This is the Way The World Ends: Claudia X. Valdez at Lawrimore Project
Last week I finally had a chance to see Ten Million Degrees, the current exhibition by nuclear apocalypse-obsessed artist Claudia X. Valdes at Lawrimore Project. Interested in examining the reality of nuclear trauma from a number of perspectives, Valdez’s vision encompasses a wide variety of media and techniques including painting, photography, video installations and an interactive photobooth that allows visitors to take souvenir-style snapshots of themselves reacting to a nuclear blast which may be later retrieved on the project’s website Revelation 2213.
Unfortunately I missed the artist’s talk during the opening, but it’s clear that the technical aspect of Valdes’s work is important. The recipient of an honorable mention at the 2006 Transmediale festival for art and digital culture in Berlin, Valdes often uses new media to fascinating effect. Her video installation 192:291, which tiles a video of a nuclear blast for every country in the world at half-second intervals, achieves a repetetive minimalism reminiscent of Martin Arnold or Steve Reich that transcends the work’s content. Yet for me, Valdes’s still images are the most compelling works in the show. I am mesmerized by her large-scale color photographs of the Trinity Test Site near her home in New Mexico, whose oversaturated palette provides an ominous reminder of the radioactive sickness of the landscape.
Also included in the exhibition is a suite of watercolor paintings of nuclear tests. Valdes cites J. M. W. Turner’s landscapes as an influence and states that she is interested in a “romantic notion of the sublime.” This association is intriguing. A wildly romantic painter of seascapes, storms, and the occasional fire, Turner is renowned for creating visual scenarios that captured what he believed to be the power of God: the awesome, uncontainable, simultaneously life-giving and all-destructive force that man may perceive but never own. (Turner’s last words are purported to be “The sun is God“).
With Tests, Claudia X. Valdes alludes to a chilling truth: through the continual human impulse of creation, we have seized the keys to our own destruction. We have come to the end of a trajectory that began when we crawled out of our caves and harnessed the power of fire, and our Promethian efforts have finally saddled us with the ultimate power of self-annihilation. Our survival is no longer dependent on physical or technological prowess. We are now at the mercy of our spiritual and moral development, which has a lot of catching up to do.