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.