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Artist mines a legacy

“Ahnighito (Cape York Meteorite in transit to America (1897)”, 2017 by Nina Elder.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Nina Elder’s work spans geologic time and the impact of industry on the environment using everything from pulverized meteorites to radioactive charcoal.

SITE Santa Fe is giving the Albuquerque artist/researcher a solo retrospective beginning Friday, June 14. The show will hang through Sept. 15.

Elder is a magnet for mines, rubble and waste.

A visual storyteller, Elder locates active and abandoned mines, Cold War military sites and industrial landscapes to explore land use and natural resources. She has backpacked into mines, traveled to Arctic Cold War military sites and earned government clearance to tour the Nevada Test Site.

In Alaska, she explored the old Kennecott pit mine. From 1911-1938, workers processed nearly $200 million worth of copper there.

“Unprocessed Uranium, 2017” by Nina Elder. (Courtesy of Site Santa Fe)

“I was trying to understand how multi-national corporations came to be,” Elder said in a phone interview on the road in Colorado. “Seven percent of the copper we use today came from that first mine in Alaska. Many of these sites are 20-50 mile pit mines, just huge excavations.”

In 1896, the Arctic explorer Robert Peary discovered a 31-ton meteorite guarded by Greenland’s Inuit people.

The iron rock crashed into the earth nearly 10,000 years earlier. The indigenous people worked its sacred metal for tools.

Peary took the meteorite and sold it to New York’s American Museum of Natural History. But he didn’t stop there. He also took six Native people for display with him, five of whom quickly died of tuberculosis. Museum curators skinned the corpses and displayed the skeletons. A little boy named Minik survived to see the exhibition, not realizing his father’s bones were part of the show.

“Ahnighito (Cape York Meteorite) in transit to the American Museum of Natural History, 1897” is Elder’s charcoal and pulverized meteor dust drawing based on a photograph.

“I came across these stories about how all meteorties are held sacred by indigenous people,” she said. Peary “used a lot of technology used in slave ships. To me, the image speaks to all those stories of removal. There’s no protection of meteorites. It’s part of a large legacy.”

“Unprocessed Uranium,” 2017, is the only color drawing in the collection. In search of government-controlled (and illegal) yellow cake uranium, Elder asked representatives from small science museums what sat in their “uranium” cases.

“I’d ask, ‘What is in this case?’ and they’d say, ‘Ground-up chalk’,” Elder said. “One of the museums said, ‘Oh, we use Fruit Loops.’ They want to show it to people, but they can’t.”

Elder mixed soil from a New Mexico uranium mine with yellow chalk.

“I think I just have always been a questioner,” she said. “Part of it is I do a lot of hiking and backpacking. It’s really clear that pristine nature doesn’t exist anymore.”