About Rachele Riley

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Research at the National Archives, nuclear detonations and craters.


These images represent just a fraction of the photographs housed at the Archives. Documentation of nuclear testing activity is stored in multiple collections. I poured through the Records of the Department of Energy, the Records of the Defense Nuclear Agency, and the Records of the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency. I will be returning to also consult the Records of the Atomic Energy Commission and to scan a few hundred images for use in my project. I’d like to thank researcher, Kevin Morrow, who generously made a few scans for me one day. Most researchers have brought a flatbed scanner or a tripod and SLR to the Archives. I made note of folders and images, and took quick shots with my phone. I will capture them properly when I return. (Images courtesy of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

Notice the valley floor, no craters exist at the time of this early shot.

This is the March 17, 1953 Annie Test, the one in which the first round of mannequins played the role of human subjects.

Sedan Crater, Plowshare Program—excavation experiment, July 6, 1962.

“The Plowshare program, begun in 1958, sought to develop peaceful uses for nuclear explosives. The excavation tests, designed to demonstrate that nuclear devices could quickly and cheaply move massive amounts of earth in the digging of canals and harbors, were conducted at the test site. Most spectacular was the 1962 Sedan test. Buried 635 feet below ground…the 104-kiloton blast lifted a huge dome of earth 290 feet in the air, moved 6.5 million cubic yards of earth and rock, and left a crater 1,200 feet across and 320 feet deep.

Sedan also sent a cloud of radioactivity off in the direction of Salt Lake City, creating a brief scare when radioactive iodine-131 turned up in the local milk supply. Inability to totally contain the radioactivity coupled with disappointing results eventually signaled the death knell of the program in the mid-1970’s.”
(Fehner, Terrence R. and Gosling, F.G. Origins of the Nevada Test Site. United States Department of Energy. December 2000. pp.84.)

Notice the man standing at the bottom of the crater. This gives a sense of scale (bottom left corner of photo).

Sedan Crater

Research at the National Archives, Mannequins and real people.

The more I search for details on the mannequins the more the realities begin to blur. Coordinated operations, in which mannequins were carefully dressed and typical social and domestic scenes were staged, began as isolated test scenarios at the Nevada Test Site in 1953. Extending beyond the boundaries of the NTS across the nation, their story culminates in Operation Alert, in which responses to nuclear attack were simulated by real individuals. Here are few images of mannequins and real people:

(Images courtesy of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

Research at the National Archives, Annie Test Mannequins.

I have been doing research at the National Archives facility in College Park, MD for the last three days. I looked at hundreds of archival documents: photographs, moving pictures, slides, and textual records that relate to nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site, the Department of Energy, and the Federal Civil Defense Administration. In particular I am searching for any image of the L.A. Darling Co. Mannequins used in the early tests of the 1950’s and documentation of the activities that were carried out in preparation for measuring and assessing the effects of nuclear weapons. I have yet to find evidence of the nationwide tour that the mannequins are supposed to have taken after withstanding the nuclear blast of March 17, 1953.

I requested over 35 boxes of archival records at the Archives and was able to capture reference shots of the material. I will be returning to the Archives to scan the most important findings. Special thanks to my research assistant, Millie Riley.

Here are few images of mannequins used in the 1953 Annie Test that were new to me:
(Images courtesy of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
Before the test, the mannequins are gathered for a photo shoot:

Sometimes I find it hard to tell who is alive and who is a mannequin:

A lean-to shelter installed in a house at the Nevada Test Site:

I will be posting a few installments of examples from my visit: more images of mannequins (1953/1955), early views of Yucca Flat valley, documentation of detonations, and information on the traveling exhibit ‘Pathway to Peace.’

Project featured at ‘Remaking Research’ Symposium.

I just returned from presenting my work and research on ‘The Evolution of Silence’ at ‘Remaking Research: Emerging Research Practices in Art and Design.’ The AICAD symposium, hosted by the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, Canada, was held from November 1–3, 2012. You can view the full lineup of presenters and the symposium schedule here.

I was invited to present under the theme ‘The Political Economies of Research’ in the ‘Featured Research Projects’ section.

Remaking Research showcased Featured Research Projects from more than 15 institutions engaged in creative research.

Selected projects were shared in two ways: short, ten-minute presentations that allowed for a sharing of process, or as part of a public exhibition in Emily Carr’s Concourse Gallery from November 1–3, 2012.

Featured Research Project Presentations:
The Production of Knowledge in Art and Design
9:00 am, Friday, November 2, 2012
‘Reverse Engineering: Towards a Taxonomy of Art Practices,’ Adelheid Mers, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
‘Current Design Research Journal,’ Celeste Martin and Deborah Shackleton, Emily Carr University of Art + Design
‘Pratt’s Laboratory for Scientific Study of Art,’ Cindie Kehlet, Pratt Institute
‘Digital Ceramics Archive Research,’ Paul Mathieu, Emily Carr University of Art + Design
‘The Single Most Important Criterion for Reconfiguring Research Theory and Practice in the 21st Century,’ Anne-Marie Oliver, Barry Sanders, and Marie-Pierre Hasne, The Pacific Northwest College of Art; the University of California, Santa Barbara; and Oregon Health & Science University
‘Wait a minute…,’ Gareth Jones, Rhode Island School of Design

The Political Economies of Research
4:30 pm, Friday, November 2, 2012
‘Reflections on Memory Marathon,’ Simon Pope, University of Oxford
‘Darwin,’ Justin Novak, Emily Carr University of Art + Design
‘The Evolution of Silence,’ Rachele Riley, The University of the Arts, Philadelphia
‘National Security Garden,’ Shannon McMullen and Fabian Winkler, Purdue University, Art and Design
‘Building Narratives: Installations for Transitional Space,’ Maria McVarish, California College of the Arts

Networked and Partnered Research
8:30 am, Saturday, November 3, 2012
‘e_Motion Research Lab,’ Barbara Rauch, OCAD University
‘The Artistic Animation of Research,’ Will Garrett Petts, Thompson Rivers University
‘Dialogue Between Business and Academia,’ Louise St. Pierre, Emily Carr University of Art + Design
‘CadLaboration,’ Matthew Hollern, Cleveland Institute of Art
‘Spandrel,’ Jesse Jackson, OCAD University
‘RAW DATA,’ Ingrid Koenig, Margit Schild and Elvira Hufschmid, Goethe Institut, TRIUMF, Emily Carr University of Art + Design

To read more about Emily Carr University and the research activity of faculty and students, click here.

Awarded an Imagery Grant from the GeoEye Foundation.

I am very pleased to announce that the GeoEye Foundation has approved my grant application. In August I submitted a proposal and request for several high resolution images of Yucca Flat for use in my project, not just for the archive online but for the ways I plan to extend the project as an exhibition.

In an earlier post I described how difficult it was to narrow down my list of requested images to a recommended 5–7 images. The Foundation has generously awarded me six of those seven. Here are the images they gave me, roughly tiled together to show Yucca Flat valley. I can now make use of higher quality imagery (better than my web capture views) that provide much more detail of the landscape.

(Images courtesy of the GeoEye Foundation.)

About the GeoEye Foundation:
“The GeoEye Foundation is a not-for-profit philanthropic organization headquartered in Herndon, Virginia, focused on fostering the growth of the next generation of geospatial technology professionals. The Foundation provides satellite imagery to students, educational institutions and non-governmental organizations to advance research in numerous fields including human rights, defense and intelligence, public safety, healthcare, critical infrastructure, energy, environmental change and archeology. The Foundation believes that through observation comes awareness, and from awareness comes action.

The Vision of the GeoEye Foundation is to foster the growth of the next generation of users who apply geospatial technology in diverse and innovative ways to meet local, national and global challenges, and help improve the lives of individuals around the world.” (GeoEye Foundation)

If you would like to read more about other recipients of this kind of grant, click here.

If you are interested in how geospatial technology and mapping is used by the government and industry, and have also always wondered how satellite imagery is created, check out GeoEye’s video gallery.

(Video still from an animation at GeoEye.com.)

A mapping of all underground detonations in Yucca Flat.

I finally finished mapping the sites of underground nuclear tests (still to map are the areas in which atmospheric testing took place). All underground nuclear explosions that took place in Yucca Flat are represented in this map. Individual images for each explosion at the exact site of their detonation are tiled together in (what became for me) a giant jigsaw puzzle, to form one aerial view of the valley.

Now in geographic relationship to one another, the hundreds of small images come together to give a better sense of scale and convey the character of the valley. The web-based archive will interpret their ‘x’ and ‘y’ position coordinates (taken from my finished tiled map). The archive dynamically builds the map again in real time online. Below are screen shots of the archive running from my local file. It was worth the time it took do the map.

Mapping every detonation in Yucca Flat.

This week I focused on my map. I am tiling the individual images of each detonation to form one view of Yucca Flat valley. Using the USGS map as a guide in identifying the craters, I determine the relative (x,y) positions for each image. I enter that information into my dataset. The web-based archive is designed to pull dynamically from that data file. The map will build itself as it loads online and allow the viewer to interact with each detonation separately.

USGS map used (detail shown below): Dennis N. Grasso. “Geologic Surface Effects of Underground Nuclear Testing, Yucca Flat, Nevada Test Site, Nevada.” United States Geological Survey. 2000.

The full map in progress. Once I finish the straightforward aspect of this mapping, I can explore ways to include the one hundred detonations that occurred above ground in Yucca Flat. For these atmospheric tests, no bore holes or surface effects exist, and also no exact coordinates in the Department of Energy data.

Identifying images for a GeoEye Foundation Imagery Grant.

I applied for a GeoEye Foundation Imagery Grant last month. The Foundation ‘provides satellite imagery grants to support research projects at the university level and within non-governmental organizations.’ (geoeye.com). The committee has expressed interest in my research and has asked me to revise my list of images. (I had requested more than they normally award.) I am able to submit a request for a maximum of seven images. It was much harder than I thought it would be to choose which images will work best for my project and for all the ways I hope to extend it. After narrowing down the original list to about eleven, I tiled the individual images to see which would best together. I am requesting the two sets below, a total of seven images.

I roughly tiled the images on my door ‘wall’ as well.

Several of the images I was considering, layered.

Mannequins, selected sun prints.

Here are a few of the sun prints that I made last week. There is one print for each of the fifty L.A. Darling Co. mannequins used in the March 17, 1953 Annie Test at Yucca Flat. I am investigating ways to represent damage, disappearance, shadow, and trace, as well as a feeling of irradiation.

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