By Chris Dzaka
VANCOUVER – Nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The pair needlessly decimated land and killed thousands of people, though the second World War was already drawing to a close. John O’Brian, curator of the upcoming Vancouver Art Gallery exhibition BOMBHEAD, believes the world has forgotten how real the idea of nuclear fallout really is.
“My generation was the first to grow up with ‘the bomb,’ and it seemed after the fall of the Berlin Wall, people forgot to be afraid,” O’Brian says. “Russia and the United States weren’t going to destroy themselves and the world. The fear dropped off, but not for me.”
O’Brian is surprised even the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster failed to fully remind people of the dangers associated with nuclear energy.
BOMBHEAD will showcase 200 pieces of images and abstract art, as well as historical reminders designed to evoke a visceral reaction about the times we find ourselves in since the inception of both nuclear power and nuclear weapons.
“People thought they weren’t going to die from nuclear holocaust anymore,” O’Brian continues. “The bombs haven’t gone away. Russia, the United States and others still have 60,000 of them. I wanted to use photography and see what it could tell us or not tell us about the nuclear era we are living in. There is a better than 50 per cent chance the United States will go to war within the next year with North Korea or Iran. As if it’s possible to win a nuclear war. It isn’t possible. And if [Donald Trump] is down in the polls, that’s a good way to rally his base.”
O’Brian, Art Historian and UBC Professor Emeritus, has been invited to lecture worldwide on this subject.
“Young people have not been interested in the very real possibility of what this generation went through and the possibility of nuclear war,” he adds. “I don’t expect you to care about this; I care about this. But if you don’t care about this, what do you care about?”
O’Brian’s aim is to kindly remind young people and everyone attending the gallery that “the environment will be obliterated” if ever a bomb explodes in a city center.
The BOMBHEAD exhibit isn’t all doom and gloom. Closely linked with Takashi Murakami’s The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, O’Brian has attempted to create some ambiguity and humour within the gallery walls.
“You could say that looking at the ruins [of nuclear bomb sites] tells us about the past, the present, and possible future. Maybe people will realize we don’t want [nuclear war]. There is hopefulness from ruins. This exhibit is not meant to be completely dystopian. It wouldn’t be useful.”
BOMBHEAD runs from March 3-June 17 at the Vancouver Art Gallery.Vancouver Art Gallery