Atomic (2020) tells the story of one particular piece of jewellery. Shaped like an atom, the small hair ornament was designed on commission for the US Army. It was made of gold, palladium and a material called trinitite, a by-product of Trinity, the first ever nuclear test that was conducted in New Mexico in July 1945. About a month later the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan.
The ornamental object represents a merging of total violence with beautiful form and expensive, sublime and special materials. The piece was worn by Hollywood stars and society beauties at dance balls and other events, and after World War II Miss USA was photographed wearing the highly radioactive, highly dangerous piece of jewellery. The photos spread around the world in newspapers and magazines. The exhibition explores the disparity between propaganda disguised as feminine beauty and the actual effects of the bombs. Through the ornament and its history, it also examines beauty, violence, and the power of the gaze.
The video is a poetic journey that begins and ends at the birthplace of the trinitite, the New Mexico desert where the nuclear test tore atoms apart, stopped all clocks and launched a new era in the history of humanity. The creation of trinitite also marks a break in human and non-human history. The brief nuclear explosion has left long-lasting radioactive effects on the entire planetary ecosystem. Atomic examines these events on a geological scale in terms of both time and space by presenting us pictures of the consequences of human action and of the resilience of the environment.
Along with the video the installation also includes a sculpture, a perfect replica of the original hair ornament made in 1945. The exhibition itself is part of a larger project that examines radioactivity from a variety of perspectives. The project got its start partly by chance when a mineral sample fell into the hands of the collective – a vial of trinitite, the glassy substance produced by the world’s first nuclear test. The material pulled the collective into a web of intersecting influences between science, history, culture, the human and the nonhuman. In collaboration with scientists but operating in the context of art, the collective explores radioactivity as well as the invisible forces and transcendental processes that influence our reality and reside in every individual.
HNV Collective is a group of three Helsinki-based artists, Felicia Honkasalo, Akuliina Niemi and Sinna Virtanen. The collective uses a range of mediums and materials to investigate issues intersecting art, history and science. Their research-based practice focuses on historical narratives and the interfaces of scientific facts, myths and imagination.
Atomic is commissioned by the 2nd Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art, RIBOCA2. It has been kindly supported by Kone Foundation, The Promotion Center for Audiovisual Culture AVEK, Nordic Cultural Point, Frame Contemporary Art Finland (Frame Finland).
Thank you: Art Lab / Jussi Liukkonen, Eija Tuominen / Helsinki Institute of Physics – Detector Laboratory, Faunatar Myyrmanni, Hanaholmen – Swedish-Finnish Cultural Centre, Kallion lukio, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma / Finnish National Gallery, Rebecca Lamarche-Vadel, Valofirma