Tell-Tale Atom Heart Radioactive legacies and the nuclear uncanny

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Tell-Tale Atom Heart is a physical-computing installation that invites us to consider what will become of radioactive wastes when the language and signs marking them have eroded, and the last human to remember their location is gone.

Watch Tell-Tale Atom Heart here.


'Tell-Tale Atom Heart' is a physical-computing installation continuing my research into the uncanny temporality and materiality of the nuclear. 

Our current solution to problematic radioactive wastes is to bury them deep underground for millennia. This installation invites us to consider what will become of these wastes when the language and signs marking them have eroded, and the last human to remember their location is gone. 


The installation consists of a laser alternately drawing poetic texts and maps across a phosphorescent surface, temporarily charging it with light. As each drawing fades, it is overwritten by further texts and maps. This fading is a metaphor for the radioactive decay of Uranium-235. The sequence of texts and drawings takes two hours before repeating, ad infinitum, while a spoken word performance of the poem is recited. 

The contour maps are based on locations in Cumbria that have been proposed by the UK Government as potential hosts for a Geological Deep Facility. This comprises a deep underground network of tunnels, where radioactive waste can be stored for millennia until its radioactivity has diminished to safe levels. The installation is also a work of photography, as it uses light as a medium. Although radiation cannot usually be seen by the naked eye, it can leave traces on photographic materials. 

My intention for this work is not to argue against nuclear power. What interests me here is our creation and wilful forgetting of problematic, orphan substances that will continue to exist in their own form of highly energetic life, long after we've been forgotten. 


Mat is a multidisciplinary artist concerned with the uncanniness of materials and machines, affective spaces, and the invisible. He combines analogue and digital processes to explore the friction between human intentionality and the agency of materials. 

To see more of Mat Denney’s work visit:
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