Conscious Questions, Art and Purpose

The Nagasaki mushroom cloud rendered in cauliflower. Provocative or tasteless produce? 

Within the four months of the bomb being dropped on Nagasaki, 80,000 people had perished. Most of the dead (civilians, the lot of them) died on the first day from flash and flame burns, others from falling debris. Those who lingered eventually succumbed to radiation sickness. It put a cataclysmic end to a war that left the world shocked and stilted.

Above is the famous mushroom cloud rendered in cauliflower; below is the very real cloud rendered in smoke and flames from high above.

The dropping of the bomb was both a Japanese and American tragedy, and one of the most famous explosions man has ever made. Photographer and designer Brock Davis has been getting a lot of attention across the blogosphere recently for recreating Nagasaki and several other famous tragedy’s explosions through an unexpected medium: cauliflower.

The Hindenburg exploding over a salad bowl, and New Jersey in 1937. 

The Challenger as a cruciferous explosion, and firmly imprinted memories for America’s schoolchildren. 
Tragedy is a fact of life. By visually attracting the viewer to an image – one that seduces, alarms, informs, shocks – art about tragedy provokes a complicated response. While decades have passed between 2012 and the events above (1945, 1937 and 1986, respectively), the cauliflower interpretations are surprising enough to give serious pause. Do they offend, or instruct? Is this gimmick, or art? If it is art, what is the message? Does there need to be a message?
In an interview with artist Alicia Escott, our Editor-in-Chief discussed this issue with the artist. One of Escott’s works, depicting an explosion, was so mesmerizing it became one of her more popular pieces. Escott had been both deeply concerned the work’s message was lost in the seductive appeal of the work, yet fascinated that this should be people’s response.

Similarly challenging is the work of Mandy Barker. The beautifully lit and composed images of ocean detritus are, in this case, fetching to behold, but also portend something far more grave beneath the surface:

Barker’s series Soup takes the unsightliness of plastic and trash in the ocean and makes it pretty, not simply to assuage our senses but to open our eyes to what is a very real and ugly problem.

“The series of images aim to engage with, and stimulate an emotional response in the viewer by combining a contradiction between initial aesthetic attraction and social awareness,” she writes.

Both series of images are sobering to behold; the bold starkness of cauliflower bursting against a backdrop of black, and dispersed plastics with no oceanic boundaries laid out in technicolor. While the real world stories are effortlessly tragic, both artists give them an artistic turn at being tragically pretty.

K. Emily Bond

K. Emily Bond is the Shelter Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in southern Spain, reporting on trends in art, design, sustainable living and lifestyle.