‘Paul Tibbets, Pilot, B 29 Enola Gay, Hiroshima, 6 August 1945’ & ‘Charles Sweeney, Pilot, B 29 Bock’s Car, Nagasaki, 9 August 1945’
(Gert Jan Kocken, Exhibition view ‘Positions’, 2010, Stedelijk Museum Schiedam)
There are two exhibitions I have recently stumbled upon that highlight and investigate the legacy of the atomic bomb. One is called “Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow: Living with the Atomic Bomb, 1945-1965”. This exhibition consists mainly of ephemera relating to civil defense, and as stated on the Exhibits USA site: “explores the ways that Americans experienced the atomic threat as part of their daily lives”. The exhibition has a traveling schedule across the United States into 2017.
The second exhibition is by the artist Gert Jan Kocken at Motive Gallery in Brussels. The exhibition is titled “But We Cannot Speak About The Atoms in Ordinary Language”, and as arts writer Adam Kleinman discusses in his review of the exhibition on Art Agenda:
After Hiroshima, after Chernobyl, after Fukushima, it is time, once again, to speak about atoms. However, the title of Gert Jan Kocken’s Spartan yet powerful exhibition teases us with another question: what language shall we use, and how will such a choice temper or frame the conversation?
The exhibition brings together archival materials depicting the networks, discoveries, and communications required to develop the American, German, and Soviet nuclear programs, but these artifacts build contradictory or perhaps even troubling accounts of the official history of the nuclear age. As stated on the gallery website about the artist:
Gert Jan Kocken’s work is an ongoing research into the remembrance and visual representation of pivotal episodes in world history. When these episodes are committed to our collective memory, they form intricate constellations of facts, interpretations, opinions and visual impressions. This process of memorization is influenced by official chronicles and mass media, which offer clear-cut accounts of inherently ambiguous events. Kocken critically engages with these accounts, and offers multiple viewpoints that encourage the contemplation of alternative readings and counterfactual histories.
Click here for the PDF journal essay about the exhibition provided by the gallery.
It is very interesting to see the different ways archival materials are assessed and presented in these two exhibitions. One is a straight forward presentation of the artifacts of an era, and the other attempts to more critically reflect and reassess the ramifications of this history, and perhaps offer ways in which we may understand it anew. In either case it is an important history to try to comprehend, and each generation must wrestle with the ramifications of this calamitous inheritance.