The Manhattan Project

For this project we learnt about the history of the Manhattan Project and the atomic bombs it created. We also explored the lasting effects of dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and how it impacts the politics of today’s world. We were to create a conceptual art piece which conveyed the ideas and impacts of the Manhattan Project. We used the written work of John Hersey’s novel “Hiroshima” and a field study to look at conceptual art at the Vancouver Art Gallery. We then combined this learning to produce our final project. Our driving question was: How can we use conceptual art to convey ideas about the Manhattan Project?

We started with a novel study on “Hiroshima” by John Hersey. Reading this helped develop my understanding of the human impacts of the bomb. The book helped provide us with inspiration for our conceptual art piece. For example, towards the end of the book it discusses how different countries began to test and develop their nuclear bomb programs so we connected this to what it’s like today. Ideas from the book are reflected in our art such as exploring the emotions which are connected to nuclear weapons.


Our field study went to the Contemporary Art Gallery and the Vancouver Art Gallery which  featured an exhibit on Yoko Ono that was very interesting. In class we talked a lot about conceptual art and looked at lots of pictures but we did not have the opportunity to see anything in a gallery yet. Once we were at the VAG we were able to get a first hand look at what conceptual art is and how it is displayed in the space. This is a key element for conceptual art. We were now able to see things in person that we learned in class. The piece called “Bottoms” in particular stood out to me. It was a 78 minute long video of 365 people moving their naked bottoms. I believe it was meant to represent a kind of signature for a petition. I also really liked the anonymity and androgyny it had because you couldn’t tell who the people were or their gender. The trip gave me more of an understanding about what conceptual art could look like in practice in an actual gallery.  This also  inspired us to create more of an installation project.

Our conceptual art piece titled “Tension” was a collabortive piece with my classmate Rhiann. It consisted of several balloons filled with equal amounts of sand suspended from the ceiling by fishing line over a bunch of thumb tacks and nails that were glued sticking straight up. Our intention from creating this piece is to create the feeling of tension and anxiety. The balloons represent the nuclear weapons that different nations have. The larger the balloon the more nuclear weapons the nation is presumed to have in their possession but because they all have the same amount of sand in them they all really represent the same amount of threat. The closer the balloons are to the spikes the closer to setting them off the country is. The tension is demonstrated with balloons that could pop at any moment like how nuclear weapons could go off at any moment and cause mutual destruction. It also represents the tension between all the nations that have nuclear weapons and the tension of not knowing if nations have these weapons or not. This tension causes concern that many nations who we know have these weapons but also a possibility that some countries may unknowingly have these weapons too. 

During class our idea sparked from the mention of how after Hiroshima nations started feeling threatened into making nuclear weapons. Throughout this rush to create these weapons some nations who weren’t a well known threat became one due to possessing nuclear weapons. As more weapons were built the tension grew and to this day keeps growing with new technological advancements.

We thought on many concepts behind the art piece and we settled on tension and were able to connect it to the main idea of the Manhattan project and how it changed politics. 

Through building on the concept of tension and political tension we discovered a couple things. The first being that we discovered the tension and concern that a nation could have nuclear weapons yet no one could know. The second is that there is concern that the smallest nation could destroy the biggest nation with the press of a button. We also discovered that this art piece is not just connected to the Manhattan project and the Cold War but it continues to represent the tension in the world today.


The entirety of this project has allowed me to develop a  broader understanding of how to analyze and critique a written piece. It also gave me the opportunity to take my experience in abstract art and put it into a conceptual art piece. The installation has allowed me to comment on a significant historical event through a visual art piece .


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