Nuclear Safety Is Our No.1 Priority (Diogelwch Niwclear yw ein Prif Flaenoriaeth) Patchwork Quilt and Door, 2016

Nuclear Safety Is Our No.1 Priority

By The Editor

There is a strong reference to women's labour and activism in the use of textiles and quilting (eg. 'Greenham Common') how does your work feed into the historical context of the anti-nuclear movement?


The quilt is an interesting form to work with as it is a familiar everyday object and at the same time a conceptual device. First appropriated by the art world in the 1970’s it has been used to explore everything from aesthetics, to the art/craft debate, to its traditional place as ‘women’s work’. Quilting also has a huge history of activism (which predates artist’s usage) with issues ranging from racism to AIDS. Even the tradition of the quilting circle is a very political concept, a group of people sitting together and talking as they work on a common goal; I imagine some very powerful ideas have been generated at a quilting circle.


There are numerous examples of people using quilts to unite communities against nuclear weapons such as The Boise Peace Quilt Project and Greenham Common. Recently anti-nuclear protesters gathered in Taipei with their own quilt. These examples use the quilt as a way of uniting communities by bringing together individual quilt blocks.


I am very aware of this tradition and am drawing on it by making a nuclear quilt but am also conscious that my piece “Nuclear Safety Is Our No.1 Priority” sits alongside this particular history. Rather than a community’s gift, my quilt is an individual’s gift to a community. In my mind I was making the quilt for the people who live near Wylfa nuclear power station.



Both memorialisation and the generational trace of history plays into your piece’s conception – can you tell us more about its material history?


I am from Canada and grew up with my Grandmother’s wonderfully wild patchwork quilts which incorporate all sorts of recycled fabrics. Many years later I realised she was continuing a tradition of quilting passed down from her own mother and utilised during WWII when women all over Canada sent quilts to Britain through the Red Cross. These quilts were for the victims of the Blitz and became treasured items; they offered comfort, warmth and safety. Canadians have continued this tradition and still send quilts to disaster sufferers all over the world; notably many quilts were sent to Fukushima.


This was all sitting prominently in my mind when making “Nuclear Safety Is Our No.1 Priority.” I collected fabrics from charity shops around the island of Anglesey where Wylfa nuclear power station is located, looking specifically for retro fabrics that have the bright and flowery patterns of Wylfa’s early years when many people were still optimistic about the promise of nuclear energy.


The quilt is covered in phrases which made up safety signs within Wylfa: “Danger of Death;” “Keep Off;” “Use Three Points of Contact” and “Nuclear Safety Is Our No.1 Priority.” They are representative of my hope that everything will be alright with nuclear. But I suppose I am directly contravening this by pre-empting disaster and making my quilt in preparation for it. I am interested in the dichotomy that the quilt embodies, how it pre-empts nuclear disaster and endeavours to prevent it at the same time. For the installation of the quilt at Oriel Davies I have also incorporated a door. This references the Raymond Briggs graphic novel ‘When the Wind Blows’ (1982), which tells of an elderly couple as they follow the instructions in a government-issued pamphlet to build a nuclear shelter.



Can you tell us more about the project Power in the Land and the Wylfa nuclear power station in Anglesey. How has this affected your view on nuclear energy and the future of energy in Britain? (Especially the proposal for a new nuclear power plant in the area).


Wylfa nuclear power station was the last active reactor in Wales, it was built in the 60’s and closed just after Christmas 2015. Power in the Land is a project by the artist group X-10 to explore the site, the physical presence and the legacy of a decommissioning nuclear power station through video, sound, photographic media and installation. I myself live in North Wales and was intrigued to make art about something that I really knew very little about. We met over the course of two years to research, discuss and make; we were even able to tour the power station which I found a bit of a surreal experience. The touring exhibition has been to Oriel Davies (Newtown) and Oriel Ynys Mon (Llangefni), is next at Aberystwyth Arts Centre and will continue travelling to Ex Libris Gallery (Newcastle) and Bay Arts (Cardiff). We have also put together a publication about the project.


If nuclear power could be everything that is promises it would be fantastic, but unfortunately I have a stronger belief in human fallibility. When you view old archive footage about Wylfa power station there is such a strong optimism about nuclear power’s possibilities, it is the miracle solution to all of our energy problems. I think that most people are able to be a bit more pragmatic now and realise that every so called solution has consequences that we need to mediate. I’m less and less convinced that the promises of nuclear power outweigh the shortcomings. It is rather startling that no planning permission has been granted yet the site preparation for Wylfa B, the new power station next to the old, is already underway.



Lastly, does art have a role in stopping climate change? If so what is it?


Definitely. The environment and climate change in particular are really shunned topics of conversation in our society today, people seem embarrassed to talk about them. I think this stems from the fear of looking uninformed as well as that of being branded a zealot.  Art opens up a back door to the debate, it’s like a sneak attack to transmit ideas and get people to consider something that they are uncomfortable with normally. They can be drawn in for purely aesthetic reasons to consider a new viewpoint presented in an artwork. Textiles are particularly useful as they can be used to link tradition to contemporary events in a particularly non-threatening way. An increase in discussion will naturally lead to a more informed and engaged public.


Nuclear Safety Is Our No.1 Priority (Diogelwch Niwclear yw ein Prif Flaenoriaeth) Patchwork Quilt and Door, 2016

Alana Tyson is a Welsh-Canadian artist.


Her work attempts to make sense of the world she inhabits. Her uncertain questioning incorporates performance, sculpture and installation, utilising found, altered and constructed elements. Tyson is drawn to dualities and incongruities. A commonality between her chosen materials is their link to domesticity. Everyday items, such as suit lining or crochet cotton, become carriers of meaning and reflections upon Tyson’s deep-rooted responses. The material contrasts and tension within Tyson’s work transforms the mundane into the visceral.


Upcoming exhibitions include Mission Gallery, Swansea; Borealis Gallery, Edmonton, Canada and Aberystwyth Arts Centre.

© Anthropocene Magazine 2016