Week 5 – Nuclear Art

Not many people are allowed to work with radioactive material for many reasons especially safety reasons. James Acord was an artist that focused on many materials but mainly on radioactive substances. He was given permission by both the U.S. Department of Energy and the European Energy Commission to use spent nuclear fuel rods as his artistic materials (Wilson, 231).  In 1993 he was the only individual in the United States to receive a Radioactive Material License which allowed him to work on the art he was interested in legally. He even got a tattoo of his nuclear license number on the back of his neck as he was so overjoyed.

One of the main reasons why Acord is so interested with nuclear materials is to show the capabilities of mankind and hopefully change the minds of people about the technology. It was not a simple task to obtain the license to work with such materials. He could not get any uranium for his work, Monstrance for a Grey Horse, so he devised a method to separate uranium from glaze. The Washington state Office of Radiation Control denied his request to obtain radiological analysis due to the lack of confidence in the idea of working with radioactive material. Acord wanted to “demonstrate the the integral relationship of stone and metal, reestablish the ancient link between art and advanced technology, and prove that sculpture could offer tangible solutions to the problems of society”.

James Acord, checking radioactivity levels

In an interview, he was asked: “Why is science so important to art, and art important to science?”. He responded with “They’re the two parallel paths on which we human beings seek the truth”. We as humans have been using art and science as the two ways to to find out who we are since our ancestors and their caves during the Ice Age. Using nuclear material is a step forward to further understand the possibilities of our new technology. Transmuting one elemental substance to another, in other words neutron capture, was a possibility that fascinated Acord. It was an old dream of mankind that dated back to the ancient Greeks and medieval alchemists.

“I couldn’t help but think that nuclear science—the actual working with elemental substances—and the art of sculpture were a parallel deal.” – James Acord

Acord firmly believes that his work can transform something that people see as ugly or horrifying and making it beautiful. He is a sculptor that believes that using this new technology is a great idea. Both sides, art and science, will benefit from his projects as they will increase in understanding of art.

-Daniel Yang





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