Ex Materia

The Dark Embrace

« Nuclear catastrophe is a discrete, repetitive and silent catastrophe » Michaël Ferrier.

In 1986, the Alpes-Maritimes’ mountains at the franco-italian border have been literally immersed in the Chernobyl nuclear cloud. Today, you can still find high rates of radioactivity in various locations in the Alps. For example, the park called “Parc du Mercantour”, one the most beautiful national park in the world, still has spots that concentrate up to 100 000 Bq/kg, even after 32 years. The Mercantour Park is famous for having one of the highest biodiversity in the world due to the unique mix of its continental, alpine and Mediterranean climatic influences. Since the cloud has flown above Europe the debate is still vivid about the consequences of the nuclear fallout. But there has been an augmentation in the thyroid cancers in the surrounding villages of Mercantour, especially among women. For years, despite the creation of many victims associations, the government has been denying the effects, too afraid to take responsibility in not having taken seriously the public health risk at that time. In other countries, people have been given potassium iodide, a medicine that protects the thyroid gland from the radioactive form of iodine release by nuclear accidents. It could simply have been done in France too, if only the government hadn’t lied about the problem by announcing on TV that the cloud had stopped magically at the Italian border. It's a still a huge polemical issue and medias conscientiously avoid talking or investigating about it. Radioactivity and its aftermaths has never been a documented issue in the region. To think that an heavenly place such as Roya Valley and Parc du Mercantour have been poisoned by this silent killer is tragic which makes it all the more poetic. The duality that resides in the morbidity of the fallout and the liveliness of the place where it happened is disconcerting. That is the reason why I have decided to photograph this place during a year.

Exhibition text

Ex Materia is a battle – it is a battle for survival in the nuclear age. More than 30 years following the Chernobyl accident, Eleonora Strano returns to the scene of her childhood in south-eastern France in an attempt to uncover unanswered questions. Ms Strano portrays a world straddling between past and future, amidst a state of disequilibrium evoked by memories of the catastrophe. It is a world where the human and the animal struggle to inhabit altered, threatened landscapes. Emerging from the darkness of this milieu, a new life force takes the form of a dance – one that is subtle, yet also heavily charged with emotion and subterranean energies. A complex choreography surfaces, foretelling the future through the lens of a valley, its mountains, and its scars. The series aims to take the viewer to the depths of this wounded valley, in search of ways to heal.