Blue Yucca Ridge

yucca mountain nevada
Aerial view of proposed nuclear waste site, Yucca Mountain.


The above was the "winning" entry in an international competition for the design of a marker for the controversial Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste site in Nevada. The Desert Space Foundation, a non-profit organisation based at UNLV, Las Vegas, were the organisers of this competition. Their brief stated that the warning sign must remain "live" for atleast 10,000 years, the period nuclear waste would remain radioactive.

This "solution" was a reaction to the enormity of the site and its challenging ethical and environmental contexts. There are few precedents to such a problem, least of all in the realm of traditional arts and design. Perhaps more crucially, this was a challenge to my new country of residence, the US- to face our own demons, to ask public questions of new science (nuclear and genetic engineering), and to consider what it might mean to build a monument to a mistake.

I proposed to plant a genetically modified form of vegetation on the Yucca Mountain ridge. The yucca is a robust plant indigenous to the Nevada desert. A cobalt blue avatar of this cactus would be planted on a mile-long stretch of the mountain, forming a local, self-replicating system. (It is possible to prevent this from spreading by treating the soil as well...or not). This becomes a living warning sign- a landscape intervention, a marker for other mutants buried below. The plant itself is a sign- its genetic code will retain an embedded intent, recognisable across future generations. The color blue is a marker for this shift, at the deepest levels of plant life, of a new (photo?)synthetic possibility.

blue plants
Ground-level view of vegetation cover.

My work deals with technological anomalies, and points of continuity and rupture between "old" and "new" forms of art-making. For links to press about the competition and the US government's actual plans for the site, visit the Desertspace website.