Design for a Nuclear Power Station

Diverse materials
116 x 112 x 112 cm

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Design for a Nuclear Power Station

One of the exciting, almost mystical features of nuclear power is the gigantic size of the power plants. It serves the modernist idea of big industry fed by a single form of energy. The miniature model depicts an architectural and industrial dream: a titanic power plant – yet in a collapsed, post-apocalyptic state. Based on news imagery from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant, it also shows the heartbreakingly tiny scale of the rescue efforts, such as fire trucks, that look disproportionately small when compared with the nuclear kiln they are trying to cool down.
The unapproachable epicenter of radiation could not be comprehended through close-up photographs and footage, but aerial views spread the news and dimension of the catastrophe to the world. The god-like viewpoint leads one’s thoughts away from the long-term impact of this and other events to come.
Was this scenario planned for in the original models of the architects and engineers who designed the Fukushima Daiichi power plant? In the aftermath of the events, the causality of what happened seems crystal-clear and could not lead to a different result. A monster is being created again and again, in Finland as well as in other parts of the world, where countries invest their money and future in nuclear power. The aesthetic appeal of a single gigantic solution at any cost seems to be irresistible for the human mind.

When the long term costs of dealing with nuclear waste and demolishing old power plants are included, the price of nuclear power exceeds that of any other form of energy. However, the total price of nuclear power will only be found out by generations to come.
The coastal area around Fukushima was the breadbasket of Japan and the busiest fishing area in the country. The future generations in Fukushima and Japanese metropolitan areas will see the eventual costs for society, including effects on food production and the health of individuals. Yet Japan is the last country that needs nuclear power. There are possibilities to use the energy of the waves, the sun, the wind, geothermal heat, biomass, algae, fuel, etc., as well as the technical expertise to combine all of these into a reliable, sustainable power network.
Even after the series of catastrophes in Japan, Finland was not discouraged from building Olkiluoto 3, the largest nuclear power station in the world and the fifth nuclear reactor in the country. The building costs of this project have already exceeded fives time the estimate – even though the façade is not yet finished.

Eden and Apocalypse
by Juan Francisco Rueda

Tea Mäkipää has been developing a multifaceted project based on the environment, our planet's sustainability and a chimerical harmony among all the species that inhabit it. The breadth of her expressiveness (candidness, utopia, uneasiness, irony, storytelling, documentation) never ceases to amaze, perhaps because she takes different approaches to these problems and how to question them. This, furthermore, prevents the artist from becoming too literal and self-evident, which would close off the meaning of her works and prevent the viewer from elaborating a critical appraisal of them.

Design for a Nuclear Power Station (2011) is a work which has a paradoxical structure. The contradiction that emerges from its condition as an architectural model of a supposed project to be built and, on the other hand, its appearance as a ruin generates its meaning (designing or building destruction cannot be anything else but an oxymoron). The power station's recreation acquires the value of a true premonition: instead of the role generally played by building models, destined to promise happiness and the future, here the future becomes menacing, a scene of disaster and apocalypse.

Tea Mäkipää seems to point to a categorisation. In other words, the artist does not tell us it is Fukushima, although it is an unequivocally recognisable image. Reference is therefore not only made to the Japanese power station's failed design (once the disaster happened, it seemed inevitable given the plant's planning errors, such as its location by the sea), but the artist also seems to construct an allegory of nuclear energy and the risks it entails. The operation is brought about at a linguistic level. Part of the piece's meaning rests on the title, in the use of the term "Design", as if it carried a visionary quality. Mäkipää subverts time scales, as "Design" would allude to a prior point in time, to the project, to the ideal, to the future. The model, on the contrary, inevitably leads us to a fatal dénouement. This devastated apocalyptic scenario, which crackles and issues forth smoke, is very similar to the landscape imagined by Cormac McCarthy in The Road, which was later filmed by John Hillcoat. Reality thus ends up exceeding fiction.

Design for a Nuclear Power Station continues along the lines that Mäkipää has devoted to images, symbols and myths dealing with the lack of sustainability and destruction. If in this case a real example is taken to remove it from a documentary presentation, in other works she has recovered stories and symbols from our imagination and the Western tradition, such as Atlantis, a reference to Plato's story about an amazing civilisation that finally disappears. The model of the damaged nuclear power station emerging like a ruin is not due to the inexorable passage of time, but is rather an ominous image of a society with a blind faith in its ability which has squeezed all resources to the limit and that views itself a some sort of Prometheus, a figure from Greek mythology who provoked the Gods and thus, as punishment, loosened Pandora on the Earth, who razed it with the devastating power of her box. The capsizing houses of Atlantis are an example of how Tea Mäkipää's strategy also encompasses public art and its ability to interfere with everyday life. They act like a metaphoric image of our world in danger (the rise in sea level is a risk that has been known for some decades now) and perhaps of our contemplative passive attitude in the face of a disastrous outcome we are failing to halt.

Pet Love is made up of a series of photographs staged without much rhetoric, but with a great deal of aestheticism. Their aesthetics is very similar to Paradise (2003) due to the neutral background (black) and the contrast with expressive lighting. The series delves into an essential matter in the Finnish artist's career. Here we are referring to the creation of a space for reflection about the harmonious coexistence of mankind and animals. In no way are they exercises in escapism, hedonism or a vacuous narcotic aestheticism, but rather a space for questioning and recognition underscored by a voyage to Arcadia or a remembrance of a Golden Age, of the primeval moment of communion between Mankind and Nature, which seems to have been branded in iron onto our species and our collective unconsciousness. She, however, introduces a variety of environmental, sustainability and animal rights issues in many of the images that bring that coexistence into play.

Pet Love has to be situated within this context, in which a nude female body seems to exemplify the ambiguous relationship between mankind and animals. The closeness and empathy between both beings cannot be denied, so that the bonds that tie the animal to the human being represent a return to our origins. Nonetheless, perhaps because of the animal chosen or because the person covers herself with the animal, we cannot avoid some of these images suggesting the certainty that human beings continue to use some species for questionable aims, such as the fur trade.

The fact that these images cite figures from the History of Art cannot be ignored. In some of them, the female figure evokes the pose of an icon like Venus, who in the eighteenth century was dethroned from her divine nature through the inclusion of an animal, more specifically a cat. Nevertheless, the point of reference has to be Leonardo da Vinci's work Lady with an Ermine (1488-90).

This set of photographs may also carry the meaning of being a document about the social symptom reflecting the expansion of the notion of pet, as the possession of highly exotic animals in domestic environments has been greatly extended in recent decades. In some cases, this issue also involves a series of related problems, like invasive species and the domestication of species that have not enjoyed/suffered the status of being a pet animal.

A project that also helps to reveal the complexity and the many nuances of Mäkipää's work is the video entitled Link. The idyllic unspoilt surroundings where the action of Link is set does not differ greatly from the place to where Henry David Thoreau retired from society. Near Walden Pond in Massachusetts, the writer built his own cabin, lived off what Nature had to offer and wrote Walden, or Life in the Woods (1854), which reflects that experience of communion, freedom, fullness and happiness, a kind of return to the origins in which Nature appears as something insurmountable that should be conserved. The main character of Link lives in beautiful, unpolluted natural surroundings. He is a hominid living in a harmonious and sustainable way that exploits the resources his surroundings offer up to him. Link lives alongside his mother and sister (both Homo sapiens sapiens), who keep him away from any negative influence from a technified world that may corrupt him. However, the discovery of love due to the accidental arrival of a young trendy woman (who makes intensive use of up-to-date technology as a city dweller would) will lead to a sudden turn in the plot. The fear of losing what Link represents – an uncorrupted being who bears the species' goodness and lives in harmony with Nature – leads his mother and sister, as the custodians of that essence, to doing away with the threatening female presence representing a technified, ultra-developed society, thereby provoking a conflict of values, which is a metaphor of the expulsion from Paradise.