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Godzilla exhibit examines fallout from the nuclear age

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In their first collaboration, visual artists Brian Colley and Andrew Roberts-Gray present “The Godzilla Show: Planet Eater.” The exhibition, which takes its title from the 2018 computer-animated film of the same name, will explore two man-made phenomena: Godzilla and the nuclear bomb.

The multimedia installation opens Thursday, Sept. 29 at The Art Base in Basalt. 

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The 1954 film “Godzilla” was released just nine years after the world saw the first atomic bombs dropped by the United States military on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombings would, in effect, end World War II with the Japanese Emperor Hirohito announcing his country’s surrender on August 15, 1945.

Many in Japan, still reeling from the physical effects of radiation exposure and the psychological trauma, embraced the film’s arrival, along with its criticism of America and its use of nuclear weapons.

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Director Ishirō Honda and co-writer Takeo Murata, introduced Japanese filmgoers to a scaly, prehistoric creature, known in Japanese as “Gojira,” which was born from nuclear fission and awakened by Americans conducting nuclear tests off Japan’s shores.

“Godzilla just kept coming up for me,” is how Colley described a fascination that began ten years ago at Anderson Ranch Arts Center, when he took a class on the Japanese woodblock printing technique known as mokuhanga — taught by long-time Anderson Ranch instructor, Hiroki Morinoue. Colley made a Godzilla poster for his final class project.

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In researching Godzilla’s origins, Colley said he fell in love with the creature’s “antihero qualities.” 

“He’s sort of there to do his own thing,” the artist continued. “Like he’ll save the city for you from other monsters, but he’s also going to just wipe you out in the process. I admired that kind of guts. Just being able to be yourself. He’s somewhat of an alter-ego for me.”

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Colley, with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts from Principia College in Illinois, moved to the Roaring Fork Valley about 12 years ago and works as an independent artist and illustrator. He is the gallery manager for Carbondale Arts, and his comic series, “The Unparalleled Universe,” is featured weekly in The Sopris Sun.

Growing up in Livermore, California, Roberts-Gray earned a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute and a graduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After graduation, he and his wife, Annette, a ceramicist and painter, moved to New York City and then, in 1993, moved to the Roaring Fork Valley.

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Roberts-Gray’s father was a computer scientist, and his mother is an artist and former art educator. “My roots are these two different worlds that combined inside me — with my interests in science fiction, the history of the computer and art,” he said.

In 1933, physicist Leó Szilárd developed his concept of nuclear chain reactions and the following year patented the idea of a nuclear fission reactor. That scientific discovery would, in 1942, lead to the fruition of the Manhattan Project in the Los Alamos desert of New Mexico.

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Roberts-Gray has incorporated Szilárd’s diagrams into some of his works.

Another nuclear-era element molded in with the exhibit, is a leaflet that Allied aircrafts would drop warning Japanese civilians of impending air bombings and advising them to evacuate immediately. Colley used reproductions of the leaflets to create origami cranes, representing the Japanese practice known as “senbazuru.” The tradition states that if you join together a thousand origami paper cranes, a wish will be granted to you by the Shinto gods.

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After the Manhattan Project’s first successful detonation test of a nuclear weapon, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the wartime head of the Los Alamos Laboratory, expressed his regret by remarking the sight of the explosion brought to mind a verse from the sacred Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” 

Roberts-Gray’s father would work for the former Manhattan Project scientist, Edward Teller, at the Lawrence Radiation Lab (now the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory) when the Cold War’s existential threat of nuclear obliteration became a palpable proposition, as Roberts-Gray explained, “because the technology had reached the point where we could erase ourselves.”

An opening reception will take place on Sept. 29, from 5 to 7 p.m.

Colley and Roberts-Gray will lead an artist talk on Oct. 6 at 5:30 p.m. at The Art Base’s Alpenglow exhibition space. The exhibition, sponsored by U.S. Bank, runs through Oct. 29.

For more information about The Art Base, go to www.theartbase.org

Tags: #Andrew Roberts-Gray #Art #Brian Colley #Godzilla #The Art Base
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