Attentiveness to lament, in study and in practice, might be a wake-up call to a society that is too long on self-congratulations…The lament is a wake-up call to a “polity” that has watched, without much notice, the erosion of dialogic transactions that make democracy possible. And surely it is a wake-up call to […] the arts community wherein it is tempted to pander to establishment tastes. --Walter Brueggemann, Lament as Wake-Up Call
Dailey's Lamentations series is a meditation in two and three dimensions on nuclear theology and its implications in our atomic age. Comprised of diverse works on canvas, paper, glass, Plexiglas or constructed in granite, steel, plastic or wood, the series pioneers in defining an aesthetics of nuclear iconography in post-Cold War culture. As such, this project partakes in complex imagery reflecting the multifaceted meanings—secular and biblical—evoked in the concept and taxonomies of lamentations. Indeed, the theology of destruction and exile that undergirds and informs the biblical Book of Lamentations finds its mirror image in works from this series. Encapsulated in titles such as “The Delicate Balance of Terror,” “From Crossbow to H-Bomb,” and “Dichotomy of Destruction,” the genre defying assemblages that constitute this project challenge the viewer—paraphrasing one of the works—to think about the unthinkable. Like much of Dailey’s work, Lamentations reflects the artist’s decades-long engagement in international affairs, national security, and arms control.
The project takes as its springboard “Station Six” from the artist’s 2011 series 14 Stations of the Crossroads, a narrative of the artist’s life journey and a portrayal of the decisions that helped define his identity and character. In the station represented in this specific photographic tableau, he is seen lecturing on the principles of nuclear targeting, a role he took on during his tenure at the Naval Postgraduate School. Dailey's motivation for diving into national security and, especially, the realm of arms control was his desire to work to insure global stability and peace though a negotiated structural approach with all parties that established a concept of deterrence. At the NPS where the very people who controlled the unleashing of sea, air, and land based nuclear forces were his students, it was thought critical that concepts of deterrence, both US and Soviet, were also understood.
It was never Dailey's intention to delve into the black box of nuclear planning and targeting. But in the course of his experience at the NPS and subsequent employment as a professional staff member of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces and Nuclear Deterrence on the Senate Armed Services Committee, it became clear that in order to understand various concepts and dimensions of deterrence and structure for arms control treaties it was imperative to become fluent in the theology and details of nuclear strategy and planning.
Dailey’s Lamentations series is informed by this history, enabling the artist to offer a unique perspective on the themes and issues confronted here. Simultaneously elegiac and foreboding, the project can be read as a provocative wake-up call of sorts and a lament we are cautioned to ignore at our own peril.
Works in the series: