I’m speaking at a conference called “Through Post-Atomic Eyes” in Toronto next month.
Through Post-Atomic Eyes brings together an interdisciplinary group of artists and scholars to explore the complex legacy of the atomic age in contemporary art and culture. In what ways do photography and other lens-based art practices shed light on this legacy in the 21st century, and how has atomic culture shaped contemporary intersections of photography, nuclear industries, and military techno-cultures? Join us as we explore some of the most urgent issues of our time, from climate change and the Anthropocene to surveillance culture and the advent of drone warfare, through a post-atomic lens.
Through Post-Atomic Eyes is scheduled to coincide with John O’Brian’s groundbreaking exhibition, Camera Atomica, the first substantial exhibition of nuclear photography to encompass the postwar period from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 to the meltdown at Fukushima in 2011. Now on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario (until November 15, 2015).
(John’s exhibition at the AGO follows a successful showing in London late last year: see my post here).
I confess that when I received the Toronto invitation I was at a loss: how was I supposed to view drone warfare through post-atomic eyes? At first sight, any comparison between America’s nuclear war capability and its drone strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen seems fanciful. The scale of investment, the speed and range of the delivery systems, the nature of the targets, the blast radii and precision of the munitions, and the time and space horizons of the effects are so clearly incommensurable. So I dragged my feet, accepting the invitation because the other presenters (see the poster above) include so many people whose work I admire, but not making much progress.
Eventually I realised that the root problem was that, while I had extensive research on genealogies of bombing under my belt, I knew next to nothing about The Bomb. So, while I’ve been burrowing away in the archives in London for my project on casualty evacuation 1914-2014 and also inching my “Dirty Dancing’ essay into the home straight, I’ve also been reading and reading and reading. So much wonderful, sobering material out there, some of which surfaced in my recent posts on Hiroshima and the metastases of nuclear weapons since then.
And, as I’ll try to show in detail in my next post, I’ve found a startling series of coincidences, convergences and transformations. I now have a rough shape for my presentation, which I’m calling “Little Boys and Blue Skies“: a title which, as you’ll soon see, traces an arc from bombing Hiroshima to bombing Waziristan. Watch this space.