Michael Swaine

  • For Want of a Nail

    For Want of a Nail

    Amy Franceschini, Michael Swaine, and Futurefarmers

    Three nails for J. Robert Oppenheimer, more than half a century after the Manhattan Project.

    For Want of a Nail takes as its starting point a series of curious memoranda sent from J. Robert Oppenheimer's office in October 1943 and archived in the Los Alamos Historical Museum, in which the eminent scientist repeatedly requests a nail in the wall upon which he could hang his hat. The persistence and specificity of the request for this nail inspired the international art collective Futurefarmers to create, by hand (and after more than a half-century delay), three nails for the theoretical physicist: one forged from a meteorite, one cast using 1943 steel pennies, and a third made by re-fusing Trinitite, a material formed by residue from the Trinity nuclear bomb test.

    Growing out of a site-specific contribution to an exhibition in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this book engages the region's complex nuclear history as it relates to land use, resource extraction, and the far-reaching decisions that were made within the Manhattan Project. Throughout this multidisciplinary project, Futurefarmers constructs a narrative that runs parallel, and in some cases counter to, the conventional accounts of the Manhattan Project and Oppenheimer, its chief architect. Through video stills, production shots, essays, and interviews—presented in a book with uncut, unopened pages that the reader may cut to access more images—For Want of a Nail not only opens new ways to think about the region's particular atomic history, but also prompts more general reflections on how knowledge and narrative are embedded and communicated in material objects, both ephemeral and ancient.

    Contributors Peter Galison, Patrick Kiley, Lucy Lippard, Megan Prelinger and Rick Prelinger, Anne Walsh

    • Paperback $30.00 £24.00