To mark the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6th and 9th August 2020, (IWM) Imperial War Museums have commissioned a new work from leading artist Es Devlin working in collaboration with her long-term studio colleague Machiko Weston.
Closely aligning with the timings of the actual bombings, the 45-metre-wide digital work will be shown on the Piccadilly Lights giant screen in Piccadilly Circus at 8.10am on Thursday 6th and at 11am on Sunday 9th August and simultaneously on the Imperial War Museum website.
The new commission, I Saw The World End, responds to the moment the nature and consequences of war were irrevocably redefined, reflecting on the impact of the event from both a British and a Japanese perspective.
Locked down in their separate studios, the text has been researched and collated by the two artists from a range of sources in English and Japanese. Half of the text, read by Devlin in English, traces the origination of the atomic bomb in fiction by HG Wells, the account of the translation directly from fiction to physics by Leo Szilard, and the aspiration, rationale and rehearsal by the leading protagonists of the Manhattan project. The other half of the text is read in Japanese by Weston – with simultaneous translation into English – which are all accounts of the two moments in time when the atomic bombs landed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
A stipulation from Piccadilly Lights to divide the screen (in keeping with its original multi-screen composition) inspired a central aspect of the work’s final form. The screen-splitting line becomes the essence 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 composers and sound designers Polyphonia, has been created using binaural acoustic techniques – allowing a further expression of division – as the two voices appear to be spatially divided between right and left ears of headphones through which viewers will listen while watching the big screen.
The United States detonated two nuclear weapons over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945, respectively, with the consent of the United Kingdom, as required by the Quebec Agreement. The two bombings killed over 100,000 people directly, most of whom were civilians, and caused thousands more to die of their injuries or the after-effects of radiation. The detonation of these weapons remains the first and only time they have been used in war.
I Saw The World End 08.10 am BST on 6th August 2020 11.00 am BST on 9th August 2020
Piccadilly Lights, Piccadilly Circus, London W1B 5RA iwm.org.uk
Es Devlin is known for creating large-scale sculptures and performance spaces that combine light, music and language including Memory Palace in 2019 which mapped shifts in human perspective over 73 millennia, and the reflective labyrinthine self-portrait MirrorMaze in 2016. Her work in collective, AI-generated poetry has been seen at the Serpentine Gallery, V&A and Barbican and is now informing her design for the UK Pavilion for the World Expo 2021. She collaborated with theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli on a collective reading of his illuminating work on the nature of time and has conceived stage sculptures with Beyoncé, Billie Eilish, The Weeknd and U2 as well as Olympic Ceremonies and two decades of opera, drama and dance worldwide. Her practice was the subject of the Netflix documentary series Abstract: The Art of Design, and she has been named artistic director of the 2020 London Design Biennale. Devlin has been awarded the London Design Medal, three Olivier awards, a University of Kent doctorate and a UAL fellowship. She has been named RSA Royal Designer for Industry and was made OBE in 2015.
Machiko Weston is an Associate Designer at Es Devlin Studio, having trained in Architecture at the Nagoya Institute of Technology and Set Design for Stage and Screen at the Wimbledon School of Art. She has worked on multiple exhibitions and stage projects around the world including Die Tote Stadt at the Finnish National Opera and Tokyo’s New National Theatre, The Lehman Trilogy at the National Theatre and New York’s Park Avenue Armory, High Tide for Carmen at the Victoria & Albert Museum, and concerts tours such as Adele Live 2016. Core interests in her personal art practice include visual storytelling, perspective in scaled model-making, and the relationship between Japanese and British culture.
IWM (Imperial War Museums) tells the story of people who have lived, fought and died in conflicts involving Britain and the Commonwealth since the First World War.
Our unique collections, made up of the everyday and the exceptional, reveal stories of people, places, ideas and events. Using these, we tell vivid personal stories and create powerful physical experiences across our five museums that reflect the realities of war as both a destructive and creative force. We challenge people to look at conflict from different perspectives, enriching their understanding of the causes, course and consequences of war and its impact on people’s lives.
IWM’s five branches which attract over 2.5 million visitors each year are IWM London, IWM’s flagship branch that recently transformed with new, permanent and free First World War Galleries alongside new displays across the iconic Atrium to mark the Centenary of the First World War; IWM North, housed in an iconic award-winning building designed by Daniel Libeskind; IWM Duxford, a world renowned aviation museum and Britain’s best preserved wartime airfield; Churchill War Rooms, housed in Churchill’s secret headquarters below Whitehall; and the Second World War cruiser HMS Belfast.