A Pipeline Model of the Archive

[9] van Wyck, Highway of the Atom, 10.

As van Wyck explains, access to an archive is fraught with issues of private and/or public ownership, subject to quick-turnover retrieval protocols, access, and liability. His study is of the Eldorado mine at Great Bear Lake in The North West Territories, Canada, specifically of the archival records, thirty-four meters of documents, maps, and photographs. In 1988, the archive for the uranium mine was privatized. The shift in ownership from a federal, Crown corporation to a private institutional body complicated retrieval of materials because of a shift in provisions of the materials from the readily accessible to the proprietary. Since 1988, writes van Wyck, a number of corporate institutional bodies and donor rights mystified the access, retrieval, and use of the materials even further. “No access without permission, and no permission would be granted.”[9] In the subsequent year, when other people, and especially the First Nations Diné people for whom the archives were reserved in the first place, tried to access the archives, any and all access was denied. An invisible archive serves no one, and what results is a black box of opaque history. This is one kind of archive, the more obvious one.

[10] Rebecca Solnit, “Invisibility Wars,” in Invisible: Covert Operations and Classified Landscapes, ed. Trevor Paglen (New York: Aperture, 2010), 8.

[11] Blake Fitzpatrick and Robert Del Tredici, “Port Hope in the Era of Nuclear Waste,” in Through Post-atomic Eyes, edited by Claudette Lauzon and John O’Brian (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2020).

Material slippage is also some sort of archive and witness of events from which one can understand the expansion of battlefield preparations into other landscapes. When the physical and conceptual boundaries that contain the landscape in discrete parts break down, the fields of violence become muddled into more of a “miasma.”[10] In the following case, the miasma is less figurative and more actual. During the Second World War, Diné men mined the uranium, and down the pipeline the material went, to the Manhattan Project’s production centers including Los Alamos, but not before it passed through Port Hope, Ontario for processing. Blake Fitzpatrick and Robert Del Tredici’s photoessay “Port Hope in the Era of Nuclear Waste”[11] tells what has come of the industry town as nuclear reactors reach their expiration date and their waste management concerns become urgent (if it wasn’t already). Port Hope is undergoing a ten-year-long cleanup, to amount to more than $1.28 billion. The cleanup began after public health officials found unsafe levels of radiation in sediment, in the bricks of houses, and in an elementary school’s water supply.[12]

[12] “If the killer is in an air-conditioned room in Indian Springs, Nevada, and the killed are in a village in Afghanistan, the question of where the battlefield is arises and with it the possibility that battlefields are now anywhere, or everywhere.” Eyal Weizman, Forensis: The Architecture of Public Truth, ed. Forensic Architecture (London: Forensic Architecture, 2014).

[13] Fitzpatrick and Del Tredici, “Port Hope,” 62.

[14] Christina Cuthbertson, “The Book Unbound: Nuclear Entanglement in the Work of Mary Kavanagh,” in Daughters of Uranium (Calgary: Southern Albert Art Gallery, 2020), 101.

[15] Mary Kavanagh, Board of Governors Research Chair Application, (2017), 6.

Fitzpatrick and Del Tredici’s “Soil Remediation in Port Hope: Private Home on Shutter Street, 300 Yards from the Cameco Uranium Conversion Plant, Port Hope” taken in July 1, 2011 shows the removal of radioactive topsoil, several meters deep, in a house’s backyard. Another image, “Pat Lawson at Her 60th Wedding Anniversary to Tom Lawson at Trinity Church, Port Hope” from April 2, 2016 shows Lawson through the glare in a window. Lawson is a community activist for renewable energy and recycling, and made known the nuclear industry’s secrecy, cover-ups, waste mismanagement, and health impacts. The authors posit, “abandonment is a precursor to amnesia,”[13] and activists, scholars, and photographers, in this instance, make and mark these efforts as 75,000 truckloads of waste taken from the water table, the soil, and schoolhouse brick. We can begin to think of archives and their material slippages as being forms of entanglement, “a way of thinking and working,” observes Christina Cuthbertson, “that explores the intra-action between situations and events as they connect across time and space.”[14] “This is a long and complex route,” Kavanagh says, in part material, topographical, archival, and memorial.[15]