THE WORLD 1911 - 2011
idea for the Umbombing Project came after I visited Tokyo in 1995. At
first I could not understand why only such a few older buildings and landmarks
could be seen, and I was shocked to discover that a great part of this
huge city had been torched and burnt down during aerial bombing campaigns
of the USA Air Force in March-July 1945. I was ashamed not to know that
over a hundred thousand people died, probably more than the death toll
taken by the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.
As 1995 was the 50 years anniversary of the dropping of the atom bombs,
an international debate arose. A discussion partly triggered by a proposed
exhibition in the American Smithsonian Institute of Technology of the
airplane that dropped the atom bombs, the Enola Gay. A discussion about
whether it had been right or wrong to drop the A-bombs; if it had "saved
lives" of American soldiers and, possibly, many sections of the Japanese
population that would have resisted a traditional sea-born invasion; if
"the aggressive and murderous" Japanese nation deserved to be
strafed in such a way; if the sea blockade had not already brought Japan
on its knees, and so on. 1995 was also the year in which discussion lists
on the Internet started booming and many people from the USA, Japan, the
world over, used this new discussion medium.
In the coming period I will try to find financial and technical support to realize parts of the Unbombing Project. It is clear that the scope of such a project is far beyond the capabilities of one person. From the beginning the idea has been to gather the content in a collaborative way, using the knowledge and insight of many people. The Internet offers opportunities to realize such a collective work on an international level. Before such a collaborative phase can start there is the need of a minumum corpus of examples of materials to be used (chronical of bombing instances, estimates of victims and damage, accounts of victims, of perpetrators, planners, decisionmakers).
Opportunities for financial support from the cultural and scientific sector will be used. Applications for support will be posted here as down-loadable files in Acrobat PDF format:
2004/02 Proposal for German phase Edith-Russ Haus Oldenburg(putting the German "Bombenkrieg" discussion in a global perspective, 14 pages)
2004/02 Overview of content of global Unbombing database (1911-2003 overview of all bombed towns/areas 815 records, 36 pages)
Below is the second version of the original concept first published on the Web in 1999.
UNBOMBING THE WORLD 1911-2001
90 years aerial bombing of the human habitat
a proposal for an installation on the history and future of planned destruction and reconstruction
Tjebbe van Tijen - Imaginary Museum Projects
fire cauldron with charcoal
aerial photographs of destroyed habitats engraved in (tomb) stones
stands with loose paper sheets for making 'rubbings'
of tomb stones with charcoal
drawing table interface with LCD or projection desktop and ruler and pen to access visualized and dramatised histories of reconstruction of bombed areas.
video cameras capturing the image of people working at the desk and table.
Give voice to those in the past who dared to question or criticise the aerial bombings of 'their enemies' and had to face the consequences of such 'anti-patriotic' behaviour. Re-evaluating the official and unofficial protests of the bombed ones, with their accusations of 'crimes against humanity', raising the ethical question of means and ends, why not all atrocities are considered 'war crimes'. Putting the emphasis not so much on the spectacular sight of destruction with its heroism and even aesthetic attraction, as can be found in many eyewitness accounts of major blasts and fires by people that were lucky enough to escape and tell their story, but on the much more invisible phenomena of the 'bureaucratisation of genocide'; the daily routine of mapping and targeting the supposed enemy. A practice that has not been stopped at the end of the Second World War, Cold War, or Vietnam War, but has continued to exist till this very moment.
Condensing these complex issues by juxtaposing fragments of historical documents relating to the different actors in this theatre of war, both perpetrators and victims: politicians, civil servants, scientists, industrialists, military personnel, civilians. Choosing a significant number and a representative variety of bombed cities from the complete list of approximate 400 towns in the world that have been bombed in the last 90 years. Dramatising the historical documents that belong to the chosen examples, by using interactive audio-visual media. With each chosen dramatised example, showing comparable examples (just in text form, diagrams or maps) from the complete list, to make the magnitude of destruction always understood.
Letting the voices of the victims of bombing be heard by quoting from the vast arsenal of personal accounts that have been published the last nine decades in different countries that have suffered bombing attacks. Making a choice of such writings and translating them in the languages needed in the country or countries where the installation will be shown. Setting up an international network of concerned people: archivists, artists, people who have witnessed a bombing, local journalists, peace activists, translators, photographers, etc., who will share their knowledge by adding it to a public accessible database which will be made available over the Internet.
Placing the destruction by aerial bombing in a wider historical context by finding ways to show how, through the whole of history, towns and their inhabitants have been made a target, put on a list to be destroyed or annihilated, from the legend like biblical story of the destruction by divine fire of Sodom and Gomorra, to the bombing raid of the combined American and British air forces with the code name 'Operation Gomorra' on Hamburg in 1943, where 40.000 civilians were killed in a human made fire storm. Studying the language used by those attacking and those being attacked, showing the links with events way back in history, with words like 'Huns' and names like Genghis Kahn, surfacing again. Showing how deeply rooted the collective memories of these violent periods in human history are. Relating this to man made apocalyps of the middle of the twentieth century: Berlin, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki. Posing, also, the question about a possible link between urban growth and urban disaster, between destruction and reconstruction, noting the vitality of all those cities that, in one way or another, did rise from their ashes, maybe even more vital as before.
Comparing the different reconstruction processes of bombed cities: those that have referred back to the past by building replicas of what have been destroyed, and those that were using the opportunity to build a new town, following a whole new concept, almost welcoming the 'tabula rasa' created by war, the unique opportunity, a town as an empty piece of paper on a drawing board. Contrasting the magnitude of destruction by bombing in war with that of destruction by regular urban renewal Finding ways to show clearly what has disappeared forever, what have been reconstructed and what have been newly added. Ask people to imagine what would have happened if their town would not have been bombed.
Showing all this in an installation, an art work, an educational facility if you want, that has three different layers, using three main symbols:
|A graveyard of tombstones
with aerial photographs of bombed cities engraved. The stones can be contemplated
and visitors can make charcoal rubbings of stones to take home, either single
stones of particular cities, or combining different cities in one rubbing.
When they are finished with this they can wash their dirty hands and proceed
to the rest of the installation.
|Opening and closing of drawers to look through visual database of targets and weapons. Putting objects (a & c) on blotting paper (b) to see and hear details. Moving airplane model (c/d) up and down to trigger stories of people bombing and people being bombed. Stories can heard by headphone (A).||Using ruler (e) and stylus (f) to go through visual database of bomb damage and reconstruction, displayed or projected on drawing table. Once a specific site has been chosen, different stories of planners and those being planned can be triggered by moving stylus (f) up and down. Stories can be heard by headphone (B).|
|The four positions of the chairs steeri the four projection positions on the all around oval screen (1-3) and the two circular screens (4) hanging over the tombstones section||Projection 1: video image of person working at desk or table; 2: target or destroyed area; 3: bombing results or reconstructed area; 4: video image of person working at desk or table fused with image of tombstone or aerial photograph of the scene today|
|Sitting at an office
desk with drawers full of files with the names of target cities and target
areas. Going through these files, taking out one, opening it and study the
details. Opening the other drawer of the desk and going through the arsenal
of possible weapons. Choosing the right weapon that belongs to how the chosen
target fits in space and time. Bombing the target and turn around on your
office chair, looking to what was there before and what after. Having the
opportunity to turn away from the desk, asking yourself: "what have I done?"
Sitting at the drawing table of the urban planner, making an inventory of the war damage, thinking up new plans, deciding what to keep, what to knock down after all. Turning your chair, looking at what was before, at what came after, maybe turning around and ask yourself: "what have I done?".
By pointing a hand size symbolic model of an aeroplane up and down, the visitor can listen to narrated fragments from those who were bombing and those who have been bombed.
In a similar way, at the drawing table, the visitor can listen to stories
of both the planners and the ones that have been planned, by moving a
special drawing pencil up and down over the table.
|Around the installation
with the stones and the desks are several flight simulators and wargames
placed for the visitors to use. These are both recreational and military
games. Before being able to play a game, to exercise war, the visitor will
have to look at a short interview on the screens of the computers and the
military and arcade game, with both makers and players of these simulations
and games. Questions will be asked: "why is it that victims are so invisible",
"can it be that these games will have a kind of kartharsis function?", "would
you really push the button, do the attack when ordered?".
is the second draft of the unbombing project as formulated by Tjebbe van
Tijen/Imaginary Museum Projects. The aim is to find other people, other
orgaisations, institutions that are interested, willing to collaborate
on this project. There is a lot that still needs detailing, there are
many things that can be adapted or changed, in one way or another, though
the basic structure has now been laid down and should remain. A first
list of possible cities and rural areas that might be part of this installation
is included in this document. There is a seperate introduction for that
Amsterdam January 1999
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