Visual Arts
Work by artist bobCollignon.
Work by artist bobCollignon.

Dance With the Devil: bobCollignon at WNYBAC

by / Jun. 8, 2016 12am EST

At an historical moment when President Barack Obama visits Hiroshima, not to say, “I’m sorry” or “We’re sorry” but simply acknowledge the inhumanity of the killing by quick incineration or slow cancer of untold numbers and generations of Japanese civilians from the culmination event nuclear bombings in a war foisted on them by their egomaniacal leaders, and similarly egomaniacal candidate Donald Trump touts the idiot idea of further nuclear proliferation—but philosophically consistent with the idiot idea out of the same camp that everyone should be armed to the teeth—an exhibit of manipulated photos and props by artist bobCollignon at WNYBAC says, “Think about it.”

The props include toys and games and ultra-fine-particle glitter on the artworks and in the air, and a little inevitably on anyone who visits the exhibit. Like fallout from an atomic explosion, scarcely noticeable or detectable, but ubiquitous. The games include one called Pin the Bomb-BER on Ground Zero, a nuclear-era version of a game that in previous times was the raucous high point of every toddler birthday party, called “Pin the Tail on the Donkey.” One of the props is a chotchkie item peep-show in a little plastic viewing tube, an adjunct to a work called Miss Nevada, the main part of which is a set of five multiply manipulated in garish tones photos of nuclear blast mushroom clouds. In the plastic viewing tube is a grainy photo of a Las Vegas showgirl type in exultant pose—as if she has just emerged from a banquet centerpiece fake birthday cake—who may be nude, but you can’t tell for sure because her body from the neck down is hidden behind a now kitsch sentimentalized version mushroom cloud.

All the photos have nuclear bombing reference. Mostly historical archive photos, for example, of the Trinity or Bikini Atoll bomb tests, but with implied further reference to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki events, and further reference still to the immediately subsequent cold war era the artist—and a lot of the rest of us—grew up in, when otherwise sane and reasonable people talked about—and some provided themselves with—personal survival shelters. What Collignon calls the “duck and cover” era. In introductory text he talks about what even as a kid he considered “a dumb feel good approach to being incinerated.”

The most beautiful and poignant—in terms of the “think about it” message—works are a number of more or less single-image photos transmogrified by multiple manipulations and/or re-photographings. Explosion mushroom clouds resembling floral photographs maybe at incorrect lens openings and shutter speeds. One of an Air Force bomber overhead in which the photo process interventions reveal—translate into—what look like materials stress patterns in the wings and fuselage. An extreme telephoto view silhouette of a military ship against the Bikini explosion. Another photo of what seems to be a human figure so transformed—abstracted—by photo manipulation processes that you can’t tell if maybe it is or was originally an x-ray. Atomic effects photo or x-ray, much the same thing, seems to be the point.

Photography scholar Robert Hirsch introduces the show with an excerpt from a letter by one Toyofumi Ogura recounting his personal experience while walking toward Hiroshima on the morning of August 6, 1945. “…I saw or rather felt an enormous bluish white flash of light…off to my right the sky split open over the city of Hiroshima. I instinctively flung myself face down on the ground. I lay there without moving. Then I raised my head and looked up over the city…A massive cloud column defying all description appeared, boiling violently and seething upward…Then the top of it began to spill down, like the breakup of some vast thundercloud…The cloud mass set down a foot like a huge waterspout, suddenly growing into a monstrous mushroom with kaleidoscopic colors. It glittered with small explosions. I tried to visualize the cloud pillar seen by Moses, but couldn’t…”

The bobCollignon exhibit is called Dance With the Devil. It continues through June 24.

 Dance With The Devil 
 Western New York Book Arts Center 
 468 Washington St, Buffalo