In concrete-clad tunnels deep within the earth, radioactive matter is being buried on a daily basis. The potential of this matter to create catastrophic disaster will continue deep into the future, into a period of time we can barely perceive of, yet alone imagine. Troubling over signs, objects and markers that endure from the past, the group exhibition ‘Riddle of the Burial Grounds’ stares unblinkingly into this future, to a landscape littered with industrial ruin and excavated caverns – objects and messages that will outlast us, and a future counted in the devastating, radioactive reality of half-lives.
We are living in a time when taking responsibility for the future has become the resounding imperative of our age. But what does ‘long–term’ really mean? What is human time when set against geological time, or cosmic time? What is it to think into a future so far beyond our lifetimes that the very idea of an inhabiting population of this planet is but speculation; where language would bear no resemblance to anything spoken today, and where the concrete remains of this epoch would be ruinous imprints at best?
‘Riddle of the Burial Grounds’ brings together artworks that measure themselves against geological and human time. They are artworks that give speculative forms and images to periods, epochs and eras: vast, unknowable expanses of time that help us to look outside of ourselves and the worlds we inhabit and, in so doing, attempt to stretch the possibilities of human imagination. Artists have situated works in or around various unique subjects: man-made ruins and extraordinary natural phenomena; excavated sites and empty-bellied mines; language and its limits; burial, ritual, forecasting, futures and radioactivity; raw material, the language of forms, wastelands and wildernesses.
The mottled surfaces of Rossella Biscotti’s lead parquet lack the perfection of industrially made tiles. Hand-made and rough around the edges, ‘Title One: The Tasks of the Community’ is made from lead that the artist purchased at public auction during the decommissioning of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant in Lithuania. Ignalina’s Soviet-era reactor was similar to that of Chernobyl’s and the decommission was part of an agreement surrounding Lithuania’s accession to the EU. Previously employed as a radiation shield at the plant, the lead feels haunted by the residue of radiation. Radiation is in many ways an unimaginable thing. We can see evidence of it on living things, and we can count levels of it with a Geiger counter. Yet the very actuality of ionising radiation – where radiation carries enough energy to liberate electrons from atoms or molecules – contains a very strong degree of structural abstraction ungraspable to many non-scientists. Rossella Biscotti’s artwork is part of a wider series which draws its name from the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) founded by the Euratom Treaty of 1957 (at the same time as the European Economic Area). Euratom exists to develop a specialist market for nuclear energy distribution within the member states of the EU, in order to replace dependence on finite coal and oil resources. As we peer deeper and deeper into the future for which we are now responsible, the language of forms become ever more intriguing and elusive – even these most ubiquitous tiles, unmistakable in their weight, which may have long been right beneath our feet.