look Only at the Movement, smudge studio 2013

We hope you can join us next Wednesday, March 26th at 6:30pm at the Brooklyn Public Library, Central Branch. One half of FOP/smudge studio (Jamie Kruse) will be joined by  Andrew Beccone and Dillon de Give. We will be in conversation with Proteus Gowanus co-directors Tammy Pittman and Sascha Chavchavadze. The topic for the evening is  “Artists Out of Context: Forays into the World.” We’ll be discussing what it’s like to be Brooklyn-based artists creating work that engages disciples and places other than art communities.  Jamie will share some of the experiences and motivations behind Look Only at the Movement and how this travel-based project activated various forms of media, research and performative response. She will also address how upcoming screenings of the work aim to make the reality of nuclear waste transport along U.S. Interstates a point of connection among audiences in disparate geographic locations.

On Change #5: The Puff
03.01.2014, 7:21 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

WIPPvideo still, Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, smudge studio 2013

We’ve been watching the story for days now, though it’s far from making headline news. On February 14, 2014 radioactivity was detected in the open air above ground at our nation’s only deep geologic repository for nuclear waste, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southern New Mexico. We’ve written about WIPP several times on this blog, most recently during the production of our video project, Look Only at the Movement, for which we traveled the same Interstate highway routes that transuranic waste in our country travels — to WIPP.

What did make it into news “mentions,” if not news headlines, is the “puff” of radioactive materials that was released, which included plutonium and americium. The half-life of plutonium is 24,000 years.  And, workers at WIPP were exposed.

WIPP was designed to contain waste underground inside the Permian salt dome beneath WIPP for 10,000 years.  But some of the waste escaped this week, 10,000 years early.  February’s puff constitutes a change in containment status worth noting.

When such inexplicable “puffs” of radioactivity enter the atmosphere (or ocean currents), it’s worth revisiting Timothy Morton‘s discussions of hyperobjects. It’s the accumulation and free-ranging movements of uncontainable hyperobjects that, alongside human actions, co-create our contemporary moment.

There is no away to which we can meaningfully sweep the radioactive dust. Nowhere is far enough or long-lasting enough. What must happen instead is that we must care consciously for nuclear materials …the future of plutonium exerts a causal influence on the present, casting its shadow backward through time. All kinds of options are no longer thinkable without a deliberate concealment of the reality of radioactive objects.” – Timothy Morton,  Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World

On Change #4: Mobile Huts
02.24.2014, 5:04 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

shantiesphotos Eric William Carroll via the Walker Art Center

We’re continuing research on what it means to inhabit change. We’re particularly interested ephemeral structures that provide shelter while being responsive to changes unfolding in the surrounding environment.

This week we learned about two notable projects. First, the Art Shanties project in Minnesota. Here, artists have created upbeat and wildly different reinterpretations of the traditional fishing shacks that dot frozen lakes in Minnesota every winter. The Art Shanties encourage community among frozen lake fishermen and art-lovers.

Also notable are two architectural models of a historic three-by-three square meter hut at Kyoto’s Shigamo Shrine. Both huts refer to Kamono Chomei’s home. The Japanese recluse immortalized his tiny house in a famous piece of literature written over 800 years ago called the Hōjōki  (translated as “An Account of My Hut”). If you’re not familiar with this ancient work, one highlight reads:

I leave my span of days for Heaven to determine, neither clinging to life nor begrudging its end. My body is like a drifting cloud—I ask for nothing, I want nothing. My greatest joy is a quiet nap; my only desire for this life is to see the beauties of the seasons.” – from, An Account of My Hut, by Kamo no Chomei in 1212, translated by Donald Keene.

Chomei intended for his hut to be mobile and enable him to relocate in response to the volatile political events in Japan that were affecting his life.  A traditional model of the house has graced the Kyoto shrine for some time.  This past winter, Japanese architect Kengo Kuma offered an ephemeral, modern interpretation, also located on the shrine’s grounds.  It’s composed of cedar, magnets and plastic sheeting.

hutsChomei’s hut by Kengo Kuma (image by Rei Niwa) and the Shrine’s original model of the hut with an oversized protective roof (image via

Uranium Film Festival, Brooklyn
02.09.2014, 11:55 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

McpHeegraphic by Josh MacPhee, via Todos Somos Japon

If you’ve ever wanted a movie-based crash course in how humans have put uranium to use on the planet, you might be interested in attending a film or two at the upcoming Uranium Film Festival. The festival runs for six days (February 14-19th, 2014), at Brooklyn’s Pavilion Theater. The films range from the experimental to the political, but uranium is the substance of connection. So, if you’re curious about how contemporary artists and filmmakers are responding to global atomic realities, don’t miss your chance next weekend.

We are also grateful to have recently met the volunteer coordinator of the Brooklyn-based iteration of the Uranium Film Festival, Yuko Tonohira. She is a co-founder of Todos Somos Japon, a project  worth checking out. And, in case you need an extra deck of Repository spotter cards, they will be available at the festival.

On Change #3: In the Flow
01.26.2014, 10:40 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

provincelandsProvincelands, MA, 1.26.14, 19 degrees F (feels like 1°), winds W 26mph

The following excerpts are from The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida, a thirteen year-old Japanese boy with autism. The book’s Introduction is by David Mitchell.

Q39 Why do you like being in the water?

“We just want to go back. To the distant, distant past. To a primeval era, in fact, before human beings even existed. All people with autism feel the same about this one, I reckon. Aquatic life-forms came into being and evolved, but why did they then have to emerge onto dry land, and turn into human beings who chose to lead lives ruled by time? These are real mysteries to me

In the water it’s so quiet and I’m so free and happy there. Nobody hassles us in the water, and it’s as if we’ve got all the time in the world. Whether we stay in one place or whether we’re swimming about, when we’re in the water there’s always too much stimulation for our eyes and our ears, and it’s impossible for us to guess how long one second is or how long an hour takes.

People with autism have no freedom. The reason is that we are a different kind of human, born with primeval senses. We are outside the normal flow of time, we can’t express ourselves, and our bodies are hurtling us through life. If only we could go back to that distant, distant, watery past—then we’d all be able to live as contentedly and as freely as you lot!”

Q47 Would you give us an example of something people with autism really enjoy?

“We do take pleasure in one thing that you probably won’t be able to guess. Namely, making friends with nature. The reason we aren’t much good at people skills is that we think too much about what sort of impression we’re making on the other person, or how we should be responding to this or that. But nature is always there at hand to wrap us up, gently: glowing swaying, bubbling, rustling.

Just by looking at nature, I feel as if I’m being swallowed up into it, and in that moment I get the sensation that my body’s now a speck, a speck from long before I was born, a speck that is melting into nature herself. This sensation is so amazing that I forget that I’m a human being, and one with special needs to boot.

Nature calms me down when I’m furious, and laughs with me when I’m happy. You might think that it’s not possible that nature could be a friend, not really. But human beings are part of the animal kingdom too, and perhaps us people with autism still have some leftover awareness of this, buried somewhere deep down. I’ll always cherish the part of me that thinks of nature as a friend.”


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