Powerful atomic bomb test designs walk between beauty and terror

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Joel Daniel Phillips’ new exhibition at the Hashimoto Contemporary Gallery in San Francisco includes designs like “A Tidal Wave Two Miles High”, based on photographs from the atomic bomb test on Bikini Atoll in 1946. Photo: Contemporary Hashimoto

Several years ago, when Joel daniel phillips moved to his studio on the edge of the old Hunters Point Shipyard in the Bayview district of San Francisco, he found a 12 foot barbed wire fence in the back with a sign saying “Hazards May to be present ”and what the artist calls“ a giant ass radioactive symbol.

Phillips had made meticulously rendered larger-than-life drawings of San Franciscans “living on the fringes,” including a friend who had grown up near the toxic shipyard and had died of cancer, just like the man’s mother. Phillips began researching the history of Hunters Point, where dozens of radioactive Navy ships were brought back from atomic bomb testing on Bikini Atoll in the Pacific in 1946 and jet washed down. sand, leaving behind a radioactive residue that local children call “black beauty sand”.

Working from archival photographs and films of the shattering atomic test called Baker – the underwater explosion produced a huge mushroom cloud several miles high that symbolized the nuclear age – Phillips made the mighty drawings of his new exhibition at the Hashimoto Contemporary gallery on Sutter Street, “Dangers May Be Present”.

Alluring and terrifying, they include multiple designs of this unfathomable deadly cloud, rising in the idyllic setting with palm trees swaying in the breeze; a very graphic image of sailors covering their eyes from the blinding explosion, which Phillips titled “They Could See Their Bones” because that’s what the Sailors described; and a wary eyed goat, one of many animals used in the tests, being scanned for radiation.

Browsing through hundreds of photographs at the San Francisco Public Library and at OpenSF History, “I was trying to find images that line the line between beauty and terror,” says Phillips, 29, who lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. , over a two-year art period. camaraderie.

“You could look at them and say, ‘Wow, they’re strikingly beautiful, but also absurdly terrifying and apocalyptic,” adds the artist, who speaks of Americans’ amnesia about history and “ tendency to consume events, current or past, almost as entertainment.

This drawing of American sailors shielding their eyes from the atomic explosion of Bikini Atoll in 1946 is one of the works in Joel Daniel Phillips’ exhibition at Hashimoto Contemporary, “Hazards May Be Present”. Photo: Contemporary Hashimoto

These ideas inform these charcoal, graphite and ink drawings. One is a surprisingly laughable image of a Navy admiral and his wife cutting a mushroom-shaped cake at a reception celebrating the Marshall Islands nuclear tests in 1946.

Phillips compares the scene, with its ‘sense of wonder for the future and technology’, to a 1950s science fiction novel by Robert heinlein. “For the moment, it was celebrated. Now, we can’t help but look at this and step back.

For Phillips, who loves classical painting and hates the term photo-realism, drawing such detailed drawings is “an anachronistic and laborious process”, a kind of meditation and “the best way I know of to understand anything”. The 21 small serial images of the Bikini explosion, which he also animated, lasted a month, “a whole month watching what happened in one second, one second that changed the world.”

For more information, visit www.hashimotocontemporary.com.

Kronos to Cal

The famous Kronos Quartet plans to create commissioned works for their ambitious Fifty for the Future project, designed to train student musicians and young pros, at Berkeley’s Cal Performances on January 25.

In addition to parts of Misato mochizuki, Mario galeano toro and Soo Yeon Lyuh, who joins the quartet on Korean two-string violin, Kronos will perform other works with students from Berkeley High, Crowden School and Oakland School for the Arts.

For more information, visit www.calperformances.org.

Money for the arts

Ten Bay Area nonprofit arts groups will each receive $ 150,000 each from the Hewlett Foundation to create new productions, the latest round of Hewlett’s $ 8 million five-year commissioning initiative.

California Shakespeare Theater grant will go to the commission of an Oakland-born playwright Marcus Gardley to write a work inspired by Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and focusing on women like his grandmother, who emigrated here during WWII to work in the Richmond shipyards “during a period of mass migration and vast social upheaval in the United States ”.

Center for Asian American Media to commission multidisciplinary play from playwright-storyteller Brenda Wong Aoki titled “J-Town, Chinatown, Our Town”, based on his family history here.

For the full list, visit www.hewlett.org/50commissions.

The new addition of the SF Conservatory

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music has added another notable musician to its faculty: Jeremy Denk, a compelling pianist and prose writer.

The soloist, who performs with top orchestras like the New York Philharmonic, Chicago and San Francisco Symphonies, will begin teaching piano students next year. He joins a department which includes artists as well known as Garrick ohlsson and Jon nakamatsu.

For more information, visit www.sfcm.edu.




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