Action-Reaction: Dynamics of a Curious Mind
Newton’s third law of motion—to every action there is always opposed an equal reaction—found profound resonance in the world of nuclear arms policy and negotiations. As Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara concisely articulated in a 1967 speech: “Whatever be their intentions, whatever be our intentions, actions – or even realistically potential actions – on either side relating to the build-up of nuclear forces, be they either offensive or defensive weapons, necessarily trigger reactions on the other side. It is precisely this action-reaction phenomenon that fuels an arms race.”
Brian Dailey engages with this action-reaction syndrome in his sculpture, Action-Reaction: Dynamics of a Curious Mind. With models of the heart of atomic weapon design mounted on two classical black marble columns, the artist constructs a theoretical exercise in nuclear arms control and discourse. On the pedestal engraved Q.E.D. (which is what had to be proven) sits a white truncated icosahedron; on the one engraved Q.E.F. (which had to be done) is a black truncated icosahedron. These two Latin phrases are thus positioned in the same relationship to each other as action and reaction in Newton’s law.
Perched atop the pedestals, the truncated icosahedrons float under glass domes that act like shrouds for nuclear warheads. The truncated design of the platonic icosahedron was used in the creation of the first Trinity atomic explosion, which ushered in the era of nuclear weapons. In Dailey’s configuration, hexagonal stainless steel pillars supporting perfectly round stainless steel orbs pierce these geometric spheres. These orbs represent the “pit” or “demon pit,” the nuclear “trigger” used in the design of the modern day hydrogen bomb. The truncated icosahedron and spherical “pit” are thus the seeds from which nuclear weapons evolved. In essence, these are the triggers of the Q.E.D. and the Q.E.F. of the nuclear arms race.