9th Street and Canyon Boulevard, Canyon Blvd, Boulder, CO 80302
April 27 – June 10
Reproduction of one of eleven 10’ x 40’ billboard images from the 1990 interventionist public art project Operation Greenrun II, John Craig Freeman, 10′ x 40′ mosaic laser prints on coated fluorescent paper. Photo Mark Freeman.
Curated by Jeff Gipe, “Facing Rocky Flats” precedes the planned public opening of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. This group exhibition uses art and oral history to explore the past, present, and future of this contentious site.
From 1951 to 1989, Rocky Flats produced the plutonium “pits” (or fissile cores) for every nuclear weapon in the U.S. arsenal. During that time, the plant was alternately revered as a patriotic enterprise that protected American freedom, reviled as the most destructive bomb factory in human history, and denounced as a secretive polluter that spread deadly radiation across Denver’s suburbs. Equally heated debates have broken out over Rocky Flats’ demolition (1995-2005) and the ongoing efforts to keep its residual contamination from spreading.
Today the former bomb plant is invisible to the eye, yet its radioactive remnants will outlast the half-life of plutonium – 24,110 years. The legacy of Rocky Flats is still in its infancy. “Facing Rocky Flats” surveys the first of what will be many generations of creative undertakings necessary to keep the site’s history and memory alive.
Canyon Gallery, Bolder Colorado. Photo Mark Freeman, 2018.
John Craig Freeman is an artist with over two decades of experience using emergent technologies to produce large-scale public work at sites where the forces of globalization are impacting the lives of individuals in local communities. With his work, Freeman seeks to expand the notion of public by exploring how digital networked technology is transforming our sense of place.
In the late 1980s, Freeman moved to Colorado to pursue an MFA at the University of Colorado. Before he arrived, a group of environmentalists known as Citizens Against Billboards on Highway 93 had organized a successful boycott against a group of billboard that were lined up in a row, just outside the front gates of the Rocky Flats plant. The ads, located along one of the most scenic parts of the drive along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, were considered an eyesore. Plutonium contamination is, of course, invisible.
Unable to convince local businesses to advertise on the billboards, the owner was driven out of business and the billboard structures stood empty for several years. Freeman recognized the billboards potential for public art and began making proposals using early Macintosh desktop computing technology. After convincing the owner to loan the structures for the project, Greenpeace got wind of the project and offered to fund it.
Operation Greerun II, consisted of eleven 10′ x 40′ billboard faces, made of thousands of individual 8.5” x 11” bitmap laser prints per billboard.
Over about a mile, the text read “TODAY” “WE MADE” “A 250,000 YEAR” “COMMITMENT”. The half-life of of plutonium, the duration of time that it remains deadly, is a quarter of a million years.
The decision to shut down plutonium operations at Rocky Flats was quietly taken during the media firestorm that followed this project.