Cornelia Hesse-Honegger, Science Artist, Zurich, Switzerland

“Horrible deformations”

Cornelia Hesse-Honegger calls herself a science artist. Her watercolours of deformed insects from contaminated regions around the world can be seen in numerous exhibitions, books and media reports. In October 2015, she was awarded the Nuclear-Free Future Award 2015 in the category Enlightenment. www.wissenskunst.ch

 “I spent 25 years as a scientific illustrator illustrating publications for the Zoological Institute of the University of Zurich. It was through this that I was first commissioned to draw mutant flies back in 1967. This marked the beginning of my work dealing with the subject of human-made alternations to nature. In addition to my work for the Institute, I increasingly wanted to realise my own projects, and in 1969 I chose bugs (heteroptera) as the subject of my paintings. The creatures fascinated me because of their beauty, their abstract patterns and intense colours. It was through grappling with them that ecological issues eventually opened up.
After the 1986 nuclear disaster in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, I wanted to find out if the ionising radiation caused any visible changes in bugs and other insects. For their part, experts – even without their own research – declared that deformations and mutations would be impossible at such a weak radiation. I made my way to Sweden to the most strongly contaminated regions in western Europe where I encountered a great many physically deformed bugs. It was the first time I had come across malformed bugs in nature, and the experience made me realise that biologists had failed to pose an important question: What happens to nature as a result of human activity? For example, experts around the world were arguing that low ionising radiation is harmless (the Petkau effect). I wanted to see if this was truly the case in Switzerland, and so I went to the nuclear power plants in Aargau and the Paul Scherrer Institute. There I discovered a large number of horribly deformed insects. I published this work in Das Magazine of the Tages Anzeiger newspaper (no. 15, 1989), and my findings were hotly debated in the media in the three months that followed. The experts roundly insisted that these deformations have nothing to do with radiation. This only changed after Fukushima when Japanese researchers, inspired by my research, fed healthy butterflies foodstuffs contaminated by radiation, which then displayed malformations already in the next generation.
Many people ask me how I approach my drawings. I catch the bugs with a plastic cup and bring them home where I stun them with a vinegar-ether solution. They then sleep for three to four hours and I can observe them in peace under a binocular loupe with an up to 80x magnification. I measure the animals precisely and record everything down, describing zoological features as well as anomalies. I then use a pencil to draw the insect according to my measurements. In a final step, after I trace the pencil drawing onto watercolour paper, I paint it using a fine brush. I now have a collection of over 17,000 bugs that I collected over the years around the Sellafield nuclear complex in England, the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant at La Hague in northern France, and Chernobyl, as well as nuclear test sites and nuclear power plants in the US and Europe.
The entire work process until a finished watercolour is an artistic interaction for me. The advantage of being an artist is that I don’t have to obey doctrinal positions, institutions etc. and can pursue questions that haven’t yet been posed. I also have these freedoms because I have always financed my own projects.”
 

Who we are

Founded in 2012, the Association for Sustainable Journalism on the Internet is committed to high-quality, independent on-line journalism that stands the test of time. The association promotes and runs journalistic websites dedicated to topics that are hardly covered any more in conventional media. Its members include journalists, photographers, designers and web designers.

Pressbüro Seegrund, which was founded in 1989, is firmly established in the media landscape. Its focus is on feature reports, reportage and non-fiction books. It has launched a number of online magazines in recent years including www.alpenmagazin.org, www.mangel-und-moral.org, and the latest creation: www.mensch-und-atom.org.

About

Publisher:
Association for Sustainable Journalism in Internet,
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Editor:
Pressebüro Seegrund,
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CH-9004 St. Gallen,
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English translation:
Elana Summers

 

Russian translation:
Alexej Scherbakov

 

Local interpretors: Galina Kovalch (Belarus),
Irina Gasanova (Ukraine), Chikako Yamamoto (Japan)

 

Authors:
Martin Arnold, freelance journalist, author and media entrepreneur for the past 30 years
Urs Fitze, freelance journalist, reportage on politics, the economy, science, travel and the environment" target="_blank">www.seegrund.ch,

 

 

Our Aim

Without provoking or causing a scandal, www.society-and-the-atom.org wants to shake things up a bit by encouraging society to reflect on a subject that affects all of us: nuclear power. It is a subject that polarises, turning opponents and supporters into ideologues. And it is a subject that divides the informed and the uninformed in a way that creates intentional and unintentional dependencies. Against the background of the current debates on the 'energy transition', we want to contribute a critical discussion for all those who want to more know about nuclear power. And we want to do our bit to overcome the deep ideological divide that separates supporters and opponents. When it comes to this subject, the truth very quickly becomes relative – or is made relative. You move around in an area where experts, opinion makers, ideologues, affected persons, victims, lobbyists, politicians and world saviours jostle against each other. Everyone should be able to have their say, to tell their truth. The truth of the radiation victims as well as that of the power plant operators, the supporters and the opponents. The second objective of the book is to explore the many facets of truth – and remain receptive to all those who want to make it comfortable for us.

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