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Example 1: Creative arts

In this video, Paul Brown introduces his Nuclear Futures project, a project that exposes the legacies of the atomic age through creative arts.
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Nuclear Futures is a creative arts programme that’s got many different art forms within it and many different projects. And it concerns atomic survivor communities— those who have experienced nuclear testing, in particular. And it’s motivated by the idea that the future is already colonised by the impacts of the nuclear age, that through atomic testing, through other elements in the nuclear industry, we have created a future that is irreversibly affected by radiation. The half life of plutonium, for example, is 24,000 years. And this is a material that’s now in our environment and that we will have to cope with well into the future.
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Perhaps the best known atomic survivor communities are those of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where 70 years ago the bombs were dropped at the end of World War II. And communities were decimated. We can move beyond Hiroshima and Nagasaki to any of the communities that have directly experienced atomic tests. And let’s remember there’s been over 2,000 of those since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So there, we would include any of the communities where testing was done on their territory– the Marshall Islands, for example, by the US, and in Australia, Maralinga, where British nuclear testing took place in the 1950s and ’60s, and impacted upon Aboriginal communities.
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We can go further to include the nuclear veterans– those members of the armed services who were present for those tests and working on the set-up and the cleanup of atomic test sites– and onwards to think about whole towns or cities that were impacted by radiation, which may have blown across them, as happened here in Australia after some of the British nuclear tests. And, finally, there’s a sense in which we’re all atomic survivors. We’ve all lived through the Atomic Age. And we’ve all had experience of atomic bomb testing and other parts of the nuclear industry.
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And the way in which the land, the sea, and the air have been contaminated by nuclear materials– and, indeed, the way the human body has been affected by nuclear radiation so that there’s genetic change going on in the human body. These are all signs that we are all survivors in one sense. And we are committed to a future which is irreversibly colonised by the impacts of the nuclear age.
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The Nuclear Futures programme is part of a tradition of making art about the bomb. And one of the main reasons for doing that is to allow the stories of atomic survivor communities to find their voice in what has, historically, been a very difficult and adverse circumstance. As people have gone for compensations through courts, for example, they’ve found that very difficult. Only a small handful of nuclear veterans, for example, have ever received compensation from either Britain or Australia. Making artworks is a way of allowing those stories to come through—- told, as they ought to be told, by the communities that have experienced them. And, in a way, it creates an alternative form of seeking justice.
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If you can’t get justice through a court, then you may be able to get a form of justice through making that story heard by the wider public– and if not justice, then certainly recognition. And this is one the most important reasons for telling those stories, for getting those narratives out there, for allowing the memories of those who have experienced nuclear testing to come to the fore and become part of everyone’s history.
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Environmental Humanities is a field, even a discipline, within academia. Yet it’s very important that it underwrites the activities and the creations of artists working with communities. And for example, it’s extremely important to feed into those creative processes a very strong sense of the history of the Atomic Age, and also a sense of the relationship between people and nature, and the relationship between culture and technology, and culture and science. And that’s what I think the Environmental Humanities does really well. It provides an analytical basis for moving forward with storytelling, with the creation of works which are narratives controlled by communities, brokered by artists, yet underpinned by really good scientific and historical knowledge.
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The Nuclear Futures programme is about telling the stories of atomic survivor communities for the purpose of celebrating their resilience, of celebrating the way in which they’ve moved on to the front foot to tell their story and to campaign for peace and disarmament. It’s also a programme which is, if you like, a commentary on science and technology. It makes it clear that scientific experiments are unruly, that they can’t be bounded, and that those experiments are going to have impacts which are unanticipated.
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And in the case of atomic bomb tests, over the seventy years in which the world has experienced those, we’ve seen this play out in a number of ways– through ill health, through the contamination of sites where bomb tests have taken place, and in the irreversible colonisation of our future by radioactive materials.
So far we have looked at written and oral stories. In this step and the ones that follow, we explore other modes of storytelling.
In this video, Paul Brown introduces the Nuclear Futures program, a set of arts activities that exposes the legacies of the atomic age through creative arts by linking artists with atomic survivor communities across the world.
Quoting from the Nuclear Futures website,
In Nuclear Futures, communities and artists use theatre, film, paintings and sculpture, literature, photography, digital arts and other art forms to make creative works that reflect both the horror of living with nuclear radiation, and the resilience of communities as they face the nuclear future.
The program responds to the reality that our future is colonised by the impacts of the atomic age, irreversibly affected by radiation. It builds on a legacy of artistic intervention into the impacts of atomic weapons tests and helps to share stories of atomic survivor communities, by those affected, seeking both justice and recognition where legal means have often failed.
If you wish to find out more about the Nuclear Futures program watch the video on the home page of the Nuclear Futures website and explore the various projects featured there.

Bio

Associate Professor Paul Brown is creative producer of Nuclear Futures and adjunct Associate Professor in Environmental Humanities, UNSW. Paul co-founded Urban Theatre Projects (Death Defying Theatre) in 1980. Across three decades, he combined creative arts practice (scriptwriting, producing, film and theatre) with academic environmental studies and community engagement. He developed Australia’s first full-length verbatim play Aftershocks with the Newcastle (NSW) community and adapted this into a mainstage play and a film. Paul is co-author/editor of Verbatim: staging memory and community, and co-author of Art and Wellbeing.

References

  1. Paul Brown, “British nuclear testing in Australia: Performing the Maralinga Experiment Through Verbatim Theatre,” Journal of the Royal Society of New South Wales 139 (2007): 39-50.
  2. Nuclear Futures (website).
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