In this special issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, authors reflect on how, when and why art has been used to articulate destruction over the past decades. Their essays are a glimpse into the topics that were recently discussed at the 2013 Doomsday Clock Symposium in Washington, DC.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was established in 1945 by scientists, engineers, and other experts who had created the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project, and today informs the public about threats to the survival and development of humanity from nuclear weapons, climate change, and emerging technologies in the life sciences. While the Bulletin might seem like an odd place for discard studies, they have been dealing with some of the most insistent forms of waste and ruination that modern technology can provide. The fact that they have a special issue on art–on tools of representation– dovetails with the issue of making amorphous, often invisible, forms of harm, modes of circulation, and genres of materiality characteristic of waste and pollution more broadly. The special issue includes:
Art and nuclear culture, Kerry Brougher
The author traces the rise of twentieth-century “nuclear culture,” citing examples from Japan’s Godzilla movies to jazz songs. He notes that artists reacted in both positive and negative fashion to the promise of new technology, and that the public’s fear of radiation and death has paralleled its fascination with disaster.
Guernica: Horror and inspiration, Richard Rhodes
In this essay, the author describes how the destruction wrought by the indiscriminate firebombing of a small Basque town during the Spanish Civil War came to inspire Pablo Picasso’s most famous painting, Guernica.
Terror as normality, Joseph P. Masco
Reflecting on two US-engineered Cold War programs and plans, the author finds how terror, over past decades, has become a normal element in everyday US life. The historic period that saw the Corona satellite and the Single Integrated Operational Plan come to light, the author argues, taught Americans to be committed to total war as a precondition for everyday life—while locating death as exterior to the nation.
Climate change: Is seeing believing?, Gary Braasch
Images of climate change and global warming—including tens of thousands of photographs, charts, graphs, cartoons, illustrations, and moving images—have been spread across magazines, television, and films, and are scrolling down the growing array of websites devoted to some aspect of environmental news and climate change. The content of climate imagery falls into several broad categories, and not all of them have been effective in educating people about the dangers and causes of climate change or encouraging civic action and involvement. A new framing of local climate impacts and positive actions may encourage more people to take action.
Nuclear photography: Making the invisible visible, Carole Gallagher
In this essay, the author explores whether nuclear catastrophe is beyond the reach of art. A documentary photographer, she reflects on her own work capturing the lives of those who lived downwind of the nuclear tests conducted at the Nevada Test Site in the United States. Many years after being immersed in the project for a decade, and documenting the effects of 1,000 nuclear devices that had exploded above this population, the author finally arrives at the answer to her question.