Campus News

‘Hot Spots’ exhibition tackles environmental impact of radioactive waste

Nuclear missiles.

Image: Elizabeth Demaray. "Sticks and Stones: The Nike Missile Cozy Project," 2001. Fabric. Photo: Annie Sprinkle


Published August 20, 2018 This content is archived.

“The speculative work of artists is so critical; it provides a Trojan horse into a complex political and environmental issue. ”
Jennie Lamensdorf, independent curator and co-curator
“Hot Spots: Radioactivity and the Landscape”

“Hot Spots: Radioactivity and the Landscape,” a multimedia exhibition examining the environmental impact of the production and use of radioactive materials by the military and industry, will be on view Sept. 7 through Dec. 8 in the UB Art Gallery in the Center for the Arts.

Featuring the work of 18 international artists and art collectives, “Hot Spots” is guest-curated by Jennie Lamensdorf, an independent curator, and Joan Linder, associate professor and chair of the UB Department of Art. An opening reception will take place from 5-7:30 p.m. Sept. 6.

Artworks in the exhibition scrutinize the nuclear industry, including its day-to-day reality and long-term impact, with an emphasis on the complex issue of radioactive waste. “Hot Spots” illuminates critical environmental issues that stem from the lack of responsible strategies for radioactive waste storage and disposal.

The artists examine this expansive subject through a variety of themes, including rendering the invisible visible, using art as a tool of information disclosure and disruption, and developing the complex language necessary to communicate thousands of years into the future. “Hot Spots: Radioactivity and the Landscape” contributes to an ongoing and important international dialogue that demonstrates the perilous nature of radioactive material and, with an activist spirit, exposes problems and imagines solutions.

“I was shocked when, after nine years of living in Buffalo, I became aware of the role the region played in the Manhattan Project and the legacy of radioactive material left behind,” Linder says. “This waste is located in sanctioned sites, such as the Niagara Falls Storage Site and West Valley, and also exists in ‘hot spots’ that pepper the landscape from backfill used for roads and parking lots. I have been thinking about this problem ever since.”

In fact, Linder has spent countless hours sketching the brownfields and hidden — or not-so-hidden —toxic waste sites in and around Niagara Falls, the Tonawandas and Love Canal. An exhibition of her work was held at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Lamensdorf notes the subject matter of “Hot Spots” “is also global in importance, and it isn’t going anywhere.”

“Even if we never witness another nuclear accident or weapons attack, radioactive material will continue to grow as a result of properly functioning industries, and there are no global — or local — solutions to its safe storage or disposal,” she says. “That’s why the speculative work of artists is so critical; it provides a Trojan horse into a complex political and environmental issue.”

Artists and collectives featured in “Hot Spots” include Michael Brill and Safdar Abidi; Naomi Bebo; Erich Berger and Mari Keto; Jeremy Bolen; Edward Burtynsky; Ludovico Centis; Robert Del Tredici; Elizabeth Demaray; Nina Elder; Isao Hashimoto; Adele Henderson; Abbey Hepner; Eve Andrée Laramé; Cynthia Madansky and Angelika Brudniak; Amie Siegel; Claudia X. Valdes; Don’t Follow the Wind, a collective composed of Chim↑Pom (initiators), Kenji Kubota, Eva and Franco Mattes, and Jason Waite; and Will Wilson.

Among the highlights of the exhibition are “A Walk in Fukushima,” a 360-degree, virtual reality film by Don’t Follow the Wind that brings the viewer on an intimate journey into the Fukushima Exclusion Zone; Elizabeth Demaray’s “The Nike Missile Cozy Project,” a 27-foot tea cozy upholstered to wrap around a decommissioned Nike Hercules missile; and Eve Andrée Laramée’s “Nuke Notes” intervention exposing the local contamination at the West Valley Demonstration Project in the Town of Ashford in Cattaraugus County.

Naomi Bebo’s hand-beaded gas masks, Will Wilson’s large-scale photography and Robert Del Tredici’s iconic images of the atomic industry bring in a human element. Michael Brill and Safdar Abidi’s archive of drawings and notes for “Landscape of Thorns” is an exhaustively referenced, but rarely exhibited proposal for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southeastern New Mexico.

Public programs also will be held in conjunction with “Hot Spots,” including a collaboration with Hallwalls’ Science and Art Cabaret on Oct. 11 featuring presentations by co-curator Lamensdorf and artist and UB faculty member Adele Henderson.

And artists Eve Andrée Laramé and Will Wilson will speak as part of the art department’s Speaker Series on Oct. 1 and Dec. 3, respectively. Lectures take place at 6:30 p.m. in 112 Center for the Arts.

Hot Spots” is accompanied by an illustrated brochure featuring a text by Lamensdorf and Linder.

Support for the exhibition is provided by Judith Fisher, Technē Institute for Arts and Emerging Technologies, and the UB departments of Media Study, Architecture and Planning, and Art.


Congratulations, Joan, for your continuing efforts to expose the critical issues confronting Western New York communities.

Nils Olsen