Art riot

Nevada artists create works to protest the proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain

Bruce Lindsay poses with one of his paintings being auctioned to raise money for the anti-nuke fight.

Bruce Lindsay poses with one of his paintings being auctioned to raise money for the anti-nuke fight.

Photo By David Robert

To learn more about art that protests the proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, call Brian Bird or David Dory at New Medium Art Gallery, 786-1182.

Digital artist Brian Bird’s Yucca Mountain-inspired piece “Looking at You” shows a photograph of a young boy who is caught in a look of horror. A nuclear bomb explodes in the background. According to Bird, Sen. Randolph Townsend saw the piece hanging at New Medium Art Gallery, where Bird works, and bought it as a gift for Gov. Kenny Guinn.

Art has political power, Bird says. It can change things.

"[After Townsend bought the piece] I thought, ‘Well, maybe art can make a difference. … Art is going to raise general awareness. It gives people a sense of what’s going to happen to our country. It reaches people on both the conscious and the subconscious level.”

A second “Looking at You” piece rested on a ledge in the dark interior of the Zephyr Lounge in late June, up for grabs to the highest bidder. The site was, aesthetically, a million miles away from Sen. Guinn’s office or home, where its twin may now hang.

The folks behind a growing Yucca protest art movement put together a first attempt at consciousness boosting and money-raising at the art auction and party titled “Expose Yourself to Art—Not Nuclear Waste,” with proceeds benefiting the state of Nevada’s Nuclear Waste Project Office. Plenty were there to support the cause on the hot afternoon by buying beer and lounging in the patio area, but the art auction, which featured works by David Dory, Greg Allen, Brian Bird, Andrew Waage, Dave Burdick, Dave Siegel and Bruce Lindsay, wasn’t the wild success its organizers had hoped it would be.

Event planner Mairi Hennessy says that she hopes to unveil the next Yucca protest art exhibit in a gallery, where crowds are a bit more predisposed to buy artwork and not just Guinness.

Photographer Dave Siegel also donated works to be sold.

Photo By David Robert

And Bird has still loftier goals.

“I’d like to challenge the whole state to come out and say, ‘Hey, let’s have a really good show and work toward touring nationally.’ I realize that requires a lot of energy, but we have a lot of energy here—especially if people will start to lend money and time.”

Bird also notes that the works on display at the Zephyr show and auction, while all were being auctioned to benefit the Nuclear Waste Project Office, were not all Yucca- or nuclear-themed pieces. If a show were to feature only artwork dealing with nuclear themes, Bird says, the exhibit would stand out more and provide a more provocative artistic whole to viewers and potential buyers.

Bird also wants to see politicians, casinos, arts foundations and artists from both the southern and northern ends of the state jump on the anti-waste bandwagon.

“We need to get politicians to get on board. … I want to see more artists come together. I want to get Vgas involved.” With his long hair

and mischievous chuckle, neon artist Jeff Johnson clearly isn’t afraid of stirring up a little shit, be it in the political scene or in the Nevada art world. His works have that postwar, lonely-highway-in-Nevada feel, and even his non-Yucca-themed pieces somehow manage to stir up images of Nevada’s nuclear heyday in the 1950s. Johnson feels passionately about preserving Nevada’s beauty and its citizens’ safety.

“It seemed to be that everybody [was] apathetic about the whole nuclear waste thing,” Johnson says when I ask him how he got involved with the protest art movement. “I was wondering where the riots in the streets were.”

Greg Allen with one of his paintings.

Photo By David Robert

So Johnson decided to help create a visual art riot, a nuclear-themed work that includes a piece he collaborated on with Jacob Robinson, a graffiti artist. Robinson scrawled the words, “These are our demands” on a piece of wood, with a rendering of an exploding mushroom cloud and Johnson’s glowing neon outline of Nevada in the center of the text. Johnson says he got the idea for the words—which sum up the attitude he feels Nevada should take toward the federal government’s plans to cart waste our way—from a meeting in which Reno City Councilwoman Sherrie Doyle talked with taggers about their crimes. Doyle was telling the taggers what would happen to them if they didn’t shape up, and one of the taggers came back with a list titled, “These are our demands.”

“I thought that was the attitude that we need about having this [nuclear] thing shoved down our throats,” Johnson says.

Johnson says he thinks that Nevada needs to be hardnosed with the nation on nuclear waste—fight tooth and nail to keep it out, but if waste must come, slap down a list of demands to the folks in Washington.

"[Nevada should say] ‘These are our demands.’ … We should have the best roads in the country, and George [W.] Bush should come here and say, ‘Nevada is more beautiful than Texas. Nevada is the most beautiful, most amazing state in the nation,’ “ Johnson says, only half-jokingly. “If we have to have [nuclear waste], we should get more than just a ‘thank you.’ “

Graphic artist Dave Burdick brings a slightly tamer tone to his anti-waste rant, though his work itself—such as one piece titled “Who Needs Planes?” that shows a massive Osama Bin Laden holding a nuclear transport truck in each hand while a nuclear bomb explodes in the background—are anything but tame.

“My big beef with the whole nuclear/Yucca Mountain issue deals with the transportation of the waste,” Burdick says. “In my mind, this is an incredibly vulnerable point that is ripe for a huge accident or terrorist act. What is so alarming to me is the enormous ignorance of most people in this country—outside of Nevada—on the transportation issue. Most aren’t even aware that the nuke trucks will be rolling through their cities and towns.”

Burdick adds that those who are anti-Yucca are sometimes dismissed as radical leftists or environmentalist freaks.

“For me, Yucca Mountain is not some liberal eco-hysteria issue," he says. "I’m a Republican. [Mine is] just a commonsense view that the odds of an enormous radioactive disaster go up exponentially when moving thousands of nuke payloads over thousands of miles."