Daughters of Uranium

Daughters of Uranium

Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Lethbridge, Alberta
2 March, 2019 - 28 April, 2019

Founders' Gallery, University of Calgary, The Military Museums, Calgary, Alberta
27 September, 2019 - 18 January, 2020

Daughters of Uranium explores the legacy of the atomic age from the perspective of the sentient body and intergenerational trauma. While considering the ideological apparatus that has surrounded nuclearism since its inception, Mary Kavanagh's new work has emerged from a longstanding interest in the body as a site of memory, erasure, violence, and inscription. Daughters of Uranium is a title redolent of both archaic chemical science and of generations born into an uncertain future. Citing the radioactive decay chain of Uranium 235, widely known for its use in the first atomic bomb, the successive isotopes in Uranium's family tree are referred to as "daughters."

Kavanagh's solo exhibition considers Promethean technologies in relation to accelerated environmental degradation and renewed global interest in nuclear armament. Since WWII, Canada's role a global leader in "dealing atoms" is evident in its extensive uranium extraction industry and the export of nuclear energy technologies. As uranium continues to be mined and refined, the alchemical leaking of highly toxic emissions expands and drifts across territories and over epochs, a slow violence that is imperceptible and exponential, making it difficult to grasp and contributing to a crisis of inattention.

Kavanagh often interrogates the residues and stains of history. In a series of graphite drawings, she explores the radical transformation wrought by the settling of radioactive and other toxic particulate in the body. Her forensic approach has also resulted in an extensive collection of artifacts and ephemera gathered from historic and active nuclear sites. In one piece, cast uranium glass references the body in a state of transmutation, while a pile of lead bricks points to notions of containment and exposure. A multi-channel video projection addresses atomic landscape, tourism, history and mythology, through a dialectical montage of original and archival film footage.

Rich with scientific, literary and historical citations, the exhibition traverses personal and political narratives. Like a book unbound, the works combine in ways that encourage interpretive agency, while reflecting on the continuum of 20th and 21st century war.

Co-curated by Christina Cuthbertson and Lindsey Sharman. Co-organized with the Founders’ Gallery, The Military Museums, University of Calgary. An exhibition publication with essays by Peter Van Wyck and Jayne Wilkinson is scheduled for launch in January 2020.