Location Livorno, IT

bombs + explosives


1. Explosive Nature

Sudden and violent changes in nature are commonly observed. Man’s first contact with the phenomenon of explosion came through thunder and lightning; forest fires; earthquakes; volcanic activity and related processes of nature. Nature provided man with a series of ready made ‘technological products’, for instance the roasted and charred bodies of animals, insects, plants and fruit found in the wake of forest fires — the first ‘take-away’ meals, which were crucial for man’s survival. Early man’s technology was based on observed and felt natural phenomena. The explosions occurring when certain animal parts and vegetables are cooked on open fires were among the first man-made explosions. Stones in open fires shatter.

2. from Greek Fire to Napalm Bombs

Man harnessed fire for work and war before explosives. Assyrian bas reliefs show incendiaries and fire pots. Throughout history, fire has had a key role in attack and defence. It has been used for tasks like the clearing of land, forests or buildings that were later taken over by explosives. Experimentation with fire, and its controlled application by people, priests, magicians, soldiers, led to great advances. Even in modern times, fire is important in military activity. Dresden, where bombs were deployed in order to achieve a fire storm, is a famous example.

3. The Science and Technology of Explosives and Weapons

‘An esplosive is any substance or device which will produce, upon release of its potential energy, a sudden outburst of gas, thereby exerting high pressure on its surroundings’. Three key periods: Discovery of explosives c. 1200 AD. Invention of high explosives in 1860s. Atomic explosives. The general technical and historical survey relates the rise of explosives and weapons manufacture to the rest of a culture. The absence of explosives in cultures having a fairly high level of technology is discussed, as well as issues such as the halt in developments on some societies.

4. The Economics of Peace and War

A survey of the industrial uses of explosives in different cultures and periods. Great secrecy has surrounded the production of explosives. The explosives industry and the armament industry obtain leading positions in the modern world: Nobel, Krupp, etc. These industries help to shape national and international policies. The development placed in the context of advancing Capitalism. The need to obtain new sources of raw materials; capture new markets; consume the produced materials.


1. Mythology and Magic

Explosions relate to catastrophes and miracles. Many cultures connect explosive forces with gods and heroes. Magicians operate with explosives. The gun and explosives are the white man’s most potent ‘magic’ when confronting primitive people. Even today secrecy, mystery, surround the subject of explosives — witness the SALT negotiations conducted in complete isolation from the world press.

2. Religion and Guns

A close connection between war and religion all over the world. According to some authorities, the origin of religion is found in phallic worship. Guns and cannons can be related to male sexual organ. Wealth of evidence up to the present, where priests have blessed, anointed and decorated weapons of war. Suppression of normal sexual activity by some religions, Christianity in particular, leads to rise in destructive forces.

3. Psychology and Physiology

The sudden release of chemical activity in man, animals and plants can have survival value. Examples given. The bombardier beetle emits corrosive substances, exploded in the direction of an attacker in the form of a hot poisonous cloud. The sudden expulsion of fluids and gases by humans — spitting, farting, belching for instance — can be part of aggressive behaviour. Also employed in the definition and control of immediatley surrounding territory. A consideration of the internal activity of organisms in relation to the concept of explosions. The build up and relase of tensions in the human being. Freud and Reich. Energy not discharged in orgasm may be diverted to aggressive, destructive activity. Stress caused by overcrowding in polluted large cities. Catastrophe — by nuclear war for instance — felt by some people as release from intolerable frustrations. Explosions evoke a multitude of feelings, from exultation to the most abject misery. The attacker hurling explosives at the besieged town is imbued with elation at the promise of success; the same sights and sounds are experienced as catastrophic by defenders. Explosives can give rise to spectacular and memorable visual and aural experiences; explosions define space and territory; they shape the environment, leaving records — in ruins, holes in the ground, in faces and bodies. Medicine: war advances the arts of medicine and surgery. Effects: madness, shellshock, battle fatigue. Effects on civilians and animals: evidence from Vietnam and N. Ireland. Industrial and domestic explosions, explosions in the street, in dance halls and theatres. Other theories on violence and aggression.

4. Explosives and Social Change

Changes in society lead to war, and war affects social development. Guns and explosives, useful allies of revolution. The death of a few carefully chosen men has swayed the destiny of nations, classes and political parties. Guns and explosives are linked with some of the biggest changes in history. Crime.


1. Explosions Language Literature

Novels and science fiction give detailed descriptions of the visual, aural and psychological effects of explosions; they also provide insights into the drives of the killer or social reformer using guns or bombs. Concern with the subject matter in literature — Futurist writing for instance.

2. Figurative Art

The representation of weapons has occupied artists in many cultures. Design and decoration have been expended on weapons of all kinds. Artists have made works inspired by war and revolution; Picasso’s Guernica the most famous painting of bombing. The last two wars resulted in thousands of commissioned works. Modern art shaped by concern with war, destruction and aggression. Futurism and Dada eminent examples, whose influence is still very strong. Around 1957, the Japanese group Gutai demonstrate artist bursting through series of paper screens. Happenings in different countries from 1959 use destruction. Same year, theory of auto-destructive art. 1961, Tinguely Study for an End of the World in Nevada desert uses explosive. DIAS — Destruction in Art Symposium, London, 1966, gathers about fifty practitioners from many countries. Artists use explosive forming of metal, explosive charges on painted boards, explosions on buildings.

3. Music

Guns used as elements of orchestras and bands. Percussion instruments mimic thunder and explosions. The use of guns to record emotions. The jubilant, random firing of guns to signal relief, celebrate victory, contrasted with the tightly organized ceremonial shooting of weapons at funerals and State occasions. Songs of war and revolution. Popular songs celebrate killings and disasters.

4. Photography and Film

From its early days, photography was used to record wars. Explosions are a great challenge to photography. Photographers home in on disasters of all kinds. High-speed photography used in the evaluation and development of bullets and explosives. The use of the scientific film in the same area, and the use of film by the military for a variety of purposes. Film-makers and audiences have an obsession with explosions — tragic, comic. As in literature, attitudes are revealed. The gun as virility symbol. The psychologist can use film and audience reaction to probe into the mind. Explosions in film commercials on TV and in cinema. The emphasis on explosions in film trailers and posters.

5. A Terrible Beauty is Born

The end of Kubrick’s film Dr Strangelove — film of atomic test explosions— demonstrates the profound beauty that can arise from explosions. The Aesthetic of Revolution: sado/masochistic impulses are important. This section connects with others in PART 3.


1. A Plethora of Bombs

The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the last of a line; we trace the developments of bombs in a far-ranging survey going back to early ages and many societies. Include applications like safe-blowing, the forming of metals.

2. The Race for the Bomb

Einstein’s path from Pure Physics to Dirty Fallout. Atomic Physics is one of the most crucial developments in history. In this determination to smash matter is the key to a pattern uniting all that we know about explosions. Oppenheimer witnessing the first test explosion of an atomic device in the desert, quotes Hindu scripture: ‘I am become death, the shatterer of worlds’. World reaction to the first atomic bombs. End of World War II.

3. The Father of the H-Bomb

The conflict of Oppenheimer and Teller. Teller advocates ‘Operation Plowshare’ — gigantic nuclear explosions to shape the face of the earth. H-bombs and other developments, anti-ballistic missile systems.

4. The Bomb as a way of Life

Nuclear parity among the Super Powers as an ideal. The threat of the proliferation of nuclear power stations and weapons around the globe. Anti-ballistic missile systems as factors in heightening the nuclear stakes. The projected use of spacecraft to carry nuclear weapons; the possible useof the moon as a launch pad to destroy the earth; the plan to drop nuclear bomb on the moon to test geological theory. Multiple dangers arising from the ‘peaceful use’ of nuclear energy: fallout; radioactive waste disposal; dangers of accidents including sabotage. The Cold War. Vietnam and the Military/Industrial Complex in the US.

5. Mob Against Bomb

First protests against nuclear weapons originate in Chicago laboratories of the nuclear scientists developing the first bombs. This sparks the movement for social responsability in science, which spreads to many countries, and leads to widespread repercussions in society. The Japanese take a lead in mass-protests and mass-action against nuclear weapons. Britain forms the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Committee of 100, between 1958 and 1960. This influences other countries, and the student revolt in the 60s.


1. From Fun Rockets to Space Flight

Chinese rockets c. 1200 AD. European rockets c. 1400 AD. A survey of rockets in different periods and countries, and their social function. Also fireworks. The development of rockets for flights to other planets. The landing on moon and explosives. The colonization of other planets as an escape route for humanity if the sun burns up the earth, or if man makes it unhabitable before then. The search for other inhabited planets. The nuclear-powered rocket and space.

2. The Creation and Destruction of Planets and Galaxies

A survey of geological and cosmological information. We began (PART 1) by considering man’s adaptation of natural phenomena to his ends. When we step beyond the earth, we find that explosions and related phenomena are occurring on a gigantic scale and within an astronomical time pan. We realize that the destructive, explosive, transformational, activity in nature and man is part of a vast sphere, and accept that destruction is an enescapable component of creation.

Book outline for the ‘Technosphere’ series of books edited by Jonathan Benthall, rejected by the publishers Collins in 1971.