Fallout (2015)

photographs, video gameplay (dimensions variable)

Some years ago, I happened to watch the Italian movie, Mondo Cane (1962). There was a part in the movie that described the long-term effects of the residual radiation on the ecology system of the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands – Birds headed underground in order to escape radiation, mudskippers left the waters for treetops, while turtles died on land as they had lost their sense of direction and thus could not return to the sea. Regardless of whether these were true phenomena, what I saw had made me very interested to find out the impact that nuclear testing had on the environment, so I started looking for information.

Since 1945, the world has seen more than two thousand nuclear tests, carried out on a wide variety of pretexts. Apart from weapon development, they have been conducted for other peacetime purposes, such as mining, large-scale excavations, extracting natural gas, dam building, port construction and putting out large fires (oil well fires), but most of them ended in failure. Few people knew, or asked about the cause and effect of those tests though. The nuclear explosions we are familiar with are those that happened during wars, probably because of the devastation they caused to humanity and civilization, and were in places where one can easily access. On the other hand, nuclear tests are often conducted in unpopulated places, such as the Atoll where access is difficult and strictly regulated. That explains why we often forget, or never knew about the tests, even if they have happened more than two thousand times.  

But these places are still on the map, as is the rest of the world, and these tests have indeed happened. Furthermore, it's not only human beings living on this planet. When I found the coordinates of where the nuclear tests were conducted, I searched for them on Google Earth, trying to look for visual cues and look at them, like I would with photographs, so that they were no longer just a string of numbers. As I learned how to operate this virtual Earth model, I realized I could decide on my viewpoint altitudes, directions, angles, year of images, and even merge terrain meshes, adjust the position of the sun and the direction of its light. To me, adjusting the controls and watching the resulting effects felt very much like compositing a picture, except that the variables and restrictions were different from reality. For example, in the virtual Earth, I could decide freely the hour of the day without having problems with focus and exposure. Focal lengths were also limited. Some of the places show very obvious marks and craters from the nuclear explosions, while others look very normal, with even people seemingly residing there. Then there are some places, like the Montebello Islands of Australia, that has become a conservation reserve as people have not been allowed to enter for the longest time following access regulations after the nuclear explosions. As I sought for visual information, the satellite imagery had allowed me to reach out to places inaccessible to photographers, and look for what little remains of human activities. 

Nevertheless, this mode of presentation restricts one to the sidelines, watching the landscape from afar. The process of retrieving digital data is also tedious after all and lacks a sense of participation. As I worked on this project, I kept having this feeling that humans reacted like they had found a new toy after they invented nuclear weapons, and were eager to try them in their own home, wanting to see what they could do now that they could not do earlier. When I saw the orderly rows of craters left behind by 928 explosions at the nuclear test site in Nevada, United States, I was reminded of mobile games that play like a cross of Dance Dance Revolution (rhythm games) and Whack-A-Mole. So, I tried to simulate the visuals of such games by creating a flight path that crosses the Nevada test site at twice the speed of sound. Coupled with a remix of the national anthem of the United States (Note 2), people now have a chance to have a play on this landscape, decades after the nuclear explosion dust has settled. This process has exposed me to methods and thoughts that are completely new to me. I do not understand what photography is, but finding my way without a clue in mind, allowing accidents to happen and keeping an open mind towards the results has often been quite fun.


Note 1: I had the idea for this piece of work because of my mentors, Martine Stig and Juul Hondius. In 2015, they hosted the “Playing with Reality” workshop at the Academy of Art and Design St. Joost in the Netherlands, encouraging creators to think of reality as a medium itself, and not the subject. 

Note 2: The remix was produced in collaboration with composer, I-Ily Cheng.

幾年前,我偶然看到義大利電影《Mondo Cane》(1962),其中一段描述了美國核武測試後,殘餘放射線對比基尼環礁生態的長期影響:鳥為了躲避輻射而住在地底下、彈塗魚放棄水域而跳到樹上、海龜失去方向感,無法游回海中而在陸地上乾死。無論這段影片是否屬實,這些畫面使我很想知道核子測試對環境的作用,並開始查找資料。


但是,這些地點和世界上的其他地方還是連在一起的,這些測試也確實發生過,在地球生存的更不是只有人。當我查到了這些核試的絕對座標後,我開始在Google Earth上搜尋它們的衛星圖資,試圖給自己一點視覺線索,一點照片感受,讓它們不再只是抽象的數字。學習使用這個虛擬地球時,我發現我可以決定我的視點高度、方向、俯角、觀看年份、甚至結合立體地形,調整太陽位置選擇光線方向。對我來說,這些操作與觀看,感覺很像在構圖,只是和現實生活中的變數不同,限制也不一樣——例如在虛擬地球裡,時間可以自己決定,但沒有對焦、曝光等問題,焦段也受限制。這些位址,有的有很明顯的試爆遺痕、坑洞等,但有的看起來很正常,甚至似乎有居民;有的地點,例如澳洲蒙特貝洛群島,在試爆後受到管制,因為人們長期不得再進入,終而形成自然保護區。在這樣查找視覺資料的過程中,衛星圖資讓我透過另一種方式觀看了攝影機難以到達的地域,找尋人類活動遺留下的蛛絲馬跡。

但這樣的呈現方式終究只能冷眼旁觀,遠遠地檢視地貌;另外,查詢數位資料的過程終究還是很乏味,不太有參與感。在製作時,我一直感覺人類發明核武後,好像是獲得了一種新玩具,迫不及待地在自己家裡試玩,看看可以拿他作些什麼之前作不到的事。我看到美國內華達試驗場經過928次核測試所留下、排列整齊的彈坑時,讓我聯想到以前蠻流行的一些結合跳舞機(音樂節奏遊戲)與打地鼠的手機電玩。於是我決定試著在Google Earth裡創造一條飛行路線,以大約音速兩倍的速度劃過內華達試驗場上空,來模擬這種遊戲的視覺結構。這個視覺效果搭配上變形的美國國歌之後(註2),讓人也有機會在核試塵埃落下的數十年後,在平板上動手玩一玩這片地貌。這個過程讓我有機會接觸許多以往不曾嘗試的作法與想法;我並不了解攝影是什麼,但在無知的狀態下摸索,允許意外發生,且對結果保持開放的態度,常常蠻好玩的。


註1:這件作品的發想起因於我的老師,Martine Stig與Juul Hondius,2015年在荷蘭AKV|St.Joost藝術學院所主持的Playing with Reality工作坊,鼓勵創作者把現實視為媒材本身,而非取材對象。