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unclassified - 14 04 2001 - 13:27 - katatonik

Preserving destruction

The West building of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum houses a collection of objects that, in some way or another, were damaged by the explosion of Enola Gay: a watch that stopped, burnt black letters, a jammed tin plate, the tricycle of the three-year old boy Shin’ichi, a staircase with a shadow (see pic to the right), assumed to have been left behind by a person sitting there when the bomb struck. For most visitors, this is a particularly moving artifact, and this is of course why it is on display, as moving visitors, eliciting an immediate emotional response by demonstrating the immense destructive effects of the bomb, is the intention behind this particular section in the museum. “So you see a representation of a man who wasn’t there, but in a way he always will be there”, the composer Michael Nyman describes his perception of the shadowy staircase. “That, to me, was .. was .. was .. was chilling because it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen anywhere else, unlike anything you’d ever see in any other museum and it represents the true horror of atomic warfare.

Recently, however, the shadow’s blackish colour started to fade. Aiming to preserve it, the museum administration called for archaeological advice. The archaeologists found traces of organic material, like clothing, hair or skin. It was concluded that the shadow cannot be ascertained to be one of a person after all, for it might just as well have been left behind by some piece of cloth. The museum now changed the description of the item from “Only the place where the person was sitting remained dark” into “The place remained blackish like a human shadow.” The museum will, as its representatives assure, continue efforts to prevent its deterioration. Preserving destruction is of utmost importance, so it seems. Somewhere in the museum, there is a piano, also damaged by the bomb in some fashion. And once a year, so the story goes, the piano is carefully tuned.

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