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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Ilona Jurkonytė, Film and Moving Image Studies

From Temperature of War to Descending Clouds: US Bomb Archive and the Marshall Islands

Thursday, August 25, 2022 (all day)

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Daniela Ferrer



When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


This doctoral thesis presents an analysis of how audiovisual media participates in US extraterritorial nuclear weapons production. It focuses on the nuclear visual archive of the Marshall Islands and its subsequent inclusion in the experimental cinema canon. By tracing an aestheticizing shift from audiovisual data produced by the military-scientific complex, to the nuclear sublime as a representational regime, this thesis demonstrates how audiovisual technology participates in the creation of nuclear imaginaries, and (re)produces the conditions of settler colonialism. The goal of this thesis is to develop methodological and theoretical entry points for investigating the genealogy of the nuclear visual archive to highlight its incompatibility with the experiences of communities impacted by nuclear testing, and with larger planetary environmental urgencies.

The archival research and close reading of audiovisual sources demonstrate how Indigenous experiences were invisibilized through the production of a nuclear archive. First, this was accomplished through the specific set-up of the US military-scientific complex and its approach to harvesting images. Second, the process was furthered through the production of nuclear knowledge, as rendered through the aesthetic category of nuclear sublime in the film and arts milieu.

The first chapter, Ocean and Cold War, is dedicated to exposing the connections between Mackinderian notion of geopolitics as a special form of visualization and the Cold War as an oceanic process. The second chapter, Audiovisual Deterritorialization and Extraction Through Image, proposes a decolonial analysis of the inaugural moment of the US Cold War - the nuclear weapon tests in oceanic environments. As an alternative to the usual framing of Pikinni Atoll as a steppingstone for the Cold War arms race, which tends to invisibilize Marshallese experiences, the second chapter offers an analysis of Pikinni Atoll as a film set. Such shift proposes new frameworks that would allow us to embrace questions of justice in the critique of hyper-militarization, and that would create space for recognition of the worlds lost due to the production of 'US nuclear modernity'. The third chapter, The Bomb Archive or Nuclear Bomb as an Archiving Device, offers an analysis of how the notion of the nuclear sublime is complicit in misrepresentations of nuclear weapons' effects. Chapter four, Canonization of the Nuclear Sublime and Standardization of Catastrophe, narrows my analysis of the bomb archive by focusing on the US experimental artist Bruce Conner's film CROSSROADS (1976). The thesis concludes with a spacio-temporal reframing of the Cold War and its legacies as a liquid frontier regime, the implications of which are inseparable from environmental concerns.

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