FL ‘17 | STL


“I do not think that Yucca Mountain is a solution or a problem. I think that what I believe is that the mountain is where we are, it’s what we now have come to - a place that we have studied more thoroughly at this point than any other parcel of land in the world - and yet still it remains unknown, revealing only the fragility of our capacity to know.”
— About a Mountain, John D’Agata

The Sandia National Laboratories charged a panel of outside experts with the task to design a 10,000-year marking system for the (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) site ...” Thus opens the 1992 brief for the design of a material communication system warning of the perils of the burial of nuclear waste. To date, there is not a single viable solution for this intractable global ecological catastrophe.

Historically speaking, “proto-literate” periods spans roughly 3,800 years. Furthermore, it is estimated that languages deteriorate at the rate of 95% over the course of 10,000 years. Explicit to the terms of the nuclear marker communication system is that the message does not rely on words for communication, but instead on a choreographed language of embodied symbolic experiences perpetuated past the possibility of prediction. In other words, clear messaging systems must be designed as a dialogical mesh of interwoven material and perceptual relationships.

As designers, you are asked to create a material narrative that can produce explicit, inclusive embodied knowledge that evolves within the full spectrum of severe disturbances, site-specific ecologies, Pandora-box opening inclinations, and pan-cultural signifiers. Rocks must be taught to speak in more than radioactive tongues.

Dire messages transduced across time-spans of ice ages translating the half-lives of shunned things. These relationships implicate each of us, now, in energy expenditures and spent nuclear fuels. These are material disturbances with complexities that rock all religions.

In 1992, multidisciplinary teams of experts were assembled for the WIPP challenge: anthropologists, material scientists, semioticians, mathematicians, linguists, archeologists and landscape architects. In this studio, collective studio research will reach out across the Washington University community. Each student will combine the collective research, critique and dialogue into individually authored material narratives. To do this, we will incorporate the stunning array of artistic tools that have emerged since the late 20th century: relational aesthetics, empathetic medias, emergent living and non-living systems, philosophies of bubbles and cross-species communications, sympathies with devils.

“What is conceivable in art, becomes thinkable in life,” says curator Kasper König. What can you conceive?