Nuclear Thresholds commemorates the 75th anniversary of Enrico Fermi's UChicago Pile, the first man-made, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. The installation reflects on the specific conditions of the original 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 2-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.