Excerpt from an interview with Joy Garnett at Furtherfield.org Fall 2003

Ryan Griffis (Furtherfield): What was the beginning of The Bomb Project for you?  Where/when did you say 'this is going to be a project'?

Joy Garnett: In 1997 I began doing image research for an exhibition of paintings, my first solo show at Debs & Co. in New York, which consisted of US nuclear test landscapes. I didn't realize at the time how much the project would continue to progress and morph, nor how much my working methods would be influenced by this particular subject and the realms of information and secrecy and policy it would lead me to. But one thing did lead to another.

Research for the painting project eventually led to the idea for the web project; that is, my focused search for imagery fanned out and became a more generalized quest for information and context. There was only so much used book information on The Bomb to be found from the era
of The Bomb, so I set out to extract images and footage from more primary sources. It was around 1997 that I also got my first laptop and my first email account and I started to poke around online. After spending a few years reacclimating to the Web and amassing online resources, I realized that certain ideals and models would best be served by recontextualizing 'my' sources in a public portal.

In the spring of 2000 I registered the domain
thebombproject.org and launched a preliminary version of the site. At that stage it served as little more than a storage solution. I redesigned and relaunched it definitively in August 2002 and I've been continuously adding links and making improvements ever since.

RG: There is a critical engagement with science with this project and with your other projects, like First Pulse Projects. The histories of Western science and technology are synonymous with histories of oppression and social catastrophe, one story of which is told within The Bomb Project, yet science also holds out utopian possibilities for change and liberation. Do you see aesthetic/archival projects being able to contribute to the emancipatory potentials of scientific practice?

JG: Science and art are subject to abuse. They have no built-in immunity. But oppression and social catastrophe not withstanding, the histories of Western science and technology are also synonymous with certain realized states of autonomy, which though circumscribed politically and economically, amount to much more than mere utopian fantasy. For instance, while 'science' may be ultimately instrumental in the weaponizing of smallpox, it is also responsible for its total eradication in the wild. And while there persisits a Luddite tendency in our culture to equate science and technology with oppression, images themselves--art itself--can embody a kind of oppression as well. Art has its own tradition of leading the way to war, as has been pointed out by Susan Sontag, Thomas Keenan, and others. Imagine the Third Reich without Albert Speer, without Leni Riefenstahl. Imagine the Gulf War without CNN. In the case of the Cold War era where we find the primacy of the classified image to be unparalleled, we have a historical case whose global ramifications are relevant to us all.

So to me, one of  the most interesting things is the intersection of visual media, science and politics. Each of these elements is transformed by intersecting with the other. The phenomenon bears study, and to conduct such study--artistic or otherwise--it is paramount to first establish a context where art, science and government are presented as interlocking and overlapping areas. This is the mandate of The Bomb Project.

Finally, the challenge of setting up an archive must draw on an appreciation for the material at hand. However ephemeral in nature, or obtuse, or diffuse, the challenge is in letting the information speak for itself, of presenting cultural artifacts while disturbing them as little as possible. The archivist's project thus becomes the anthropologist's dilemma, and unlike the artist whose job is more or less to transform, the mission here is not to meddle too much.

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(New York, September 2003)


During the Cold War hundreds of nuclear tests were conducted by the United States Government in the Nevada desert and in the Pacific. Gripped by the idea that Soviet warheads could be pointed toward American cities and factories, the US Government set about gathering data on the effects of radiation upon military and civilian potential targets. Artificial forests and model towns called "
Doom Towns" were set up in the Nevada desert in close proximity to the detonations so that data could be recorded in a controlled environment.  Experiments were conducted on thousands of willing American troops, livestock, ships, planes, military equipment and buildings which were exposed to various levels of radiation "effects."

Each nuclear test operation was recorded by a group of professional filmmakers and photographers that were recruited in secret in the '50s by the US Air Force and stationed at
Lookout Mountain Laboratory, Hollywood, California. With the films'  inevitable fading and decay--and after the passing of the Freedom of Information Act in the early '90s--the US Department of Energy embarked upon the cumbersome project of declassifying the films and transferring them to beta, hence the birth of the Nuclear Film Declassification Project. Once declassified (or "sanitized"), the contents of these films are made available to the public for private and commercial use. As of June 1998, 65,000 films had been declassified.


Joy Garnett |  THE BOMB PROJECT 2000  |  
First Pulse Projects

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All images this page courtesy the United States Department of Energy (DOE)