[-empyre-] Kathirveechu Kathihal (Radiation Stories)

Rahul Mukherjee rm954 at cornell.edu
Mon Nov 27 01:36:33 AEDT 2017

Hope you are all enjoying the Thanksgiving weekend.

For my last post, some of my recent work. A long and dense post, though.

I have been trying to write this summer about how documentarians attempt to show the effects of radioactive contamination on human bodies. This particular book chapter deals with radioactive exposure: contact between human flesh and radiation. The documentaries I discuss, one by Shriprakash (called Buddha Weeps in Jadugoda on uranium mining in Jadugoda, India) and another by Amudhan RP (Radiation Stories I: Manavalakurichi) deploy screen charts, animations, and X-ray reports to help audiences visualize intimate body-radiation encounters, circulation and accumulation of radiation through the food-chain, and the traces of radiation stored inside the human body. In other words, many vectors of radioactivity are mapped out. That said, the indexical facticity of the documentary image is restricted to recording the marks of radiation on the surface of bodies. The documentaries suggest that subjective experiences of radiated communities are a part of understanding exposure? These documentaries acutely gesture towards the problematic contracts between science and society in India where certain stakeholders might disappear before they are even put on the debate map. The testimonies are sometimes unflinchingly shot, and there are ethical challenges involved in writing about them.

In R.P. Amudhan’s Tamil documentary (Kathirveechu Kathihal (Radiation Stories)), the Indian Rare Earth Limited (IREL) workers in Manivalakurichi (close to Kanyakumari, the southern tip of India) formerly engaged in sand mining monazite (rich in radioactive thorium) are affected by various kinds of tumors and limb impediments. In the testimonies that Amudhan records, talking heads seem unreasonable as an interview strategy, for the whole debilitated body needs to speak. Throughout an interview, one side of an interviewee’s body keeps shaking. Amudhan’s camera slowly moves from showing his bandaged leg to his shaking arms and then to his face as he describes symptoms of a nerve problem that began with a shaking finger and skin peeling away from one leg. These bodies have become the storehouse for radioactive chemicals, a site for radioactive decay. The decaying chemicals mutate inside bodies, shaping their fate. But the effects of all radioactive contamination do not register on the surface of the body.

Do such radiogenic injuries find expression in survivor’s testimonies? Amudhan asks an old man suffering from piles cancer lying prostrate, “So many people are affected here like this. Why is it so?”

The old man does not answer Amudhan’s questions directly, and seems to deviate towards discussions of the relations between God and man, but these deviations suggest that the stories people tell about themselves cannot just be read as case-studies appearing in health reports, or viewed only through a sociological lens. Amudhan’s long takes, his unwillingness to edit/cut the shot leads to “spaces of reticence” (Jason Alley’s term) those “uneasy silences, ignored questions, vacuous smiles or blank stares” that lay open the testimonial/documentary apparatus of knowledge production and contest the notion that local experiences (and knowledges) of the people of Manavalakurichi can be easily grasped or interpreted by experts/elites or even documentary audiences from outside. The testifiers demonstrate through their bodies and behaviors what they cannot articulate through language. The bodily experiences of pain and illness suffered by radiated testifiers will perhaps always defy language, but such experiences could enable shared sense-making of the effects of nuclearization. This perhaps is a testimony of great significance for Amudhan himself because recently he used an image from it for his DVD cover (am enclosing it with this email).

While writing about this documentary, I have often found myself going to Brian Taylor (1997)’s insightful essay that explains how photojournalist Carole Gallagher’s documentary images of downwinder (nuclear) bodies in American Ground Zero: The Secret Nuclear War contests official epidemiological discourses of the US nuclear state. The pictures Gallagher takes, are of people in Utah who encountered radioactive nuclides as they traversed downwind from the Nevada nuclear testing site. Amudhan’s and Gallagher’s camerawork strive to convey what it means to experience radioactive embodiment.

This idea of radioactive embodiment takes another turn if we think of how workers in nuclear reactors, condition themselves by considering Geiger counters as extensions of themselves as they try to regulate their movements based on constantly checking the count/readings. A keen sense of perception of embodied radioactivity develops over years of work in a reactor, where the body is body+dosimeter, and radiation dosages guide body movements distinguishing safe spaces from unsafe ones. This was something I thought when Andrea was discussing her projects that related developing a sense of perception of contamination based on movement and repeated exposure.



From: empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au <empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au> on behalf of Renate Terese Ferro <rferro at cornell.edu>
Sent: Friday, November 24, 2017 10:24:48 PM
To: soft_skinned_space
Subject: [-empyre-] Happy Thanksgiving.

----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
Rahul thanks for reminding me of Julianne Moore’s character in Safe.  The fact that contamination can be relational while causing symptoms some times and not at others is one reason that it is not recognized as an illness by the medical community.  As I understand scented products, cleaning products, perfumes, and even the exhaust from vehicles can act as triggers for Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.  Moore’s character turns to New Age Religion for answers to her own physical symptoms.

Here is a link on YOU TUBE to the film SAFE by Todd Haynes

Safe Todd Haynes, 1995 Full Movie<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DaRXgPYF8Tg>

Andrea my apologies for the error in my salutation. The freezing weather has put an absolute stop to our growing seasons both weedy and otherwise in upstate New York.  In the growing season though we are incredibly protective of our well water systems. Weeds grow alongside of grass and food crops but we try sustainable practices such as mulching, companion planting, weeding especially after a rainstorm when the soil is wet, boiling water with a tablespoon of salt, or vinegar directly on weeds that are impossible to get rid of. Many weeds though we just tend to keep around and they actually become part of our landscape.  My favorite are the milk weed pods that the butterflies absolutely love.

It’s been a lazy few days here as we have been celebrating the American Thanksgiving.  A great way to unwind and relax from the intense fall schedule. We hope that all of our –empyre subscribers in the US have also had a relaxing holiday and that we can spend the next two days finishing out Week 3.  Andrea and Rahul would love to hear more about your own research and Andrea more about your choreography. We will keep Week 3 open until late in the afternoon on Sunday.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Renate Ferro
Visiting Associate Professor
Director of Undergraduate Studies
Department of Art
Tjaden Hall 306
rferro at cornell.edu

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