After living for 20 years as a non-scientist in the science communities that were created to build the atomic bomb, it has become too familiar. Coming from Germany with a very different perspective on war, the propaganda, the selective memory and atomic nostalgia had fascinated me since we arrived in Los Alamos. In Oak Ridge, historic images by Ed Westcott, the official government photographer of the Manhattan Project, are omnipresent. Restorative nostalgia of heroes, victory and “Girls of the Atomic City” prevail.
Portal 4, the only standing structure of K-25, a uranium enrichment facility, became my portal into the past. I dug into archives and combined historical images with my explorations, using textures to hint at the uncanny decay of place and memory. The created palimpsests add a little discomfort and skepticism to the official story of ‘saving the boys.’ They remember the victims and unsolved problems but hope to encourage discussions about the future of the atomic age. The war in Ukraine has put a renewed spotlight on military and civilian uses of nuclear power. However, revisiting the lost utopias, the discarded solutions should become more urgent in the age of climate change. While I never learned to love the bomb, I have not given up on “Atoms for Peace” completely.