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TRACES of the Atomic Age is the digital on-line version of a complex multimedia project including a video installation produced in 1995. This website is a restored and updated version from the original that continues to serve as an expanding database of information that invites discussion of issues related to nuclear proliferation. [ LINK to VIDEO ]

In July and August of 1945, the United States Government first tested and then dropped the first atomic bomb. Between the test on July 16 and the bombings in August, media artist Peter d’Agostino’s birth marks this beginning of an end of an era, an era marked by the path away from linear conventions and causal values, and by a future of wondrous possibilities and foreboding constraints.

TRACES stitches together the events of July and August 1945: the testing of the bomb, the drop on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the birth of the artist in New York City by capturing fragments of history: images of the Enola Gay, the dropping of the bomb and the devastating aftereffects. The images retrace what has become a cyclical history of techno-devastation. D’Agostino begins to peel away the roots, the residual layers of time and experience by visiting Hiroshima on the annual anniversary of the bomb, by visiting Nagasaki, Pearl Harbor, and revisiting New York City.

In TRACES, the installation, two monitors, each nested within an enclosure made up of Japanese styled screens projecting outward in different directions, present looped continuities. The first monitor plays a recurring mantra of Buddhist chanting and floating lanterns during the annual Peace Ceremonies in Hiroshima. A second screen plays a twelve minute loop that portrays: Oppenheimer expressing regret with a quote from the Bhagavad Gita, ghostlike and ominous; the Enola Gay dropping the bomb on Hiroshima; a staged die-in, held annually on the anniversary of the bomb in modern Hiroshima; excerpts of a recent tour of Nagasaki Harbor; the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor; and the New York neighborhood where d’Agostino grew up, now in a suspended state of post-apocalyptic decay. The sound from both monitors overlap in the installation space. Photographs of the bomb, of shadows of children, digitally reconstructed from a LIFE magazine that marks the week of d’Agostino’s birth in 1945 hang on the adjoining walls. The composite exists as an architectural environment. In the life of the artist, history begins with the atomic bomb but continues through a very personal connection with the Lockerbee tragedy. Ironically, painfully, that tragedy also now resonates in the footage and text enveloping the most recent bombing in Oklahoma City. Peter d’Agostino compiles these events while weighing the meaning of their compilation within the virtual, metaphoric, and spiritual dimensions of his work.

With regard to the dropping of the atomic bomb, d’Agostino writes “I wasn’t there; This isn’t about that.” TRACES is about points of view and mediation. Other people did live the moments recorded as part of the text. “If somebody wants to break through the screen and tell you what the reality was about…” then the work acquires a renewed contextualization.

On Wednesday evening, April 19, the night of the Oklahoma bombing, during a discussion of d’Agostino’s TRACES that took place on the site of the first installation at Goucher College near Baltimore, Maryland, an individual rose from the audience and read an emotional letter that he wrote, momentarily breaking down during the reading. Apparently, this gentleman, a B-29 pilot who witnessed the detonation of the first atomic bomb, helped spearhead the movement that forced the Smithsonian to reconsider and eventually retract its original Hiroshima exhibition. A moving dialogue raised questions of history, its revision and reconstruction using electronic and photographic texts.

In the case of this experience, an observer, a writer can record the metatext described. Many other emotional and intellectual moments intersect at the site of the installation and lend a resonance to the forces driving the artist’s work. They fill “the silent, motionless space” beyond the work itself, but go unrecorded.