Ai Weiwei, Es Devlin and Machiko Weston depict bombs and their impact for Imperial War Museum

In the week that marks the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings, the world-renowned artists explore themes of destruction in different ways.

4 August 2020

This week marks 75 years since atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so London’s Imperial War Museum (IWM) has worked with globally renowned artists to remember the disasters and explore the subject of bombs in shocking depth. Artist Es Devlin has collaborated with Machiko Weston, an associate designer from Devlin’s studio who trained in Nagoya, Japan, to create a timely installation to screen on Piccadilly Lights at the times the actual bombings would have happened. Meanwhile, Ai Weiwei has become the first artist to be given free creative rein of the IWM atrium, where his piece History of Bombs (pictured top) depicts the weapons life-sized, to horrifying effect.

Devlin and Weston’s piece I Saw The World End commissioned by IWM reflects on the impact of the nuclear bombings from a British and a Japanese perspective. The video piece features narration from both artists: Devlin’s in English and tracing the origination of the atomic bomb in fiction by HG Wells; its transition into physics by Leo Szilard; and its development by The Manhattan Project. Weston reads in Japanese (with translation into English) the multiple accounts of the two moments in time the bombs hit.

Inspired by their multi-screen canvas, the Piccadilly Lights, the piece uses the screen splitting line as a key part of the work, “expressing the potential for division – splitting the screen, splitting the atom, the division between fiction and fact, race divisions, the division between humans and the planet.” The soundtrack by Polyphonia also uses binaural acoustic techniques to make the voices appear to be spatially divided between right and left ears of headphones, through which viewers will listen while watching the films.

History of Bombs is a longer term piece remaining in situ until spring next year, and is documenting bombs on an encyclopaedic level. The entire floor of the atrium and its staircase are coated in full-size, 3D imagery of bombs used throughout history, highlighting their sheer scale and listing their details in a purposefully clinical and dehumanising way. Weiwei’s piece is part of IWM’s Refugees season, exploring how and why conflict has forced people to leave their homes and build lives elsewhere.

I Saw The World End by Es Devlin and Machiko Weston will screen at 8:10am on 6 August 2020 and 11am on 9 August 2020.

History of Bombs by Ai Weiwei is on view at Imperial War Museum, London until 24 May 2021.


Es Devlin and Machiko Weston for the Imperial War Museum: I Saw The World End (still)

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Ai Weiwei: History of Bombs. Copyright Imperial War Museum.

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Jenny Brewer

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