The Complexities of the Technicolor Mushroom Cloud

A technicolor mushroom cloud art performance by Cai Guo-Qiang

Over at The Point, Emilio Cornay del Junco thinks about the carnivalesque aesthetic subtext of a recent art performance by Cai Guo-Qiang, which included the “detonation” of a 75-foot-tall technicolor mushroom cloud:

In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the first artificial nuclear reaction, it staged a series of events culminating in the release of a rainbow-colored mushroom cloud by the Chinese art star Cai Guo-Qiang from the roof of the main library, which was built in the late Sixties next to the site of Fermi’s reactor.

As the press materials for the event explained, coloring in the mushroom cloud was meant to represent the dual nature of nuclear energy—the representation of its “most destructive form” is enlivened “with color as a profound symbol of creativity and peace.” This was appropriate since, according to the PR write up, the Manhattan Project itself had a “complex legacy,” and nuclear power has a “paradoxical,” “yin-yang nature”: the work is meant to capture the inseparability between the good, creative side of nuclear energy and the wicked, destructive one. Of course, the same physical processes allow the flattening of cities and the treatment of cancerous tumors. Is it so self-evident though that radiation therapy, or nuclear power (perhaps more controversially), can’t be had without thousands of nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles pointed at one another across the Pacific?

Read the whole thing.