Houston-based artist Gabriel Martinez’s artworks explore social, political, economic, and historical issues through charged found objects, such as radioactive trinitite.
Houston-based artist Gabriel Martinez’s artworks frequently explore social, political, economic, and historical issues by reimagining found objects. These works challenge existing power structures by highlighting injustices through the use of discarded materials or waste objects. His project Mountain War Time is no exception.
Martinez was born in Alamogordo, New Mexico, the site of the world’s first atomic explosion on July 16, 1945. Three weeks later, the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing an estimated 200,000 people.
While the mass devastation and death incurred in Japan are well documented, the effects of the Alamogordo explosion, codenamed “Trinity,” were not as evident. But a scientific report in 1949, which stemmed from the discovery of damaged x-ray film manufactured by Kodak four years earlier, revealed that contaminated water in Indiana used to produce the film’s packaging caused a “fogging” of the filmmaker’s product. The contaminant responsible for this damage? Plutonium, from the Alamogordo test explosion. The age of nuclear waste, pollution, and destruction had arrived.
Martinez’s Mountain War Time is a series of digital renderings created from x-ray prints of trinitite that his grandmother collected from the detonation site. Trinitite is a glass-like rock formed during the Alamogordo blast when the components of sand (quartz and feldspar) melted, then re-formed and solidified on the desert floor.
Using x-ray sheets and his grandmother’s trinitite, Mountain War Time intertwines historical and personal narratives into an aesthetic expression that brings to bear the manner in which the weaponization of nuclear technology has poisoned our water, our land, and our bodies. The x-rays allow us to see through the promise of scientific advancement and glimpse, instead, its radioactive toxicity.
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