The Myth of Tomorrow

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Paper looking at nuclear power in public art.



The myth of tomorrow: nuclear power in public art
Nicholas A. Thorley

516 The Lock, Whitworth Street West, Manchester, M1 5BD, [email protected]

This paper aims to examine the public face of nuclear
power as seen through public art, to see if the dreams it once
envisioned can be reused today. Three murals have been
chosen that show how nuclear power has affected society, the
landscape and ecology.
The Festival of Britain in 1951, was a celebration of the
British technological and cultural developments of the post-war
period. Basil Spence, an architect, created an exhibition space
titled ‘Hall of the Future’ in the ‘Exhibition of Industrial
Power’. Exhibits displayed the physics behind nuclear power
and promoted its uses to the public. One such display, is a
mural by William Crosbie, entitled, The Gardeners (Figure 1).
Crosbie introduces a dream of a utopian future made
possible by nuclear power. A yin-yang sun symbolises how
humans have achieved the impossible – harnessing the energy
source of the sun. Fish and trees populate a healthy world of
abundance, along with the gardeners - two figures embracing
and holding a tray of seedlings - who cultivate this new world.
The festival was five years before the first commercial
nuclear plant, Calder Hall, was commissioned. Other hopeful
visions of the future were dreamt up, such as Joe Colombo’s
Nuclear city (Figure 2). In the late 1950s Crosbie’s dream was
beginning to be realised, but the integration of mankind,
nuclear power and the natural world were soon to be tested in
the design of Trawsfynydd power station.
The plant was to be situated in Snowdonia National Park,
an area of outstanding natural beauty that had recently received
protected status. Spence was invited to place the plant in the
landscape. He hired Sylvia Crowe, a landscape architect who
wanted to “find a means of reconciling our need for power with
our need for a landscape to live in” [1]. She removed roadside
kerbs and sparsely lit the roads. However, still struggling to
hide the hulking structure, Spence gave it the appearance of a
castle. Stolen from the vernacular, the style appropriated
connotations of romance and history. Spence envisioned it
would become ‘a beautiful ruin’.
Today, despite an attempt made to give it heritage status,
the structure is set to be demolished [2]. Trawsfynydd power
station has not become an indispensable part of the landscape.
According to Ukrainian folklore, the stork possesses
magical powers to protect and help humans. A family with a
stork’s nest on its farm will live in peace, prosperity and good
In the early 1980s in the nuclear cities of Pripyat and
Chernobyl, there must have been many storks looking after the
citizens. The towns were an enclave of prosperity in a rural
area of northern Ukraine. Citizens had plentiful and secure
jobs, cultural centres and big city entertainment. For a small
city they even had a ferris wheel, one of only four in the
USSR. In the cultural centre was a vast mural showing
studious figures, women holding baskets of food and the local
wild horses.
The nuclear disaster at the Unit 4 reactor in 1986 changed
this community forever.
A mural at the Chernobyl Museum (Figure 3) depicts storks
being expelled in the explosion. Barbed wire tied around their
feet they can no longer protect the population. Control rods
shoot out of the reactor about to impale the fleeing storks.
Nuclear power is seen destroying community, tradition and
The Japanese artist Okamoto Taro painted a 30m-long
mural (Figure 4) expressing his emotion towards the
explosions at Hiroshima, Nagasaki and nuclear war. In the
centre stands a flaming skeletal figure. It was put on display
in Shibuya Station in Tokyo in 2008, as a memorial to the
countries war time tragedies [3,4]. In 2012, a year after the
Tohuko earthquake and tsunami caused a disaster at the
Fukushima Diatchii nuclear power plant, the art collective
Chim!Pom shocked the public by attaching a painting of the
damaged reactors onto the mural (Figure 5). Taro, was an
advocate of the anti-nuclear movement, and warned against
apathy to nuclear war, Chim!Pom were now warning against
apathy to nuclear power too. The mushroom clouds turned
into devilish creatures with red eyes and tongues are the anti-
thesis of the stork. The one-eyed unidentifiable creature is not
a fresh fish from Crosbie’s mural.
The murals follow a common theme, the myth of
tomorrow. Unrealised or ruined dreams of mankinds embrace
of nuclear power.
The threat of blackouts and disaster are major influencers
on public opinion. But public art creates a shared space
between public and corporations. Seen not as a threat but an
opportunity for the nuclear industry and displaying the dreams
of tomorrow, maybe it could change peoples mind about the
future of nuclear?

Figure 1. William Crosbie painting The Gardeners. (1951)

Figure 2. Nuclear city, Joe Colombo (1952)

Figure 3. Mural at Chernobyl Museum, Chernobyl, artist unknown [5]. (date

Figure 4. Myth of Tomorrow, Okamoto Taro [6]. (1969)

Figure 5. Graffiti on Myth of Tomorrow, Chim!Pom [7]. (2012)
[1] S. Crowe, The Landscape of Power, Architectural Press, London (1958).
[2] BBC News, No listed status for Trawsfynydd nuclear power station,
(2010), Last accessed
[3] D. C. Wood, A. Takahashi, “Okamoto Taro: Nuclear proliferation,
tradition, and “The Myth of Tomorrow,”” Kyoto Journal, 77, Digital
Edition Last Accessed
tomorrow/ [10/01/2014]
[4] S. Reyes, “Instalan en Tokio mural de Okamoto perdido 30 años en
México”, El Universal, (2008), Last accessed
[5] N. Thorley, (2013)
[6] Flickr user: Merlin0707
[7] Flickr user: GetHiroshima

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