polonium

by hanna coy
hanna coy, polonium, mixed media, 2018.

This piece was inspired by the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. He was poisoned with Polonium-210 and died of radiation sickness. The painting is a reflection on the history of violence and scientific discovery from the early 20th century to the present day and a commentary on how scientific discovery and myriad forms of violence are interwoven. It also reflects the loss of control we have over scientific knowledge, and how scientific ideals are contaminated with and leveraged in relation to political impulses.

The name of the element Polonium comes from Marie Curie’s homeland of Poland. Her early investigations into radioactive elements were important to the scientific revolution of the beginning of the 20th century. Putin has used Polonium as an assassination tool without any consequences, illustrating how scientific discoveries articulate with political and state violence.

The ghostly figure on the left is intended to suggest Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom. Her sickly and shiny lungs represent the way that Polonium-210 can accumulate in the lungs of smokers. The central figure is perhaps Litvinenko, perhaps the angel of death.

Hanna Coy is a visual artist, poet, and hydrologist. She lives in Tucson, Arizona, and enjoys rivers, even when the only time they flow is the brief period following a rainstorm.