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Nic Pehkonen

Geological Timescales, Nuclear Issues, Installation



Encircled, Nic Pehkonen, 2024. Granite, Mudstone, Halite, Chalk, Bentonite, Jute String. Dimensions variable.

The rocks have encircled the waste has encircled the Earth.

"Encircled" is an HD audio-visual/moving image work about the global legacies, management and disposal of high level radioactive waste.

Harnessing both kinetic and gravitational potential energy, the Nuclear Information Centre pendulum moves with apparent effortlessness across both deep and shallow time whilst simultaneously providing much-needed Anthropocenic spiritual guidance and tidy yes/no answers to the conundrum of safely managing the ever-growing global inventory of high-activity radioactive waste.

The long-term management of radioactive waste is a global issue for all nuclear states with geological disposal officially put forward as the best and safest solution for the most problematic high-level wastes. In addition to the natural barrier of the “host” rock, geological disposal also builds in engineered barriers, including bentonite clay as a backfill material with the whole facility designed to isolate and contain the waste deep underground over the hundreds of thousands of years it will take to reach nominally safe levels.

However, definitions of nuclearity, waste and safety could be seen as decidedly selective. We perhaps consciously, or unconsciously think of waste from a position as end users of the nuclear fuel cycle but the ongoing and enduring legacies of uranium mining, atomic testing and unplanned radiological releases are not so tidily managed or contained and will continue to slowly unfold over both human and geological timescales.

Three main rock types have been identified as geologically suitable for hosting a GDF. These are higher strength rocks such as granite, lower strength sedimentary rocks such as mudstone, and evapourites such as halite. Additionally, due to its strong moisture absorbing properties, bentonite clay has been identified as a potential buffer material for surrounding the deposited waste packages and slow down the movement of groundwater within a GDF. Water is the single most undesirable ingredient in the GDF mix as it can act as a conduit for hazardous radionuclides to potentially reach the surface. The rock takes on the role of the final barrier between the waste and the outside world.

As of 2024 no suitable site has been identified within the UK although the latest iteration of the GDF siting process has been ongoing since 2018.

The pendulum is roughly cast from bentonite in the proportions of a radioactive waste canister as it circles slowly around the seemingly clocklike arrangement of rocks. When and where will it finally come to rest?

In this exhibit the pendulum is free-hanging so combines a relative stillness with the potential for movement, either through ambient forces or as a result of direct human intervention. Encircled invites you to take a moment to think about the globalness yet relative invisibility of radioactive waste, its creation and timescales associated with its disposal.

Artist Interview

Q: In this new edition of the UAAD online magazine, we're exploring the theme of "[Matrix] of the [Not-Yet]." How would you interpret these two words, and how do you see your work aligning with the concepts of [Matrix] and [Not-Yet]?

Although situated firmly in the present, my current practice roams freely across deep and human timescales, fusing fact and fiction to create speculative encounters of the nuclear kind, predominantly centred around interconnected and intertwined themes of energy, power, weapons and waste. I guess I see the Matrix of the Not-Yet as an exploration of the continuous present where the future is shaped, anticipated, and imagined but never fully known.

Q: We are very interested in the trajectory of your creative practices and their connection to the theme. Could you provide us with a little more information about your background?

The Nuclear Information Centre (NIC) grew out of my post-graduate studies back in 2022 and provided me with a multi-purpose vehicle or framework through which to produce and present my ongoing (nuclear-related) work. The NIC functions simultaneously as a quasi-official sounding organisation, a (third party) alias for myself and what I like to call a nomadic visitor centre through which to present and share my research and creative output. As previously described, although firmly rooted in the present, my practice seems to be heading off in ever more speculative directions which allows me to time travel back and forth across human and non-human timescales to interweave stories around nuclear subjects and in particular the global legacy of radioactive waste which seems to be the current focus of my research and making.

Q: The creators participating in this magazine work across various mediums, including moving images, interactive installations, music composition, etc. What factors influence your choice of medium for your works?

As a self-declared, multi-disciplinary artist, I am open to working across a multiplicity of mediums. The mediums(s) I need to use for a particular piece tend to make themselves known to me through either through subject matter, research, trial and error or experimentation. For example, with my current research into the long-term disposal of radioactive waste, it became clear that one of the materials I would need to start working with is bentonite clay, which is one of the proposed, engineered barrier materials in geological disposal used to surround the deposited waste containers. With Encircled ( ), my material choice extended to incorporating the three types of rock deemed to be the most suitable in which to construct a geological disposal facility or GDF. I am interested in exploring alternative presentations or configurations of the same exhibits. To use Encircled again as an example, this piece may be presented as a sculptural installation or as a moving image work (or both!). Adaptability and fluidity are two keywords within my practice.

Q: How does your work reflect or actively engage with the cultural and social dynamics of your community or the communities you interact with? Are there elements in your art that seek to bridge, disrupt, or transform these dynamics?

I’m currently working in a yearlong artist residency and about to start what I hope will become regular Nuclear Information Centre (NIC) drop-in sessions at the local museum where my residency is based. These will be semi-structured events but ones that I hope will thrive on random and unexpected conversations and interactions, revolving around nuclear-related subject matter and the wider issues of energy production and consumption. My work often employs elements of humour, ambiguity, and quiet subversion, all of which can be powerful tools for facilitating public engagement.

Q: What real-world strategies or methodologies do you employ in your art practice to manifest your visions of the future? How do these tactics serve as forms of resistance or intervention within the current socio-political landscape?

My current practice revolves around what I like to call “information reprocessing”. I predominantly work with public/official information or that which is in the public domain, so consider this my “input” or raw data. This is then fed through the NIC Information Reprocessing facility (me) with the resulting work as the “output”. Trial and error and experimentation are also key ingredients, and, in some ways, I don’t necessarily see my work in terms of being “finished”. In fact, I like the idea of a kind of open-endedness and the Nuclear Information Centre is the perfect vehicle for this, assuming the role of a nomadic visitor centre through which to display and disseminate an ongoing, evolving, and interchangeable series of “exhibits”.

Q: How do you hope your work impacts its viewers or participants, particularly in terms of rethinking potential futures or alternate realities? Who do you perceive as your audience?

Very simply, my overriding priority as an artist is to create work that is both informational and thought provoking.
Also, although sometimes easier said than done, I think it is important to try and reach out beyond what we might think of as a traditional art audience and to engage with a wider demographic. I guess my Nuclear Football ( ) is an attempt to explore this as it functions simultaneously and an artwork and actual football and very much intended to be played with (as a football!)

Q: As a creator, what do you see as the threats or uncertainties we will face in the coming decade?

It is a sign of these uncertain times that the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Doomsday Clock has remained at a previously unprecedented 120 seconds to midnight, albeit for the second year running. The combined threats caused by increasing geopolitical tensions, political short-termism, global inequalities and the unfolding effects of resource extraction, energy consumption and climate breakdown are all high up on the list of threats to humanity. All light subjects to make work about.

Q: What motivates you to continue creating as an artist?

Curiosity, the desire to keep experimenting and general creative optimism along with opportunities to share these things are all the motivational drivers I need.

Q: Are there any theories, books, or artists you would like to recommend in your current areas of interest?

Robert Smithson – Site/Non-site theory.
Timothy Morton – Hyperobjects and Radiation as Hyperobject.
Don’t Follow the Wind (Jason Waite & Nicholas Hirsch) – A post-Fukushima, ongoing art project and non-visitor centres.
Regarding radioactive waste, I would also highly recommend Deep Time Reckoning, How Future Thinking can help Earth Now by Vincent Ialenti.
Shining a light on the troubling subject of weapons testing, I’m currently reading a fabulously well researched and unsettlingly beautiful book, by Samia Henin, entitled Colonial Toxicity: Rehearsing French Radioactive Architecture and Landscape in the Sahara. Predominantly image-based with textual introductions for each section I would perhaps best describe it as an archive of an archive.

That’s a snapshot really but I keep a publicly available resource page on my website,, if you want to visit!

Q: If you could possess a superpower, what would it be?

Perhaps I could somehow exhibit the earth in such a way that it could be clearly seen by everyone and understood in its current state along with a suggestion that we as humans all take a moment to consider our place in it. Maybe my superpower could be to do the impossible and engineer this artwork?

About the Artist

Nic Pehkonen (b. 1969) is a multidisciplinary artist based in Gloucestershire, UK. His current research-based practice is focused on interrogating the UK’s present-day nuclear activities, exploring intertwined themes of power, technology, weapons, and waste. Since 2022 he has been the self-appointed curator and permanent artist-in-residence at the Nuclear Information Centre (NIC), a fictional organisation that functions as a nomadic visitor centre and vehicle for ongoing research. He is currently one of the artists in residence at The Wilson Museum & Art Gallery, Cheltenham, UK as part of their 2024 Artist Bursary Programme. Nic graduated in 2023 with an MA in Fine Art from the University of Gloucestershire. Prior to this, he was producing work on a self-taught part-time basis, predominantly through the medium of painting, exploring subject matter ranging from early home computing and arcade games, to aerial landscapes, and Cold War military architecture.

©2024 Underground Art And Design LLC | ISSN 2835-284X

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