one of three large abstract watercolour paintings intended to be hung behind a main sculptural piece The complete installation incorporates several different elements. A steel and copper barrel contains twelve thick clear glass wedges, separated by copper plates. Set onto this hub are three metal beams which can be rotated about the centre. The beams each support a hand-blown torpedo-shaped bottle of magenta coloured glass. When displayed, . As originally displayed these are hung into a corner of the gallery, two on one wall, one on the other.
In 1987 Graham Ashton was commissioned by the Artistic Records Committee of the Imperial War Museum to make a work on the subject of nuclear submarines. He spent three days at sea aboard the submarine HMS 'Valiant' observing the submariners at work and the technical environment of the submarine. He was particularly struck by the variety of technologies he found and these are reflected in the sculpture. He aims to address the concept of nuclear deterrence which he defines as including notions of balance, power, concealment, fragility and 'a curious quality of invisible omnipresence'. His statement about the making of the work describes the elements he used: ' Both the materials and the shape of the finished sculpture are meant to express the functional beauty of the apparatus on board. I chose copper for its sheen and its association with electrical and machine power; I chose glass for its transparency and fragility…. The fixed beams on which the glass torpedoes rest can rotate around the base in the way radar circles round the boat. The hand-blown glass shapes….allude most obviously to torpedoes, but they refer as well to the whale-like hull of the submarine. They are also a sensuous evocation of liquid. .. the cold icy quality [of the twelve glass segments] suggests ocean depth and cross-refers to the torpedo glass. The entire sculpture has been engineered with mechanical precision.' Graham Ashton's work has been consistently concerned with the threat of global nuclear annihilation. This sculpture has an unnerving fragility which the precision engineering cannot completely dispel.
Written by the artist in 1987: 'Imperial War Museum Commission: the Job of a British Nuclear Submarine The three days I spent on the HMS Valiant determined the shape of the sculpture I produced. I made some illustrative sketches of daily life on board, but what fascinated me most was the variety of navigational and detection devices, eg the attack and battle periscopes, the P.A.R.Y.S., radar and sonar. I felt the formal assignment in creating a sculpture about the job of a British nuclear submarine lay in translating this three dimensional shape. Both the materials and the shape of the finished sculpture are meant to express the functional beauty of the apparatus on board. I chose copper for its sheen and its association with electrical and machine power; I chose glass for its transparency and fragility --- and for its presence everywhere on board. In terms of shape, the engine-like hub of the sculpture acts as the seat of various detection devices. The fixed beams on which the glass torpedoes rest can rotate around the base, in the way radar circles round the boat. The hand-blown glass shapes (which have several location-points along each beam) allude most obviously to torpedoes, but they refer as well to the whale-like hull of the submarine. They are also a sensuous evocation of liquid. The construction rests upon a barrel of twelve glass segments, separated by copper plates. Their cold icy quality suggests ocean depth and cross-refers to the torpedo-glass. The entire sculpture has been engineered with mechanical precision. Making a sculpture for the War Museum entails more than simply placing an object in a gallery. In some way the sculpture has to express the concept of nuclear deterrence as it is carried out by a British nuclear submarine. Included in the ideas for the sculpture are ideas common to the role of a submarine as deterrent, as I experienced them. Some of these ideas are: balance, power, concealment, fragility and a curious quality of invisible omnipresence. I chose particularly not to express aggression since the priorities on board the submarine were the saving of life, time and money -- though obviously the capability and power to strike were there. Knowing that the piece would be in storage for much of the time, I designed it so it would break down, rather like a weapon, to be stored in boxes; these boxes act as the sculpture's plinth during exhibition. They would be draped with an appropriate flag or cloth for display. This is a work of public sculpture. It has a dense text, yet a simple and economic appearance. The shape should be sufficiently compelling to entice the observer to discern a recognisable pattern of conception in the work as a whole.'
Artistic Records Committee commission
- Related period
- 1945-1989 (production), 1945-1989 (content)
- Ashton, Graham
- Production date
- Place made
- Great Britain
Support: Depth 1515 mm, Height 1515 mm, Width 915 mm
Frame: Depth 37 mm, Height 1675 mm, Width 1062 mm
- Catalogue number
- Art.IWM ART 16200 2
- Part of
- Nuclear Submarine Piece 1987