From Crossbow to H-Bomb
With its title incised into the granite plinth, Brian Dailey’s From Crossbow to H-Bomb shares with other works in his Lamentations series a disquieting engagement with the aesthetics of nuclear iconography in the atomic age. The contemplative quality of this pristine sculpture encourages us to reflect upon the development of weaponry over the history of humankind and our exponentially increasing capacity to create the means for our own destruction.
In a contemporary take on turning swords into plowshares, Dailey repurposes an ancient Chinese bolt—the projectile fired from a Bronze Age crossbow—thereby transforming a prehistoric weapon into a work of modern art. The juxtaposition of the archeological artifact and the imposing polished Chinese granite circle in which it is encased signals the complex meanings embedded in the sculpture. In this calibrated construction, the viewer is presented with a dramatic illustration of the difference in kinetic energy released between the crossbow and the H-bomb. Thus what we are seeing is the visual manifestation of the evolution in scale of the destructive power of these two weapons as determined by the equation 1 x 1015. The artist’s carefully calculated dimensions are based on the relationship of 100 to 1,000,000,000,000,000 joules, the measurement of energy generated, respectively, by a crossbow and an H-bomb.
The massive reflective circle delicately balanced upon the rectangular pedestal is more than a striking framing device. Inspired by the bi, an ancient Chinese jade disc dating back to the Neolithic period, this form is redolent with symbolic connotations for the artist. Placing the tip of the crossbow bolt at the central axis of the dense black ring, Dailey has constructed a portal in time linking the two forms visually and conceptually. Although little is known about the original significance of the bi stones, these laboriously crafted objects are evidence of the concentration of power and resources in the hands of a prehistoric elite. This dynamic, Dailey notes, is echoed today with the concentration of power in the hands of a political and military elite that controls the consequential decisions over the employment of nuclear weaponry. Moreover, as a symbol of the sky or heaven (first recorded as such by the Chinese in the 2nd c. BCE), the stones are associated with the early development of cosmological concepts with an implicit reference to the sun. Here, too, the artist finds a resonance, envisioning a blinding sun and a sky erupting with nuclear detonations.
Far more than a complex mathematical exercise, From Crossbow to H-Bomb is in fact a meditation on the larger themes raised by the Lamentations series. It challenges viewers to contemplate the enormity of the threat posed by nuclear weapons in the hands of a world seemingly incapable of comprehending the catastrophic cost to humanity of the escalation of an arms race with no winners at the finish line. This piece is a prototype for an outdoor sculpture in which the dimensions will be re-calibrated to match the 8-ft. radius of the bi-like reflective circle.