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  • Aug 07, 2020

Video Commission Marks 75th Anniversary of Nuclear Bombing

Screengrab from ES DEVLIN and MACHIKO WESTON’s

In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively on August 6 and 9, an artwork commissioned by the United Kingdom's Imperial War Museums has been launched online

The 10-minute video I Saw the World End (2020) by London-based artist Es Devlin and long-time collaborator, designer Machiko Weston, is part of the museum’s Victory 75 series, marking 75 years since the end of World War Two. I Saw the World End was originally planned to be unveiled on the 45-meter Piccadilly Lights giant screen at London’s Piccadilly Circus, corresponding with the time of the actual bombings at 8:10 AM on August 6 and 11 AM on August 9. However, according to The Art Newspaper, the switch to a smaller debut inside the museum along with its digital release was made last minute out of respect for the victims of the Beirut port explosion, which occurred on August 4.

The split-screen work is horizontally divided by a frenetic line of light, with texts appearing above and below. Half the text is read by Devlin in English, relaying quotes from the likes of science fiction writer HG Wells who wrote of atomic energy in The World Set Free (1913), physicist Leo Szilard who first conceived the atomic bomb, and Albert Einstein, who urged the development of the bomb during the war. This is contrasted by texts read by Weston in Japanese, relaying first-hand victim accounts. Their words, accompanied by rippled animation effects, detail the build-up and devastating aftermath through different perspectives. Devlin and Weston describe the split in the screen as central to the work’s meaning, as it expresses “the potential for division . . . splitting the atom, the division between fiction and fact, race divisions, the division between humans and the planet,” according to the press release.

The first, and so far the only, time that nuclear weapons were used in warfare, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 accelerated the end of World War Two. The United States, the United Kingdom, and Republic of China had called for the surrender of Japan on July 26. Days after, the US released the world’s first deployed atomic bomb, uranium-type nuclear weapon codenamed "Little Boy," over Hiroshima. Three days later, the plutonium-type nuclear weapon codenamed "Fat Man" was denotated over Nagasaki. It is estimated that 150,000 people died in Hiroshima and 75,000 in Nagasaki, most of whom were civilians. Japan agreed to an unconditional surrender on August 14.

Es Devlin is known for creating larger-than-life kinetic sculptures that combine light, music, and language. Machiko Weston is an associate designer at Es Devlin Studio. The two have shared a studio space for over 12 years.

Kaitlin Hao is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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