Rocky Flats is one of the network of seventeen national nuclear weapons facilities operated under the direction of the Department of Energy. It is the only plant that manufactured the plutonium detonation systems, or triggers, for the nation's nuclear arsenal.
In the summer of 1989 Rocky Flats was the subject of an FBI investigation. The resulting inquiry led to the suspension of plutonium operations and made public a history of gross environmental mismanagement including the detection of sixty-two pounds of plutonium dust in the duct work of the ventilation system (enough to build six nuclear weapons). To this day it is considered one of the most contaminated sites in the world.
Operation Greenrun II Eleven 10' X 40' mosaic laser prints on billboards. Highway 93, Rocky Flats, Colorado. November, 1990 through April, 1991.
My first artistic response to Rocky Flats was in the Summer of 1989, when I was invited by the Boulder Center for the Visual Arts to produce a work for the annual Sculpture in the Park exhibition in Boulders Central Park.
Meanwhile, I had my eye on a group of billboard that were located just outside the front gates of Rocky Flats.
Before I had arrived in Boulder a group of environmentalists known as Citizens Against Billboards on Highway 93 who had objected to the billboards for aesthetic reasons, had organized a successful boycott against the clients of the billboard owners. The ads, located along one of the most scenic parts of the drive along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, were considered an eyesore. It seems clear why people from Boulder derive their sense of environmental activism from aesthetics.
Unable to convince local businesses to advertise on the billboards, the owner was driven out of business and the billboard structures stood empty for several years.
This image shows the proximity of the billboard structures to the Rocky Flats plant with the water tower and the Denver skyline just twelve miles down wind.
I recognized their potential for public art and began making proposals.
When Greenpeace learned of the project they agreed to fund the production cost.
I went to work in an old racquetball court at the University. The images were scanned into an early Macintosh and divided into grid segments. The segments were printed out on a simple office laser printer and copied onto florescent paper.
Each of eleven 10' X 40' billboard facades were made of up to 2,000 individual prints each.
A crane crew was hired to install the finished panels.
The fallout began when one of the original billboard protesters resurfaced and launched a campaign against our use of the billboards. It was news images like this that gave the project the spectacle appeal it needed to vault it into international media attention.
In the end the decision to shut down production at the Rocky Flats plant permanently was made during the six months that the Operation Greenrun II project was up. After much debate we were able to negotiate the removal of the billboards, structures and all.