“Part of the inspiration for the exhibit was to tell the story of Hanford, having grown up there,” says Dianne Dickeman, one of the co-curators, along with her sibling Nancy Dickeman, of Particles on the Wall. They are joined by science curator and neurotoxicologist Steven Gilbert in creating the multidisciplinary art exhibit which explores elements of the nuclear age and in particular the worldwide implications of the Hanford nuclear site.
“Our father was a physicist who moved to Richland in 1948,” continues Dianne. “He took part in weapons plutonium production. He was involved in creating the N reactor, which was the first dual-purpose reactor [for both power and plutonium production]. We also wanted to raise awareness about the tanks that are leaking.”
Particles on the Wall is a traveling exhibit featuring works by writers and artists such as Sherman Alexie and Kathleen Flenniken, Washington state’s poet laureate, as well as Oregon artists Tiel Aisha Ansari, the 13 Hats collective, Leah Stenson and Scott T. Starbuck. The exhibit was created in 2010 and has been shown in nine communities throughout the state of Washington. This marks its first visit to Oregon, where it is hosted by Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility and showing at the EcoTrust Building in Portland.
The Hanford Site, located along the Columbia River near Richland, Washington, is today the most contaminated nuclear waste site in the Western Hemisphere. Constructed as a part of the federal government’s “Manhattan Project” during World War II, the site produced materials that were used in the bombing of Nagasaki and the Trinity Test in New Mexico in 1945.
The exhibit also includes science factoids curated by Gilbert, and historical artifacts.
The curators believe that the combination of art and science make the exhibit more powerful.
“Art gives another perspective,” Dianne explains. “It engages the viewer on several levels and on another level than just reading the scientific facts. Our goal was to combine those scientific facts with visuals.”
The exhibit also explores aspects of the Hanford story through different historical perspectives, connecting the site’s past to current issues related to nuclear technology.
“[These artists] are talking about different aspects of the story in their work,” says Nancy. “People having to leave homes when the government used ‘eminent domain’ to take over the area … other stories are about people who migrated to the area for government jobs. Then there are some people talking about the current issues like the leaking tanks and the radioactive animals that have been found in the area.”
With the 68th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki approaching this August, the curators point out the continuing relevance of maintaining a discussion about nuclear issues.
“At that time, the science was moving ahead. That’s happening again,” Nancy says. “More nuclear plants are being discussed now for use for energy.”
Particles on the Wall is free and runs through June 12, 2013.