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.
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。