Klara and the Bomb is a photographical and historical work that charts connecting threads between the invention of modern computers, the history of nuclear weapons and, in particular, the narratives of the women involved.
While computing technology is ubiquitous today, its militaristic history and colonial connections continue to be underplayed or obscured: the modern computer originates in military-funded nuclear weapons research and development that took place during and after the Second World War. Many of these weapons were later detonated in the Marshall Islands where indigenous communities were coerced into leaving their homes.
These interconnected stories are told through the little-known life of Klara von Neumann, who came to the United States after marrying the noted mathematician John von Neumann. As one of the first computer programmers, Klara’s story highlights the extent to which women were involved in the development of both computing and nuclear weapons from the 1940s onwards. Klara’s life ended tragically: in 1963, her body was found on the beach not far from her California home. Suicide by drowning, the coroner’s report stated.
Artist Crystal Bennes (US) combines fieldwork images with archival research, declassified papers, military propaganda, historical images and an extensive textual narrative to bring these stories to life.
The book includes a text by Crystal Bennes and a conversation with historian of science Peter Galison.
Crystal Bennes is an American artist and writer based in Scotland. Her practice is grounded in long-term projects which foreground archival research, durational fieldwork and material experimentation. Recent bodies of work include a photo essay on an artificial island made of radioactive, industrially-produced fertiliser waste and a weed garden exploring a nineteenth-century myth of accidental plant migration from Italy to Denmark. She recently completed a practice-based PhD on histories of gendered representations of nature in the sciences and feminist critiques of physics.
320 pages, ills colour, 17 x 23 cm, paperback, English
Published by The Eriskay Connection