Failed predictions of the apocalypse punctuate history, appearing in times of political and economic uncertainty. Today our world seems less certain than ever, and theories about the end of the world are predictably multiplying, their mythologies shaped by our current civilization. For the past century, countless writers, artists, and filmmakers have explored nightmarish visions of the future, often in an attempt to express the destructive trajectory of a rapidly changing society. This imagery has come to feed (and be fed by) our collective imagination. Since the turn of the millennium, the apocalypse genre has become a dominant force in modern entertainment.
In my current body of work, I investigate these fictional projections of the apocalypse. Like an anthropologist, I study the ruins of the future to learn about the culture that created them, and to analyze the cause of their destruction. The obsessive nature of my process is evidenced by the claustrophobic result. In the past year I have created more than 250 ink drawings based on stills from films, television shows, and video games. Rendered in ink on polyester film, my initial landscapes reference the dimensions and luminosity of my television, as well as the format of traditional animation cells. Although the drawings begin with direct observation of the screen, I finish them from memory.
These drawings reveal my subjective response to a mediated experience. They reveal my complicity as a voyeur, as a willing spectator of fetishized destruction, as a connoisseur of beautiful explosions. My final physical intervention with these drawings is an act of destruction and reconstruction. Like Dr. Frankenstein, I have assembled a world from the dissected fragments of dead worlds, and the result is a clumsy simulation that is both more and less than the sum of its flawed parts. And like Mary Shelley, writing nearly 200 years ago during the first wave of the industrial revolution, I suspect I am expressing my own discomfort with unrestrained technology. In the end, I present you with a beautiful monster, asking what it means to be human.
By drawing images culled from 80 years of popular entertainment, I have attempted to catalogue the modern evolution of our attitudes toward war, science, disease, and consumerism, and in a larger sense, our uneasiness about the future of our species on this planet. Somewhere between kitsch and horror, these images show us an all too familiar landscape. They show us our potential for self-destruction, albeit through the screen’s dark glass. They offer a warning about the danger of fear itself.
All too easily, the fear of change becomes nostalgia for oppression. The fear of technology becomes an attack against science, and in a larger sense, against rational thought. Without the pursuit of knowledge, how will we find our way forward? For thousands of years, humans have predicted the apocalypse, but a long view of history reveals our capacity to learn, evolve, and survive. I believe in the power of art, like all systems of knowledge, to illuminate the world. Although this work indulges the darkness, its narrative arc is based on a personal hope for redemption, and my belief in our capacity for change.
Erin Whitman - April, 2012