• Geometries of hope and fear: the iconography of atomic science and nuclear anxiety in the modern sculpture of World War and Cold War Britain

      Burstow, Robert; University of Derby (Routledge, 2014)
      This chapter will investigate the ways in which nuclear science and technology figured in a variety of sculptural forms in early Cold-War Britain. First, it will show how from the 1930s the constructivist sculptors Hepworth and Gabo embraced atomic science, encouraged by contact with the crystallographer J.D. Bernal. Through works alluding to the geometry of crystal structures, they signified optimistic hopes for increased human understanding in a Socialist society. Second, the chapter will examine how the creation and use of atomic weapons led surrealist, social-realist and Pop sculptors to make critical works about nuclear science and technology. From the ambivalent to the satirical, works by Moore, Paolozzi, Peri and Self exemplify a range of sculptural representations of nuclear arms and the disarmament campaign (in which several sculptors and critics were active). Third, the chapter will consider the extent to which the expressionist sculpture of Butler, Chadwick, Clarke, Meadows and others has also been understood to reflect fears of nuclear warfare, despite an absence of explicit ‘nuclear’ signification. As this now familiar interpretation of their imagery has invariably been supported by Read’s famous characterization of it as ‘the geometry of fear’, the chapter will particularly interrogate the intended meaning of his epithet and how and when it became associated with the nuclear threat. Throughout the chapter, sculptors’ and contemporary critics’ explanations of these disparate formal and iconographical engagements with nuclear science and technology will be scrutinized, alongside analysis of how they related to the aesthetic and ideological oppositions of the Cold War.