Taryn Simon: Black Square XVII
Taryn Simon collaborated with Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation (ROSATOM) to prepare a work of art made from nuclear material. In the year 3015, approximately one thousand years after its creation, a black square made from vitrified nuclear waste will be permanently displayed at Garage in a custom designed void that has been integrated into the new museum building.
The process of vitrification took place on May 21, 2015. This converted the radioactive waste from a volatile liquid to a stable solid mass resembling polished black glass. It is considered to be one of the safest and most effective methods for the long-term storage and neutralization of radioactive waste. Simon’s Black Square XVII is currently being stored in a concrete reinforced steel container, within a holding chamber surrounded by clay-rich soil, at the Radon nuclear waste disposal plant in Sergiev Posad, located 72 km northeast of Moscow. It will reside at the Radon facility until its radioactive properties have diminished to levels deemed safe for human exposure and exhibition.
Black Square XVII is composed of medium-level, long-term nuclear waste containing organic liquids, inorganic liquids, slurries, and chemical dusts from a nuclear plant in Kursk, as well as pharmaceutical and chemical plants in the greater Moscow region. Cast within the mass is a two-ply cylindrical steel capsule holding a letter to the future written by Taryn Simon.
Central to the artist’s concept for this project is the agreement that Garage Museum of Contemporary Art will be the repository for the artwork when it is completed, raising questions of permanence, preservation, visibility, and ownership. In effect, this is Garage’s first permanent work of art, although for centuries to come the only evidence of its existence will be the site that awaits its installation, and the plaque that tells its story.
Black Square XVII was created during the centenary year of Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square. It continues Simon’s ongoing series of works entitled Black Square, which she initiated in 2006, focusing on the consequences of man’s inventions. To create each Black Square, Simon collects objects, documents, and individuals within a black field that has precisely the same measurements as Kazimir Malevich’s 1915 Suprematist work of the same name.
Thanks go to ROSATOM State Atomic Energy Corporation, the Radon Plant in Sergiev Posad and the Radon engineering team.