Hazards May Be Present (pt 2)
Hazards May Be Present, pt 2. (2017)
In 1946, just one year after the end of WWII, the United States Navy embarked on a series of Nuclear
tests at Bikini Atoll that would momentarily capture the world’s terror and imagination. Operation
Crossroads, the largest series of nuclear tests to that date, had a long-lasting impact on the islands
through irradiation and the forced dislocation of the Native people, a state which still exists to this
day. A much lesser known impact of these same tests, however, was the fact that the Hunter’s Point
Shipyard was also deeply affected.
After test Baker, the second of the two largest tests at Bikini Atoll, the many of the Naval vessels
which were the focus of the test explosion were towed back to the West Coast of the United States.
Some were deemed irretrievable and were scuttled at sea, but 9 target ships were “only partially
radioactive”, and were brought to the Hunter’s Point Shipyard, where they were sandblasted off in an
effort to make them safe again. This process created a substance that was at first laughed
off—colloquially called “black beauty sand”, the byproduct of sandblasting the irradiated ships was a
dark, shiny sand that was very much radioactive itself. Accounts of neighborhood children playing in
said sand abound, and it was some years before the Navy realized just how dangerous the material
now spread through the shipyard was. The last of the contaminated ships, the USS Independence,
was kept at the Shipyard until 1951 to “test decontamination methods”. While the Navy eventually
shuttered the base in 1974, the land is still radioactive to this day.
Hazards May Be Present is an ongoing series of drawings exploring the terrifying absurdity and
hubris surrounding the events that shaped both the Hunter’s Point Shipyard and the larger
neighborhood. While awareness of the environmental contaminants has recently grown due
to lawsuits encompassing the Federal Government’s clean-up process of the base, many San
Franciscans are oblivious to the dark history beneath the Southern corner of their city and its
unabated impacts on the physical and social fabric of the area. Each of the drawings comes directly
from an actual, recorded moment, and together they create a sense of dislocation—are the images
truthful? A dream? It is this tension between imagination and reality; actual past and imagined
apocalypse that I wish to explore. This is a history that should have been burned into our collective,
cultural psyche, and yet our social ambivalence and amnesia are such that many are unaware of
these events entirely.
While it is certainly too late to go back and avoid this particular problem, I am fascinated with
modern America’s historical amnesia, and the way it shapes our thought process regarding our
future. We have a deeply ingrained tendency to see past events as somehow pre-destined, and thus
unavoidable, rather than as decisions by a group of people very similar to us, which could have just as
easily been decided differently. This laissez-faire approach to cultural and historical self-examination
leads directly into a similar sense of ambivalence and inevitability about current decision making, and
this around questions which have just as much ability to impact our future.