“Threats” by Susan Schuppli included in the exhibition Front by Front, Museum London (Canada) 17 December 2011 – 18 March 2012
Artists: Barb Hunt, Sophie Jodoin, Susan Schuppli, Ambereen Siddiqui, Althea Thauberger and Anna Wieselgren
Threat I: On April 8th 1963, the minority-government of Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was overthrown by the electorate. A defeat preceded by two back-to-back no-confidence motions over his refusal to allow American nuclear warheads to be positioned on Canadian soil. While he had previously agreed to station US Bomarc anti-aircraft missiles here, Diefenbaker reneged when it was learned that they would be outfitted with nuclear warheads. This move resulted in the resignation of his Defence Minister Douglas Harkness with whom he frequently clashed. Harkness has previously condemned Diefenbaker’s hesitation to put Canadian troops on high alert during the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 and even defied the Prime Minister by secretly agreeing to Kennedy’s request a full three days before Diefenbaker officially relented. His ousting from political power in 1963 is oft referred to by historians as “The Canadian Coup” because the Kennedy administration is known to have played an active role in slandering Diefenbaker’s image and engineering his electoral collapse—hence the “ugly” Newsweek cover and article.
Threat II: During the period of the Cold War over 50 Emergency Government Headquarters or nuclear fallout shelters were built throughout Canada. Popularly referred to as “Diefenbunkers”, the largest is the one documented here in Carp Ontario, west of Ottawa built in 1959. Although Diefenbaker authorised its construction, which included a his Prime Ministerial bedroom which is still replete with a bedside photograph of his wife Olive, he never actually set foot in the bunker. Having recently been designated a National Historic Site of Canada, the bunker has yet to undergo a museological face-lift and remains embalmed within the apprehensive days of the post-war nuclear age with papers strewn on desks, world clocks halted across time zones, and yellowed maps pinned to walls. All of the bunker’s material artefacts seemingly halted in mid-action. A provocative tension in and of itself given that the radiological regime against which its defensive architectural conceits were rallied is anything but inert. In spite of these entropic conditions which tend to diffuse the intensity of past events, the bunker’s aesthetic regime still manages to capture the chromatic forces of nuclear anxiety and even institutionalised panic that characterised much of the modern age. While most narratives of nuclear threat and first-strike capability have shifted their geo-political co-ordinates beyond the immediate shores of the Americas, the discourse still propels the lethal theories and violent events to which we have all borne recent witness.