1967, Ottawa. Lives and works in London

Delay Decay, 2016
20 digitized cover pages of newspapers, 59 x 42 cm each, lightbox 63 x 855 x 90 cm; two-channel 4K video, silent, 6’ 34”; archival video, 5’ 24”
Courtesy of the artist

The twenty back-lit pages of the cover of Pravda published between April 26 and May 15, 1986 reflect the 19-day gap between the biggest nuclear accident in history, which took place at Chernobyl, and its eventual public disclosure. The most recent newspaper in the vitrine features a transcript of the televized address to the nation by head of state Mikhail Gorbachev on May 14. All the while, the radioactive clouds, as represented by the video, were spreading contamination far beyond the immediacy of the disaster zone.

In Susan Schuppli’s work, the disaster itself is not represented: the artist believes that photographs from the exclusion zone often look too romantic in their depiction of an industrial ruin that is slowly being engulfed by nature. In presenting evidence of the Soviet government’s prolonged silence, Schuppli makes no accusations and no excuses. Whether an earlier public announcement could have mitigated the fatal consequences remains a question, as do debates around whether the restoration of the ecological balance in the affected areas will take centuries or millennia. Delay Decay is an invitation to revisit the responsibility and risks involved in harnessing the “peaceful atom,” which currently remains the cheapest and—under optimum conditions—the most ecological source of energy.