Hiroshima and The Weight of Morals

The Winter Exhibition has come and gone once again and with it, our main project for the semester. Based on my previous blog posts you could probably come to the conclusion that we were focusing on Hiroshima, or more specifically the bomb that was used to destroy it. However, that’s not really the full extent of it, in truth our studies focused much more on the impact felt around the world from the creation of the bomb then the bomb itself. After all, this is a Humanities class, not Physics. To put it into simpler terms, our driving question for this project was:

“How is Hiroshima still relevant today?”

And in this post I will be taking you through the parts in this project that helped me answer this question with art at the Winter Exhibition.

I’m sure that if you’ve been following my PLP journey for a while you have become pretty well aquatinted with the idea of Historical Significance. We touch on it at least once a year after all. Well, this project‘s driving force came directly from this particular competency which is why we started off with an assignment surrounding it. Our job was to find a specific event that we thought was historically significant in one of the four topics we could have chosen: Morals, Ethics, and Philosophy, Science and Technology, Politics, Warfare, and Conflict, and Society and Culture. And we were to research and present a case for it’s significance. You can find my blog post on it here, but to be completely truthful it wasn’t what I ended up doing that helped me with my answer to the driving question, it was my rejected event that kickstarted my thinking.

You see, last year in science my teacher, Mr. Thomas, was teaching us about something called the Haber-Bosch process, which is what we use to create artificial fertilizer, allowing half of the population on the earth today to even be alive. However, the interesting part of this story comes from the fact that the man who had discovered this process, Fitz Haber, was trying to create a new chemical gas to be used by Germany in the First World War. This spurred Mr.Thomas on to talk about the Neutrality of science and how it is what people do with the science that makes it good or bad. That lesson had stuck with me for the rest of the year and into Grade 11 so when we had to choose an event, it was this scientific discovery that reminded me of that fascination with morals within science and ultimately helped me connect such a universal idea to Hiroshima.

But as with every PLP project, there was much more to what we were going to be doing with our thinking than just connecting Hiroshima to significant ideas or events. No, we needed to show our thinking in a way that only PLP would have students do. We were going to be making conceptual art.

Now, although I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you reading this would have an idea of what conceptual art is, but I’m still going to encourage you to read this short article about it just so you have a complete understanding about what I’m about to go on a bit of a rant about. The arts have never really been my forte but throughout my 16 years of life I have been exposed to a lot of it, seeing as both my grandmother as well as my pseudo uncle are both amazing artists. So although I may not be good at it myself, I can appreciate the work and ideas behind the art. Which is why I got fairly annoyed when I was introduced to the idea of conceptual art, more specifically ready-mades, and how much people would pay for the art (or the idea, if you want to sound pretentious). I remember Mr. Hughes making a point about how we connect monetary value to the amount of work done for a piece of art, not the idea behind it, and I think that that was very valid point. However, when I am shown a urinal with a signature on it and am told that that is art, it’s very hard to not get a little annoyed. That’s why our trip downtown was a crucial step in helping me with my art for the exhibition.

We ended up going to two different galleries that day, the Contemporary Art Gallery and the Vancouver Art Gallery. Both were displaying conceptual art, obviously, but even though the Vancouver Art Gallery was showing Yoko Ono’s collection it was one of the artists at the Contemporary Art Gallery that really helped me in both understanding conceptual art as well as how to make good art. The reason why I think this specific piece helped me so much was because up until this point we had been seeing conceptual art that although there was an idea that was being expressed through the art there never seemed to be a clear reason for everything in the art. It was about the idea behind the art even though the art itself didn’t even seem to convey that idea. However, with this piece everything was chosen and put there with a purpose and helped tell a story that just kept getting more complex and interesting the more you looked through it. The art wasn’t just a medium to share an idea through it, it was the idea itself. It was exactly the style of art I wanted to create.

But no sooner were we learning about art and the impact of Hiroshima, it was time for the exhibition. We split ourselves into four groups, the same ones as the the ones from the first activity we did in this project and we tasked with creating a room that displayed art that each of us had created that fit with the theme we were connected to. I chose Morals, Ethics, and Philosophy. Now, up until this point I had been fairly confident in my idea of good and bad in science, seeing as how it connected to nuclear fission as being both a blessing an a curse. However, we had to get approval from the teachers before we did anything with it and due to both the fact that people were getting rejected left and right with no semblance of pity from the teachers and the fact that I am truly terrible at making pitches for my ideas, I ended up taking the entire class to “perfect” my idea and art piece. Within that time, I ended up talking with a few people in and outside of my group about both my idea and their ideas. And in having to help them brainstorm how to refine their own idea and art piece as well as having to explain and justify my idea and art, I was able to work through the parts that needed some fine tuning and get some feedback on my pitch. When I finally talked to the teachers, I was relieved to be approved.

In regards to the actual art that I ended up making; just like the art that I had seen at the art gallery, everything in my art had a purpose and a reason for looking the way it did. Up above you can read about some of the deeper themes surrounding my piece and how they were represented, but there were a couple of things I wish I could change. The main thing would to get a two sided scale instead of the singular one I had used at the exhibition, it would have done a much better job a portraying the good, bad, and neutral idea that I wanted to show with my art, as well as make sure the weights would work completely to show my point. I would have also loved to spend a bit more time going deeper into the actual impact of Hiroshima on how we view these scientific morals rather than the wider approach I took with my art. Overall though, if conceptual art is about the idea behind the art and how it is shown, I have done a good job at doing that.

But here we are, at the end of the post still with the question that was asked at the beginning, How is Hiroshima still relevant today?

I think that it is still relevant to this day because it is one of the best and most representative example of the affects of war on the so many aspects of life. One of the most specific examples is it’s complete corruption of the scientific principles used to create it. Once the war was won we found so many more ways to use nuclear fission but all we could see before was it’s destructive potential. War corrupts and Hiroshima is just the most extreme example of that corruption.

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