Reminiscence often involves a lot of romanticizing, as many like to dip the past in the tender colors of reconciliation. In Delft blue and seen from a bird’s eye perspective, the bend in the Rhine near Biblis with the cooling towers in the foreground definitely has idyllic properties. And the countryside along the Neckar near Obrigheim has its own special allure. The sheep that graze beneath a high sky on a meadow in front of the Brokdorf pressurized water reactor give the scene a cheery, bucolic touch. Yet it was only 35 years ago that 100,000 people marched in protest against what was Germany’s largest nuclear power station at 1,480 MW. In October 1986 it nevertheless started feeding the grid, the first reactor to do so worldwide following the Chernobyl disaster. All of this is surely worthy of a plate on the wall and a sentimental reflection, and not just to the old street fighters who called for an end to nuclear power.
Photo © Andree Weissert/Mia Grau
Back in early Modern times, import/export was already synonymous with globalization. In the 16th century, Italian artisans had established faience glazes in the Netherlands. Yet the idea didn’t really spread. That began to change when the Dutch East Indies Company imported large volumes of Chinese porcelain to Europe in the early 17th century. From that point onwards, workshops in various towns in Holland started copying the Far Eastern examples and painted themes from the imported blue-and-white porcelain on the local faience wares. Soon there was hardly a plate, jug or spittoon, a vase or bowl that was not ornamented by dragons, peacocks or exotic vines.
Not that the fashion really lasted, and thus Dutch china workshops had the smart idea of resorting to local themes: country vistas complete with canals, or the latest technical achievements such as sailing ships and windmills as the proud symbols of one’s own superiority. Conversely, Chinese and Japanese manufacturers adapted to their Dutch clientele and copied and painted themes forthwith in the Delft style.
Photo © Andree Weissert/Mia Grau
If now Mia Grau and Andree Weissert have had all 19 German nuclear power stations painted for them by a china painter in Delft blue on wall plates, then they are simply continuing this historical transfer of themes and likewise the habit of always according mythic stature to what is precisely no longer cutting edge technology. Today, nuclear power stations are exactly what the windmills of yore were: “As cathedrals of a technological view of the world,” or so the brochure accompanying the series declares, “they promised independence and infinite growth. They are testimony to an era, relics of progress and signs of an epochal change.” While the windmills once had to give way to power stations and factories, today windmills are fast returning to the countryside.
Had Germany not resolved to exit nuclear power generation, the nostalgic undertone of the Atomic Plates could be read as an encouraging sign. So how about an international series? No doubt many a sweet subject could be found somewhere in-between Three Mile Island, the reactor that came close to meltdown in Harrisburg in Pennsylvania in 1979, and the sarcophagus over the Chernobyl reactor which exploded in the Ukraine back in 1986.