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'Los ecos del Proyecto Huemul' exhibition opens in Argentina

4 July 2017

View across the remains of the former experimental reactor Number 1 and towards the city of San Carlos de Bariloche on Isla Huemul, Argentina. Photograph by Rodney Harrison

The exhibition 'Los ecos del Proyecto Huemul, 1949-2017', part of the AHRC-Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Restricted Access Pilot Project, is now being hosted at the Balseiro Institute in San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina.

The Restricted Access Pilot Project, led by Trinidad Rico (Director of Cultural Heritage and Preservation Studies at Rutgers University and Honorary Senior Lecturer, UCL Institute of Archaeology) and Rodney Harrison (Professor of Heritage Studies, UCL Institute of Archaeology), explores interdisciplinary perspectives on clean energy production and landscape conservation in North Patagonia.

This project-related exhibition was curated and presents in-progress research led by Trinidad Rico and supported by Rodney Harrison on the ‘echoes’ or ‘afterlives’ of the Huemul Atomic Project, an early attempt to develop nuclear fusion technology which was established in 1949 and ran for several years under conditions of extreme secrecy on Isla Huemul, within Nahuel Haupi National Park, the oldest national park in Argentina. Their work has involved archaeological and ethnographic research on the Huemul Atomic Project, its material remains and their subsequent uses.

Biblioteca Leo Falicov, Balseiro Institute, Bariloche, Argentina. Photograph by Trinidad Rico

The Balseiro Institute is the most prestigious nuclear engineering and experimental physics research and teaching centre in Latin America, and was founded in 1955 under the direction of José Antonio Balseiro, following his investigation into the Huemul Atomic Project’s findings. Significant infrastructure from the Huemul Atomic Project was transferred from Isla Huemul and repurposed as part of the newly established Balseiro Institute.

In addition to archaeological survey of the remains of the laboratories and other facilities on the island, Rico’s work currently involves documenting these materials and their stories, whilst Harrison has been exploring the influence of contemporary and historical conservation practices on the broader landscape of the region, pursuing themes developed as part of his work on the linked AHRC-funded Heritage Futures research programme.

View of part of the exhibition in the Biblioteca Leo Falicov, Balseiro Institute, Bariloche, Argentina. Photograph by Christina Martinez

The concept and content for the exhibition was co-developed earlier in the year at an international, interdisciplinary design charrette involving representatives from the Balseiro Institute, historians, architects and archaeologists from Chile, Argentina, the US and UK. The charrette was hosted by Dr Jorge Muñoz Sougarret at the Centro de Estudios del Desarrollo Local y Regional (CEDER) of the University of Los Lagos in Osorno, Chile, in May 2017.

A key outcome of the charrette has been the establishment of the Restricted Access Research Network, an international, interdisciplinary group of scholars concerned with exploring the nexus between arts and humanities based and science based approaches to the interconnected histories of conservation and energy production within the region.

The exhibition will be on display in the Institute’s Biblioteca Leo Falicov. Research assistance for the exhibition was provided by Esther Breithoff (UCL), with further assistance from María de los Ángeles Picone (Emory University), Laura Garcia Oviedo (Balseiro Institute) and Christina Martinez (Balseiro Institute).

The Restricted Access Pilot Project received initial support from a UCL Global Engagement Strategy Leadership Fund Award (awarded by Pro Vice Provost, Latin America). It has subsequently been supported by an AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund Innovation Fund Award.

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