‘Nuclear Thresholds’ commemorates the 75th anniversary of Enrico Fermi’s ‘Chicago Pile -1’ – the first man-made, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. The project brief invited us to reflect on the nature of the experiment, as well as the tension between control and the loss of control engendered by the birth of the Nuclear Age. Essentially, the project is a protean pile of material that begins as a simple arc and then dissolves into exponential complexity.

In developing the project, we thought about chain reactions, and the random walks of liberated neutrons. We thought about critical mass, when a chain reaction is barely self-sustaining, and supercriticality, the turning point when the rate of fission increases, sometimes to the point of being out of control. We were interested in the complex materiality embodied in the original experiment: the tightly-packed pile of graphite used for the experiment, as well as thinking about matter as something not solid but composed largely of space and energetic particles. The incongruous siting of this existentially pivotal experiment in a squash court captured our imaginations. Finally, we also wanted to pay homage to the Henry Moore sculpture by intensifying the site and partially enframing it on its vast plinth.

The installation consists of 241 two-inch diameter, seventy-five-foot-long cords of EPDM rubber. The cords are close-packed in a hexagonal array, forming a simple arc that serves as a bench. The bench invites contemplation and directs focus to the Henry Moore ‘Nuclear Energy’ sculpture in the center of the plinth. After forming a quarter of circle, the form splits into two branches that explode the regular, controlled form of the arc. Those two branches then each twist and split into two more branches, and so on, exponentially increasing the complexity of the overall form until all the cords are writhing freely.

There are many different ways to begin thinking about the installation, and hopefully visitors will pick up some reference that interests them and pulls them into deeper contemplation. It is something of a puzzle, and is intended to provoke questioning some of the assumptions we have about the physical world and our role within it.

LOCATION: 5625 South Ellis Avenue , Chicago, Illinois

PROGRAM: architectural installation

In-Progress Artist Talk, September 16, 2pm
Arts and the Nuclear Age: 1942 | 1967 | 2017, culminating lectures for the 75th anniversary of the Chicago Pile-1 experiment and the concurrent 50th anniversary of the unveiling Henry Moore's Nuclear Energy sculpture. Features talks by Anne Wagner, Ludovico Centis, and OPA principals Luke Ogrydziak and Zoë Prillinger, December 2, 4pm

Chicago Architectural Biennial partner program
Sam Cholke, Gunpowder Artist, Pavilion To Mark 75th Anniversary Of 1st Nuclear Reaction, DNA Info, Chicago, September 8, 2017