National Toxic Land/Labor Conservation Service

National TLC Service Logo

“The National Toxic Land/Labor Conservation Service” is an art and research project taking the form of a wishful federal agency dedicated to the vigilant detection and continual exposition of the domestic effects of the American nuclear state. Established by fictive legislation in 2011, the Service is charged with developing cultural programs that address domestic issues of environmental justice, labor, and human rights related to U.S. military activities. Freely mixing satire and sincerity, we devise speculative projects using an aesthetic of bureaucratic camp. Our primary initiative through 2019 is the creation of the speculative National Cold War Monuments and Environmental Heritage Trail. Additionally, we conduct tours, site visits, and reviews of Cold War heritage sites as they are currently interpreted, and we present widely on our organizational mission and activities.

Visit the National TLC Service Website for more details.

Official Video

Site Nominations, National Cold War Monuments and Environmental Heritage Trail

For the Monument to Cold War Victory exhibition, the National TLC Service solicited public nominations of site to include in the National Cold War Monuments and Environmental Heritage Trail. These nominations displayed on a video monitor, complemented by photographs of potential sites and TLC banners.

Left grid of images
Side viewCentral grid of photos and video monitor

Mobile Field Office 1.0

The National TLC Service Mobile Field Office consists of a patron services counter that collapses into the 55-gallon drum that forms one of its supports. Installation from Figge Art Museum, spring 2013.

National TLC Service Mobile Field Office 1.0
National TLC Service Mobile Field Office 1.0National TLC Service Mobile Field Office 1.0
Artist's rendering of pile of cast nuclear waste storage casks.

Monumental pile of cast nuclear waste storage casks.

Proposed Trail Marker System for the Speculative National Cold War Monuments and Environmental Heritage Trail

While historians mark the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 as the end of the Cold War, its residues persist in many ways, most intimately as environmental damage and embodied waste. Massive contamination remains from the production, maintenance, and disposal of Cold War-era nuclear weapons; decades of improper handling, storing, and discarding of hazardous materials; and the prioritizing of military advantage over health and ecological concerns. However, these Cold War legacies are often difficult to see. Toxicity cannot be visibly detected; a history of secrecy and misinformation makes it difficult to weigh evidence; military sites are scattered and often remote; and the burden of hazard falls heavily on poor and marginalized communities. Furthermore, the vast infrastructure that produced and continues to sustain nuclear militarism remains overwhelmingly invisible or hidden in plain sight due to legacies of secrecy and the comparative banality of its landscape.The National Cold War Monuments and Environmental Heritage Trail is an emergent, distributed, and process-based memorial to a Cold War ‘victory’ that, taking into account ecological and health concerns, has yet to occur and is anything but assured.

The proposal consists of two parts. First, a series of public design charrettes will assemble people affected in various ways by nuclear militarism to map lesser-known, regional Cold War geographies and document existing domestic efforts to address environmental justice, labor, and human rights issues stemming from its history. These sites and projects will become points of interest along the National Cold War Monuments and Environmental Heritage Trail, a designation similar to existing trails defined by the National Park Service. Second, a large, physical monument will consist of a pile of 17,287 bronze forms cast from nuclear waste storage casks. The number is based on the estimated size of the US nuclear arsenal at the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. As Environmental Heritage Trail sites are identified through charrettes and government records, cask forms will be removed from the pile and installed as trail markers until the number of casks in the pile equals the number of weapons in the US arsenal (currently 5,113). As nuclear stockpiles continue to fluctuate, new casks will be added to the monument or removed for use as trail markers.

In contrast to traditional static war memorials, the National Cold War Monuments and Environmental Heritage Trail suggests a fluid and dynamic relationship among past, present, and future. Rather than encapsulating the history of the Cold War in a single site, the Trail commemorates it as geographically dispersed but physically present, temporally uncertain, and still open to debate. While the large monument suggests a post-minimalist spill piece, its constituent bronze forms use classic materials and invoke the traditional obelisk. The participatory process for discovering Environmental Heritage Trail sites seeks to publicly work through some of the historical antagonisms surrounding the Cold War not for the purpose of representing ‘all sides’ but to enact a form of commemoration that is more open to conflict, damage, and complexity. By pegging the expansion of the trail to the de-commissioning of the atomic arsenal, the monument suggests that it is only through a continued process of demilitarization that a thorough accounting of the Cold War’s toxic debts can be made.

Artist's rendering of cast storage cask removed and installed as trail marker

Sample storage cask removed from monument and used as trail marker.

Artist's rendering of nuclear waste storage casks

Small nuclear waste storage casks to be cast for the monument and trail marker system.

Exhibitions

Los Angeles, CA – Wende Museum, “Monument to Cold War Victory,” 2016
New York, NY – 41 Cooper Gallery, “Monument to Cold War Victory,” 2014
Champaign, IL – Figure One Gallery, “National TLC Service Mobile Field Office,” 2013
Davenport, IA – Figge Art Museum, “University of Iowa Faculty Biennial,” 2013
Fairfax, VA – George Mason University, “EcoCultures,” 2011
Brooklyn, NY – Momenta Arts, “Institute for Wishful Thinking,” 2011

Credit

Sarah Kanouse and Shiloh Krupar, “The National Toxic Land/Labor Conservation Service,” interdisciplinary arts/research platform, 2011-ongoing