Resistance is not futile: Questioning a cultural legacy
Santa Fe seems to be having a love affair with the state’s nuclear legacy this summer. “Nuclear Weapons in New Mexico: A Disruptive Futures Dialogue” happens Sunday, July 8, at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, featuring Peter Sellars, director and librettist of Doctor Atomic, which opens at the Santa Fe Opera on July 14. The exhibition Atomic Histories: Remembering New Mexico’s Nuclear Past, at the New Mexico History Museum, opened June 3. In addition, the SFO sponsors a two-day Tech and the West Symposium ( July 13 and 14) on the dawn of the nuclear age, the Manhattan Project, and Robert Oppenheimer, the first director of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Related events include a screening of the 2007 documentary The Wonders Are Many: The Making of Doctor Atomic at the Center for Contemporary Arts on Thursday, July 12, while tours of Los Alamos are hosted by the Los Alamos Historical Society on July 27 and Aug. 2.
New Mexico can certainly claim part of the nuclear legacy as its own. But if all these events sound suspiciously like a celebration, you might want to consider some voices of dissent. For example, the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in June on another side of that legacy: the effects of the fallout from enriched uranium used in the July 16, 1945, detonation of the first atomic bomb at Trinity Site. The Downwinders claim that the Trinity Test affected the health of generations of Tularosa residents. In normalizing our part in the history of nuclear research and weapons development, we risk forgetting that the dark side overwhelms the glory of discovery.
In conjunction with Land of Enchantment/Atomic Summer: The Work of Tony Price, a major exhibition of what Price called his “atomic art,” sculpture made from salvaged metals from the LANL weapons program, Phil Space hosts a panel discussion — “Resist the Romance: Nuclear History in the Land of Enchantment.” The talk is on Saturday, July 7, with Greg Mello, executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, and documentary filmmaker Godfrey Reggio, known for the Qatsi trilogy. “Wallowing in neurotic nostalgia for a fictional past on the part of elite culture-brokers and tourism boosters is a dangerous thing,” Mello wrote in a May 24 letter to members of the Los Alamos Study Group. They’ll discuss the myths surrounding New Mexico’s atomic past and the discourse now in play that recasts a troubling history as an acceptable cultural meme. The panel discussion takes place at 5 p.m. at Phil Space (1410 Second St., 505-983-7945). — Michael Abatemarco