The story begins with an act of Cold War espionage. In 1965, the CIA and the Indian Intelligence Bureau collaborated to install a plutonium-powered spy device on Nanda Devi, patron mountain of the Indian Himalayas, to intercept Chinese nuclear missile data. A terrible storm interrupted the mission, and the device was abandoned on the mountainside. It has never been found, yet its invisible environmental fallout endures.
During a mountaineering expedition in 1978, a decade after the device was lost, Soin’s father and his team took a photograph of Nanda Devi that was later made into a national postage stamp. The mountain’s nuclear landscape thus began to transmit messages.
Static Range is a conflation of these public and personal histories. Through an exchange of letters, human dissent is coded into the voice and perspective of the mountain—the vulnerable victim of deep, ecological violence. For Soin, the mountain is “a canvas for speculations and reflections about nuclear culture, porosity, leakages, toxicity and healing, spiritual-scientific entanglements, environmental catastrophe, and post-nation states.” The exhibition situates Nanda Devi within a global entanglement of nuclear sites—from the Lake District in England to Fukushima in Japan to Chernobyl in Ukraine—haunted by Chicago’s own history as a pivotal research site for the Manhattan Project.
Conceived as an immersive environment, Static Range presents a constellation of various media, including poetry, music, video, textile, ceramic, works on paper, and a therapeutic garden. It includes original and newly commissioned works by Soin, as well as historical works from the Art Institute’s collection, and is designed by Chicago-based architectural office Future Firm in close collaboration with the artist.
Himali Singh Soin: Static Range is curated by Irene Sunwoo, John H. Bryan Chair and Curator of Architecture and Design, and is accompanied by the publication of an artist stamp book that includes texts by Soin and Sunwoo, and scholars Lola Mac Dougall and Kostas Stasinopoulous.
Major support for the Art Institute of Chicago’s presentation of Himali Singh Soin: Static Range is provided by The Joyce Foundation.
Additional support is contributed by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts.