by Conny Bogaard, Project Director Rocky Flats Cold War Museum
Reading Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory on dialogism is one thing, conducting civic dialog in a nuclear museum environment is quite another. September 28th marked the opening date of the first exhibit at the Rocky Flats Cold War Museum, in Arvada, CO. The show features work by the Atomic Photographers Guild, an international group of photographers dedicated to making visible all aspects of the Nuclear Age. The exhibit shows different aspects of the Cold War and nuclear legacies, including social and political impacts worldwide. It will stay up for two months — in a highly charged community of activists and former nuclear workers who, over 30 top-secret years, mass-produced some 70,000 plutonium pits for the US nuclear arsenal at an estimated cost of $4 million per pit. Today the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant is gone, only an empty field is to be seen, with one or two small buildings on it. But the site remains contaminated with plutonium from two big industrial plutonium fires, poor storage practices, and illegal incinerations of plutonium wastes. Such contamination is robustly denied to promote housing developments. Add to this denial the lifetime dedication of nuclear workers who equate plutonium production with patriotism, and you have an exciting, albeit challenging environment for a new museum exhibit.
The concept behind the show was explained on the opening night. The crowd was a dynamic mix of public officials, activists and Rocky Flats workers. Wine and food were served; a solo guitarist played; the atmosphere was lively. Most people seemed okay with the show, except for one. Halfway the evening, this person started disrupting the event saying that everything except the Rocky Flats pictures was “bullshit”, the whole show should be Rocky Flats and nothing but Rocky Flats. The only image other than Rocky Flats that needed to be on the wall was a photograph of the attack on Pearl Harbor…
Multiple voices co-create new meaning, as we learn from Bakhtin. Unfortunately, the processes for creating new meaning are not always as smooth as we would like them to be.