Nuclear war as false memory

John Timberlake


In this paper Timberlake outlines aspects of his creative practice as an artist, explaining his fascination for the ‘fictions of nuclear war’ – a war that never happened and so became the subject of ‘false memory’. Highlighting discontinued historical trajectories, the author shows how the cultural legacy of Britain’s nuclear test programme of the 1950s and ’60s may be explored meaningfully in paintings and photography resulting from his archival research at the Imperial War Museum in London.


false memory, nuclear war, Britain, art, archive, Imperial War Museum

Full text: Timberlake_p.157-163 (PDF, 905 KB)


Biographical note

John Timberlake (born in Lancashire, 1967) is a London-based artist whose combinations of drawing, painting and photography reflect a longstanding engagement with landscape and history. He is an alumnus of Brighton Polytechnic and the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program, and holds a PhD from Goldsmiths College, University of London. Exhibitions include: We Are History (Beaconsfield, London); two international surveys in 2009, Beyond the Picturesque (Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Ghent), and Pittoresk (MARTa, Herford, Westfalen, Germany); Breakthrough: Works from the Collection at the Imperial War Museum (2009- 2010); After London, a collaboration with art historian Dr Joy Sleeman (Slade/UCL) at Stephen Lawrence Gallery, University of Greenwich; and Dark Sky, curated by Professor Geoffrey Batchen and Christina Barton at Te Pataka Toi Adam Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand. Timberlake’s book Bussard Ramjet, an illustrated fiction, was published by Artwords/Artis Den Bosch in 2009.

An earlier version of this material was presented on the occasion of the project conference ‘Disturbing Pasts: Memories, Controversies and Creativity’ (20 -22 November 2012, Museum of Ethnology/Weltmuseum Wien, Vienna). To view the film footage on the Open Arts Archive,, follow this link: