From Bone to Spaceship: Our Dignified Attitude toward the Apocalypse
Amy Gahyun Lee
Mar 09, 2018
I once had a brief conversation about the ‘post-apocalypse’ with Eric Yoon, one of Eazel’s co-founders. I asked him: ‘Why do depictions of a post-apocalyptic world in movies always look prehistoric?’ His answer was logical and concise: ‘Because it’s after apocalypse. For those who would be living in this era, prehistory would be contemporary again.’
You may recall 2001: A Space Odyssey’s iconic scene depicting a bone flung by an ape in pre-history dramatically phasing into a spaceship as it flies toward space. Invoking the open nature of time, Stanley Kubrick artfully connects the extreme state of nada to an advanced state of human in civilization, calling special attention to the nature of man—his tendency toward avarice and acquisitiveness, which would seem to transcend historical periods.
The community of natural and social scientists suggest we have entered into the ‘Anthropocene’ epoch—an informal geological term that refers to the present time in which mankind is significantly impacting the earth and its ecosystem. Supporters of the term regard the trinity test of 1945 as the starting point of this epoch, and they view radioactive waste, carbon dioxide in the air, concrete, and plastics as its artifacts to be. The term—in a sense—reflects the victory of human civilization, but, on the other hand, it symbolizes the violent nature of man arbitrarily dominating other species inhabiting the same planet.
Perhaps it’s time for us—as stewards of this planet—to give serious consideration to mankind and the environment from multiple perspectives.
In the preface to his curatorial note for the Taipei Biennial 2014 (The Great Acceleration), Nicholas Bourriaud thematically borrowed this term, ‘Anthropocene’, and evaluated where we may be situated in relation to the time horizon of this epoch. In accordance with his famous Relational Aesthetics, he called attention to mankind's relationship with other contemporary entities—from microbes to computer technologies—and asserted to re-define it in the spirit of redefining ourselves. His thesis was that art has the potential to serve as a gateway between the human and the non-human—to dissolve the binary opposition between subject and object. Considering such, throughout the biennial he re-examined the 'Anthropocene' designation and made a provision for the apocalypse that may come in the near future.
Christopher Wool’s 1988 painting, Apocalypse Now consists of the black bold words ‘Sell the House Sell the Car Sell the Kids.’ Perhaps these words are meant to invoke a pragmatic return to nada, to face the apocalypse with equipoise. Yet at the same time, perhaps their subtext alludes to what we shouldn’t do during end times.
Art has always questioned the line between morality and the shameless. Still, even when the artist is exploring the shameless, the audience is afforded an opportunity for introspection—to question what constitutes the underlying moral fabric of such. Rather than illustrating just one side of a subject matter, art presents the viewer with an opportunity for both positive and negative interpretations, as well as insight into the space between.
Top Image: The famous bone and spaceship scene of '2001: Space Odyssey'