To mark the 75th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6th and 9th August 2020, 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 works 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.