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How I Learned to Stop Worrying (1945-2016) CFCCA, Manchester 20th October 2016 - 22nd January 2017

Kirsty Harris
How I Learned to Stop Worrying (1945-2016)
21 October 2016 – 22 January 2017

 

CFCCA, Market Buildings, 13 Thomas St, Manchester M4 1EU.

This is Harris’s first solo exhibition in an institution, here she explores the notion of nuclear explosions as cultural, historical and iconic symbols. Her attention turns to the role China played as she filters information from official data and propaganda films made to celebrate successful tests which, by the time they reach her, have been overdubbed with American voices. She references the scale, beauty and the abhorrent nature of the mushroom clouds whilst also delving into the periphery of the subject and its surrounding evidence and equipment.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying (1945-2016) is the audio work central to the exhibition. The title being derived from Kubrick's 1964 satirical film Dr. Strangelove, it presents a musical account of every officially recorded nuclear explosion. Eight musicians play an instrument to represent each of the countries that partook. Within the composition, each second corresponds to a month in history and each new note depicts a specific bomb. The sheer number of nuclear tests that have been unleashed; underground, into the atmosphere and in some cases beyond - becomes evident when contemplating the 14 minute long piece.

Accompanying the soundscape, Harris’ silk cyanotype 596 spills from above. Each square inch of the print represents ten tons of TNT- the unit of measurement applied when calculating the yield of a nuclear test. The negative used in the production of this work was generated from her silverpoint drawing, of the same name, portraying China’s debut atomic test in 1964. The chemical-soaked-silk was then exposed under the sun; the largest example of thermonuclear fusion in our solar system.

Moments from a Chinese government’s propaganda film are isolated in the framed works. Here bleach is used as an oxidising agent, the mark making eradicating the colour and only becoming fully visible minutes after the brush has left the paper. Inside a plinth the miniature projection entitled The Victim, shows a decommissioned Yak-11 endlessly turning like a trapped animal in the desolate landscape of the Lop Nur Desert. Its parts are picked off chaotically by the forces from the blast wave.

The Comrades raises notions of alarm, protection, security and emergency. These anthropomorphic forms, often seen on our streets like reluctant guards to a road sign or a slumped drunk, are captured in a moment of ambiguous unity.

In her largest piece Test No.6, China's first H-Bomb is depicted with every square inch of the painting now representing a thousand tons of TNT. The work is her meditation on this fleeting moment, a durational recording of the iconic symbol of ultimate power and destruction that could never be painted from life.

While the mushroom cloud itself is nothing more than the laws of physics and chemistry behaving as they should, what it represents to this day is man’s ability to control mankind’s conclusion.