Felicia Honkasalo (b. 1986) is a visual artist based in Helsinki, Finland.

Her work, exhibited globally, includes solo and group shows, international film screenings, and her 2019 monograph, Grey Cobalt, published by Loose Joints.

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Felicia Honkasalo — Atomic

“Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds”

Commissioned for the 2nd Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art, RIBOCA2, 2020. Made as part of HNV Collective in collaboration with the Detector Laboratory of Helsinki Institute of Physics, Finland.

"In the mirror, I could see the stone, flash purple and blue, and yellow and scarlet, and green"

"They took my photograph, it became our silent witness."

Atomic, 2020

Medium: Installation, sculpture, video
Sculpture: Palladium, 14K Gold, Trinitite (fused earth taken from the testing area at Alamogordo, New Mexico). Dimension: 4 cm diameter, 2 cm height (approximate) Reproduction of a hair ornament that was originally designed in the shape of an atom by Mark Koven of Koven Freres, New York. Location of original jewel unknown.
Video: 16:9, color, sound. Duration: 13 min

Atomic centres on the particular history of a jewel made of Trinitite, a mineral produced by humans. Trinitite came into existence as an incidental by-product of the Trinity test, the prototype atomic bomb detonated in the desert of New Mexico in July 1945.

The U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on Japan less than one month later. Following this, Trinitite was marketed as a jewel ​to promote atomic force, and described as harmless in order to refute Japan’s ​claims about radioactivity in the bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the video installation ​Atomic​, ​Honkasalo-Niemi-Virtanen emphasise the tension between seductive propaganda and ​the actual effects of the bombs which definitively transformed these sites and their inhabitants.

Held in a delicate case shaped like an atom, the exhibited piece of Trinitite jewellery draws the visually sublime together with the violence of its history. After the end of World War Two, Hollywood actresses and Miss USA modelled this jewellery, a tacit endorsement of American superiority.

With cut and polished Trinitite in their hair, their images were diffused in magazines and newspapers, carrying the tragic beauty of a classic horror movie heroine. These female celebrities were used to validate the most destructive weapon ever used on earth, garnished with the spoils of radioactive fallout, a scenario that exposes both the mechanics of power and the masculine erotic gaze that drives it.

Framing this narrative within the surroundings of New Mexico, ​Atomic decentralises the human point of view by casting Trinitite as its central protagonist. The historical implication of this material is profound. The birth of Trinitite marks a break in human and non-human history, the creation of a new layer of the earth. Whereas the atomic explosion is a brief event, ​Atomic zooms out, turning to the long term effects of radioactivity on an entire ecosystem.

The narrative now unfolds on a ​geological scale, both temporally and geographically. As the human fades from the desert setting, the consequences of their actions give way to a picture of environmental resilience.

Felicia Honkasalo