SUPERPOWER – Ghosts of the Atomic Age

Krümmel Kernkraftwerk on Elbe; Primary school in Tespe, part of Elbmarsch municipality. Photo: Oleksandr Martemianov

Ukrainian photographer spotlights the fragile superpowers of nuclear power in a new exhibition 

How do we tame the superpowers of technology – and is it possible? SUPERPOWER – Ghosts of the Atomic Age is a new photo-documentary exhibition at Dark Gallery CPH, opening on 29 September. Here, Ukrainian photographer Oleksandr Martemianov questions whether we can tame nuclear technology. With his analogue large-format camera, Martemianov has registered 23 nuclear power plants, highlighting the fragile superpowers of nuclear energy in his exhibition, which includes the recent headline-grabbing Russian occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine to Sweden’s Barsebäck and Germany’s Krümmel nuclear power stations close to Danish boarders.

Explosive subject secretly photographed 

Over the past 4 years, Ukrainian photographer Oleksandr Martemianov has travelled Europe to document disused nuclear power plants with his analogue large-format camera – 23 locations in total. He has often had to photograph them surreptitiously to the best of his ability, since the caretakers of many decommissioned power stations prefer them to remain out of the public eye, and several of the plants are closed to the press and public. Desktop research has also been part of the photographer’s investigation, and he has spoken to some of the surprisingly few people tasked with guarding Europe’s defunct nuclear power plants.


Photo: Oleksandr Martemianov

The forgotten history of nuclear power 

In his first solo exhibition, the 33-year-old Sweden-based photographer and engineer unfolds the uneasy and entangled history of these nuclear power plants and the consequences they have had to society and human life. He poses the question: Are we as a society able to handle the complex, potent and impactful technology that we ourselves create – also in the future? A question that seems particularly relevant in a time when the energy crisis and war in Europe have revived old discussions both for and against nuclear power, and where artificial intelligence is reshaping our familiar notions of the scope and impact of our complex technologies.

Aging but highly potent technology 

SUPERPOWER showcases both the civilian and military aspects of the history of nuclear power – from the Krümmel plant in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, where the local population experienced an increase in leukemia cases, to the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine, which has recently suffered attack by Russian occupation forces. Martemianov’s extensive photo-documentary project sets out to investigate an aging, yet still highly potent technology and delves into the often secretive, questionable operations of these ghosts of the past, which, for better or worse, still have a great impact on the lives of many people.

From Chornobyl to Barsebäck 

Photographer Oleksandr Martemianov grew up in the aftermath of nuclear disaster close to the infamous nuclear power plant in Chornobyl in Ukraine and was born four years after the incident. Later he relocated to Sweden, not far from the controversial nuclear power plant Barsebäck, where he lives and works today.

“Although I grew up close to Chornobyl during a time when nuclear power was increasingly seen as a threat, I’ve sought to keep an open mind about the pros and cons of the technology. As an engineer, I am perhaps less afraid of technology in general. However, I find the politics and vested interests that surround this field of technology the most disturbing aspects of all. You need to ask yourself if we, as a society, can handle such complex technologies,” says Martemianov.

A slow practice and clean aesthetic approach 

Martemianov’s practice of using the large format camera gives the project an unusual slowness. The slow, analogue approach to the modern temples of technology, that these nuclear power plants are, invite us to reflect. The result is a series of analogue colour photographs that are characterized by a clean aesthetic approach resembling both the ‘Neue Sachlichkeit’ (New Objectivity) of the early 20th century but also has a kinship with the Danish photographer Finn Larsen’s very stringent images.

 


Photo: Barsebäcks kärnkraftverk

Meet the photographer at Dark Gallery CPH

SUPERPOWER is the photographer’s first solo exhibition and takes place at Dark Gallery CPH in Copenhagen, which is dedicated to analogue photography and photo documentary and aims to offer immersive, slow storytelling. The gallery has three unique Dark Spaces where visitors, in this case, bring light to the rooms themselves by using the flashlight in their mobile phones to experience the subtleties of the exhibits, such as Soviet-era maps of Europe’s nuclear power plants. On 20 and 21 October, visitors can meet Oleksandr Martemianov in person at the gallery for a chat about his project. On 5 November at 15:00, the gallery also hosts a talk with Oleksandr Martemianov and physicist Jon Hindsgaul Hansen on the subject: Are we as a society able to control the complex super technologies we create?


Oleksandr Martemianov photographing Barsebäck Nuclear Power Plant in Sweden with his large-format analogue camera, 2023. Photo: Dark Gallery CPH

Opening Night

29 SEPTEMBER – 4 to 6 PM
Join us for a glass of wine and meet the photographer
opening speech 4.30 PM

Exhibition facts 

Exhibition period: 29 September – 25 November 2023. 

Opening hours: Thursday-Friday at 12:00-17:30 

Saturdays: 11:00-15:30 

Events and talks

Meet the photographer: 20 + 21 October during opening hours. 

Talk with Oleksandr Martemianov and Jon Hindsgaul Hansen: Nov 5 at 15:00

Address

Dark Gallery CPH 

Ryesgade 103 B 

DK-2100 Copenhagen 

(+45) 2033 4926

www.darkgallery.dk

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