Exquisite Explosions – The fine art of destruction

One of the first rules of writing is to open with a catchy line, and never with a technical topic. So I’m going to blow that one right out of the water and start by writing about entropy.

A Gif animation of a cup falling and shattering

Entropy is a theory in thermodynamics (yes, I’m doing it!) that has also crossed over into the fields of astrophysics and philosophy. It is used to describe a sudden change that causes erratic and chaotic events, often leading to the creation of entirely new objects. Entropy always moves forward with time, and creates events that cannot be undone. A good example is the collapse of a star, folding in on itself and becoming (perhaps) a black hole. Stephen Hawking describes the idea of entropy nicely in A Brief History of Time when he refers to how an “intact cup on the table is a state of high order, but a broken cup on the floor is a disordered state.” (p 161)

Entropy is a method of suddenly shifting an object from one form to another through a sudden and often destructive change. It can be used to recover from a false start by allowing an opportunity to begin again, discarding the original. I will now make use of entropy shatter these opening paragraphs and begin this blog post anew:

Exquisite Explosions – The fine art of destruction

The destructive force can sometimes be seen as a method of wiping the slate clean. In Ancient Greece there was a belief that civilisation had existed for a thousands of years, but that society kept getting reset by sudden apocalyptic events. These always destroyed a wealth of human knowledge, but allowed humanity to go back and attempt to redo things in a better way.

A photograph of the mounds visible at the Hill of Tara, Ireland
The Hill of Tara in Meath, Ireland, was once the home to the high kings of the disjointed country, but has since become a series of rolling hills devoured by nature.

This idea can seem dehumanising at times, particularly if you look at tragic or horrific events such as war or genocide. A strong example of human destruction can be found in the ancient city of Carthage. Famous for being one of the most fascinating historical accounts of complete annihilation, Carthage was once one of the most advanced cities in the world, being home to great wealth, education and military strength. A constant enemy of Rome, Carthage held what was felt to be too much power in the Mediterranean region. In 146BC Carthage eventually fell to Rome during the Third Punic War, and in the aftermath the Roman conquerors sacked the city, sold its people into slavery and destroyed the ancient power with what could be seen as almost personal vindictive behaviour (as described in the In Our Time pod-cast on the ancient city). This was one of the most pronounced sea changes of power seen in history, mainly due to the overkill of the Roman conquerors. The city’s destruction levelled Carthage’s large influence over parts of Italy. A ruin was left behind, rebuilt and occupied by Romans for several centuries.

A photograph of a geothermal steam-stack edited to look more volcanic

Carthage might seem like an example of a slate being wiped clean, leaving next to nothing behind, but it generated an archaeological gold-mine that tells us more about their civilisation than much we can see from other archaeological remains world-wide. Shops, homes and functional places were revealed in the ashes of Carthage, a story-book hidden underneath the modern city of Tunis. The suddenness and unexpected nature of a human destruction such as Carthage is like a man-made comparison to the famous natural disaster slightly later at Pompeii, which, through their suddenness, can

Exquisite Explosions – The fine art of destruction

Destruction is intrinsically tied to creativity. A current exhibition at Mudam Luxembourg, Damage Control, featuring star names such as Ai Weiwei and Steve McQueen, addresses the role of destruction in creative art since 1950. The exhibition examines the “atomic age” and how destruction has been intertwined with creative work since 1950. The project harbours interesting questions that analyse the destructive nature of human beings as well as the destructive nature of the universe and how this can propel new activity. By destroying the past artists are invited to create new futures, and this is an intentional and unintentional theme in much contemporary art.

Martin Klimas' photographic piece of shattering ceramic samurai
Martin Klimas’ photographic work, courtesy of designboom (visit Klimas’ website for more work – click for link)

Photographer Martin Klimas uses destruction as a predominate theme in much of his work. Klimas has created a fascinating series of exploding flower vases at the point of shattering, and has outdone this work with another series of porcelain dolls that pinpoint the moment of destruction and develop a striking human message on the point of breaking. These compositions are reminiscent of something that I read in Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time about a cup shattering, and were also the inspiration for this author shattering a cup or two for the sake of Moon Under Water.

The relationship to creativity is one of the unusual quirks of destruction. Although it is a potentially creative force (altering perception on a place, object or person by creating something new from the ashes of the old), destruction has one feature that creation does not have. It erases elements. Creativity in its core is about incorporating elements and building larger pictures by tying together interesting aspects (thermodynamics and catastrophic social events, for example). Destruction creates new ideas only by eliminating parts of the older ones that have gone before. The destructive force is a broad-reaching one, existing in all parts of the universe, and it is wholly necessary in some respects for sea-change creativity as in times of revolution (peaceful or otherwise), but it nonetheless is not identical to creativity as it is a reductive force, while creativity can essentially be seen as an additive one.

A photograph of Picasso's Guernica made into a jigsaw
Is there an irony in creating a jigsaw of Picasso’s Guernica, a painting created about the town’s devastation during the Spanish Civil War

Exquisite Explosions – The fine art of destruction

Destruction is a wholly mindless act. It is the vicious, natural undermining of creative ideals, and a compelling force that undermines creative objects that have developed over long periods.

I was recently coerced into joining the cult of Game of Thrones (a wholly destructive use of my time), but found myself fascinated by some of the historical stories that are being retold through fiction in the series. However I was particularly won over by an incidental scene about chaotic destruction in a monologue expertly delivered by Peter Dinklage, the stand-out star of the series. He describes the continuous and relentless destructive urges of his cousin, a child who takes pleasure in life solely from crushing beetles.

A photograph of a smashed window with an old chandelier inside
Senseless destruction is rampant in discarded areas; vandalism is a creative form of destruction that only creates the beauty of ruin.

The beetle-crushing conundrum relates to destruction in people as a senseless act. At times destruction can be a ballast for creation, but some destruction seems wholly without a creative fervour of any kind. The problem with destruction as a form of creativity is that destruction always erases something. Vandalism of old buildings can disrupt how we view a space, just as levelling a city in a war can sometimes teach us only about war, rather than life before war. The memory of what is erased can degrade and disappear, and before long whatever was destroyed might just go full circle, and the slate that was wiped clean could resurface (harking back to another Greek theory on the cyclical nature of social evolution).

This post will self destruct in seven letters.

Exquisite Explosions – The fine art of destruction

One of the first rules of blogging is not to open on a technical topic. So I’m going to blow that one right out of the water and start by writing about entropy.

A photograph of a shattered cup, never to be restored to its original form

Entropy is a theory in thermodynamics that has also crossed over into the fields of astrophysics and philosophy. It is used to describe a sudden change in temperature that causes erratic and chaotic events, often leading to the creation of entirely new objects. Entropy always moves forward with time, and creates events that cannot be undone – it erases past states and creates new ones, but the erasure cannot be undone. Stephen Hawking describes the idea of entropy nicely in A Brief History of Time when he refers to how “One can go readily from the cup on the table in the past to the broken cup on the floor in the future, but not the other way round” (p 161)

Destruction can perhaps be reconsidered as a sudden flux or alteration. Although it is a weak consideration, it is still worth noting that every time something is destroyed it creates something else in its place (i.e. it is impossible to destroy anything without creating something new). This is in some ways akin to Newton’s law of the conservation of energy: Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be transferred from one form to another. This is thermodynamics, and it is essentially how our universe changes and evolves.

Entropy is a method of suddenly shifting an object from one form to another. It can be a way of changing a false start by allowing an opportunity to begin again, discarding the original. Yet sometimes elements of the original will resurface in future stages after destruction, and similar ideas will come to the fore regardless of how much of them has been wiped out. The ruins of Carthage were rediscovered, the role of destruction in art has been celebrated, the senselessness of destructive nature can lead to constructive discussion on human behaviour, and the idea of entropy in everyday life can help us to understand more than just our own human nature.

And at the worst of times, talking about destruction can lend itself to a creative debate. You can begin one in the comments below.

All images in this post are my own and subject to copyright unless stated. I don’t mind reproductions, but please credit them to this blog or contact (contactmoonunderwater@gmail.com) for more information.

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