The Horse as Technology
The not-so-cheery scenario of the end of the world is a constant source of gloomy inspiration and fascination for artists. Arguably its premier literary example, the Book of Revelation, is what forms the basis of De/coding the Apocalypse by artist Michael Takeo Magruder, a new exhibition which explores the text's doomsday musings through a variety of different digital mediums.
Pieces include a horse's skull—referencing the infamous four horsemen—that was replicated using 3D printing, scanning and other digital techniques (The Horse as Technology), an Oculus Rift-based VR metropolis created using architectural descriptions from Revelation (A New Jerusalem), and metal plates with passages from the book laser-etched into them in the ASCII machine languages of Datamatrix, PDF417, and QR-code (Apocalypse Forever).
Along with "digital stained-glass windows" that feature text from the book along with images that flash up from web searches relating to the it (Revelation as Mirror) and Playing the Apocalypse, a series of three projections composed from footage of Gears of War.
A New Jerusalem
Playing the Apocalypse
As with most pondering about the future, what's actually revealed through the fantastical installations are our contemporary concerns and doubts. "Whether those are hopes or fears, our desires or aversions, the way we think about such a future tells us actually what’s on our minds in the present," notes Magruder, "so with this in mind, this show seeks to do that within the context of Revelation's apocalyptic future-looking theme and narrative."
Before working on the five installations that make up the exhibition, Magruder spent a year as artist-in-residence at the department of theology and religious studies at King's College London. Here he was shown various interpretations of Revelation by different scholars which fed directly into the works. Four of the pieces are based on readings of the text by the academics while the fifth piece, The Horse as Technology, was inspired by his time at the school.
Revelation as Mirror
The results are an exploration that mixes old and new tech into the intersection between art, technology and religion. More traditional practices like painting, sculpture, stained glass, and video are integrated with data-based and computational methods. "This combination anchors the lineage of the works in the artistic histories/traditions of the past, while simultaneously linking them to the present day," explains Magruder. "Like any current reading of the Book, the works seek to speak about the now while paying homage to and referencing the past."
The tech ranged from pricey industrial machinery ("the digitally printed acrylic panels in Revelation as Mirror and the delicate 'wireframe' 3D printed skulls from The Horse as Technology" ) to off-the-shelf devices available in your average electronics store.
When asked about his own relationship to the Book of Revelation Marguder draws a parallel with his childhood growing up in Washington DC at the height of the Cold War—a time when a child's imagination could be overrun with the apocalyptic dread of mass extinction via nuclear warfare. While that method may have shifted to other fears—environmental, chemical, technological, biological—the fascination with "The End" is still very much alive, both in popular culture and art, and in our everyday daydreaming.
"They are narratives we like to think about, imagine and place ourselves within," notes Marguder. "And I think that is good for us to ponder and to imagine—whether we are religious or not—because in this technological age we have so much power to destroy and to bring about our own end. Yet that same technology could/can also bring us hope and salvation. And maybe in that simple fact, a text like Revelation can surface our greatest fears and our greatest hopes and help us to strive towards the positive in the full knowledge that if we get it wrong, it could be the end of us."
The Horse as Technology
De/coding the Apocalypse, now until 19 December, The Kings Cultural Institute, London, UK.