I meant to post without comment, but I’ll say two things, briefly:
1) New Mexico, Land of Enchantment, is where the nuclear era really began. Specifically here at the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), the country’s largest military installation. In the words of architect Nick Sowers, WSMR is the “massive tract of google-map-grey-space measuring one hundred miles north to south and forty miles wide. This is the ultimate war games playground.” And while the trinity shot heralded the birth of the nuclear world, New Mexico has also become the nuclear grave. With the Obama administration’s closure of Yucca Mountain in Nevada for storing hot nuclear waste, sites in New Mexico are being prepped for long-term storage (seriously long term, the U.S. Federal Court set the threshold that DOE needs to prove a site storing nuclear site will remain safe at one million years) of nuclear waste. As Scientific American points out in last months article “Is There a Place for Nuclear Waste?“, the politics of geography has changed. With a Texan in the White House, nuclear dumps in the Lone Star State were out of the question, and now that Obama narrowly carried Nevada on the promise to close Yucca, New Mexico is looking pretty tempting. Much like Turrell endlessly hollowing out the Roden Crater to transform the earth into a cosmological art experience, the Department of Energy is concurrently busily hollowing out mines around the Chihuahuan Desert near Carlsbad to bury spent nuclear waste more than 2,000 feet below the hard pan desert surface.
2) Again, as at the Titan II Missile Museum or the National Atomic Museum, what was once classified top-secret becomes a proudly public presentation, that is not so much a museum, but rather stands as a monument to American scientists and engineers ingenuity and abilities to construct the best missiles, sending the greatest payloads over the longest ranges. Walking between the towering missiles here, the best word I can think to describe the sensation is “creepy.” The security checkpoint to get onto the base only serves to heighten the otherworldly feel of the place, which doesn’t seem to deter a steady stream of families from arriving at the “park” and laughing and taking pictures in front of some of the more dramatic missiles. The Lance missile mounted onto a half-track was a popular destination. The landscape is charged here not only the cordite of 45,000 explosions, but with something intangible, that is no less real. Something that artist Patrick Nagatani has picked up on and used to great effect in a series of photomontages titled “Nuclear Enchantment.“
Nagatani’s wry sense of humor keeps his exquisite photomontages from coming across as too heavy-handed or shrilly political. His works, including Nike-Hercules Missile Monument, shows crowds of Japanese tourists holding miniature, souvenir-sized replicas of the Nike missile looming in the background in a scene that would be heartbreaking if it weren’t also hilarious. His painted blood-red or radiated yellow skies also best convey the eeriness and utter insanity that lurks in the background of all these real-life sites. Each piece is like an ironic ode to the facade of normality that we all go through, living our lives in shadow of not only these missiles but a world that accepts the existence of nuclear weapons.
The missile park is a museum in the sense that the military is showing their past work, but hinting at the greatness still to come. If you see a video of an invisible, airborne Advanced Tactical Laser burning through the hood of a car and disabling the engine block, this is where it was filmed. Few can dispute that tactical laser weapons are pretty cool, but I only mourn that new killing instruments appear outside the perception of the human eye, leaving future generations to walk through the WSMR and miss the tangible quality of standing in the shadow of an Athena missile, touching the metal and steel rivets, admiring the proportions of the radially arrayed fins. Then again, maybe future progeny will be just as happy without the instruments of war proudly glistening in the desert sun.