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Mary Kavanagh - Daughters of Uranium

Mary Kavanagh
Southern Alberta Art Gallery
23.5 × 30 cm
160 pp
Catalogue, Environment

Mary Kavanagh’s solo exhibition, Daughters of Uranium, considers the legacies of nuclear production, and the encoding of militarized conflict on the body. Derived from the chemical sciences, the term “daughters of uranium” refers to the decay chain of naturally occurring uranium (U-235 being the crucial element for sustaining a nuclear chain reaction) while evoking generations born into an uncertain future.

Cultural anthropologist, Peter C. van Wyck describes the exhibition as a territorial archive in which “the archive as site shifts towards the archive as practice,” and one that “calls into question temporal and topographical notions of scale and proximity.” Using materials that are literally radioactive such as glass coloured with uranium oxide, or trinitite samples formed during the first atomic bomb blast, Kavanagh’s work radically challenges notions of contamination and containment, invisibility, violence, exposure and evidence. In her catalogue essay, “A Radioactive Domestic,” Jayne Wilkinson offers a feminist reading of the exhibition, noting that Kavanagh structures the Nuclear as a totalizing concept rather than a specific event or period. By not relying on typical nuclear signifiers in broad circulation such as photographs of enduring mushroom clouds, “Kavanagh’s approach is unique in the visual records of the atomic era…. [her] work frames a critique of militarism and military aesthetics through encounter and touch in order to understand how war impacts the body through generational histories.”

Daughters of Uranium (2019-2020) was presented first at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery before travelling to the Founders’ Gallery at The Military Museums in Calgary, and the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery.

In conjunction with her immersive exhibition, a publication brings together documentation of Kavanagh’s installations, photographs, archives and field work, with contributions from a distinguished group of contemporary curators and scholars.

Mary Kavanagh is an artist and Professor in the Department of Art, University of Lethbridge, Canada. Kavanagh’s work has been presented in solo and group exhibitions across Canada and abroad, and she has contributed to numerous publications including Through Post-Atomic Eyes (McGill-Queen’s UP, 2020) and Prefix Photo 32: Occupying Forces (Toronto, 2015). Her multi-disciplinary work is focused on embodiment, archives and evidence, and engages multiple and varied visual strategies. She has documented sites of nuclear significance in Canada, the United States (Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Alaska), and Japan. Her work has been supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, the Saskatchewan Arts Board, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Kavanagh’s participation in artist residency programs includes the Center for Land Use Interpretation, the Santa Fe Art Institute, and the Canadian Forces Artists Program. She is an advisory member of the Atomic Photographers Guild, and an Associate Member of the Centre for Documentary Studies, School of Image Arts, Ryerson University, Toronto. In 2017 Kavanagh received a multi-year SSHRC Insight Grant for her project “Atomic Tourist: Trinity” which examines nuclear anxiety in the 21st century. She was recently awarded a Board of Governors Research Chair (Tier I in Fine Arts) and began her five-year appointment in 2020.

Christina Cuthbertson is an independent curator and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. She held numerous positions at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery in Lethbridge, including Assistant Curator (2012–2014) and Interim Curator (2014–2017). Her curatorial projects of note include Still Move by Brendan Fernandes; Hospital Hallway by Sarah Anne Johnson; Portraits in Light by Petra Mala Miller, and Another Name for Everywhere by Miruna Dragan. Cuthbertson has contributed exhibition texts for Latitude 53, Trianon Gallery, and OBORO, and her writing has also appeared in Galleries West and Momus. She was curator-in-residence at the Banff International Curatorial Institute in 2018, and curator-in-residence at the International Studio and Curatorial Program (ISCP) in Brooklyn in 2019. Her current research interests include affect, embodiment and power structures within and beyond the boundaries of the museum.

Lindsey V. Sharman is a curator at the Art Gallery of Alberta and adjunct professor in the Department of Art at the University of Calgary. Sharman has studied Art History and Curating in Canada, England, Switzerland, and Austria, earning an MA in Curating from the University of the Arts, Zurich. From 2012 to 2018 she was curator of the Founders’ Gallery at the Military Museums in Calgary, where she exhibited many contemporary projects that examined human conflict and war, including several with recent participants in the Canadian Forces Artists Program. Curatorial projects of note include Seeing Soldiering: In Theatre with Those Who Serve by Althea Thauberger; TRENCH, a durational performance by Adrian Stimson that resulted in a land art piece located on the Siksika Nation; Felled Trees, an exhibition deconstructing national identity at Canada House, London; Gassed Redux by Adad Hannah; and the nationally touring retrospective and corresponding publication, The Writing on the Wall: Works of Dr. Joane Cardinal-Schubert.

Peter C. van Wyck is Professor of Communication and Media Studies, and Co-Director of the Media History Research Centre at Concordia University in Montréal. His research and writing arise from multidisciplinary training in forestry, ecological sciences, environmental and cultural studies, philosophy, and media studies. He has published and lectured widely on environmental themes including deep ecology, the predicaments of the Anthropocene, and nuclear history and culture. Recent writings include the award-winning Highway of the Atom (McGill-Queen’s UP, 2010); essays in Thinking with Water and Bearing Witness (both McGill-Queen’s UP, 2013); “The Anthropocene’s Signature,” an essay for The Nuclear Culture Source Book, ed. Ele Carpenter (Black Dog, 2017); “Through the Lens of Fukushima,” recorded talk with Julie Salverson in Through Post-Atomic Eyes, eds. John O’Brian and Claudette Lauzon (McGill-Queens’s UP, 2020); and “Signing the Holocene,” for Critical Topographies, eds. Jonathan Bordo and Blake Fitzpatrick (McGill-Queen’s UP, 2020). He is currently working on a monograph titled The Angel Turns: Memos for the End of the Holocene—completing a trilogy of nuclear-themed monographs.

Jayne Wilkinson is Editor-in-Chief at Canadian Art, Toronto. She holds a BA in Art History from the University of Guelph and an MA in Art History and Critical Theory from the University of British Columbia. Her master’s thesis investigated the politics of visibility in documentary and conceptual photography. Her interdisciplinary research practice examines surveillance culture, environmental politics, security, and representation, with a focus on contemporary art and photo-based practices. She has held curatorial and editorial positions at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Prefix ICA, Prefix Photo and the Blackwood Gallery (University of Toronto Mississauga). She has contributed art writing and criticism to publications including Canadian Art, C Magazine, Prefix Photo, Inuit Art Quarterly, Drain Magazine, and a variety of peer-reviewed and academic journals, and has developed curatorial projects, public programs and exhibition texts for galleries and artist-run centres across Canada. A recent project considers the visuality of oceanic networks through the material metaphors of digital infrastructure, forthcoming in a collection of essays titled Energy Cultures.

  1. Mary Kavanagh - Daughters of Uranium

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