People have always had a tendency to think the end of the world is imminent; if you were around 8,000 years ago when a huge tsunami cut Britain off from the continent, or in Rome in 410, or London in 1348, the start of the Black Death, such a belief would have seemed entirely reasonable.Today with the arctic ice disappearing, riots across the Middle East, drought decimating crops and the super volcano under Yellowstone simmering gently, we’re spoilt for choice of what the Cosmic cat’s paw will be.
Of course looking at it on a purely personal basis, it is going to be the end of the world sooner or later for each and every one of us. Perhaps faced by the prospect of our own demise it is somehow comforting to believe we will not be alone and that the party is not going to continue for long anyway.
Dates have always fascinated doomologists. Round numbers have their supporters. The end of the world was apparently widely predicted for the year 1,000 just as it was for 2,000. Some favour more random dates – Radio Preacher Harold Campion, if you remember, predicted that Judgement Day would happen in a rolling wave at the beautifully precise moment of 6.00 local time on May 21 2011. He convinced his followers, some of whom sold all their earthly possessions in readiness, that Jesus Christ would return to earth and transport the faithful bodily up to Heaven. When it didn’t happen, or there weren’t enough faithful for anybody to notice, Campion recalculated and fast forwarded the predicted Rapture to the end to October. I just love thinking of him waiting, kicking his heels and looking at his watch like a teenager who has been stood up.
For those of you who haven’t noticed the next end of the word event is scheduled for December 21st, so if you hate Christmas shopping you could leave it till, say, December 22 and see if it’s still necessary. December 21st gets to be in the hot spot because it was supposedly the end of the Mayan calendar and some people are trying to work Nostradamus into the act as well.
Why the Mayans should have been concerned about the world ending in 2012 beats me; you would have thought if they were any good at predicting cataclysmic events they might have been worried about the year 900 when most of their cities got abandoned. Equally we don’t find anything portentous in the fact that Collins Five Year diaries end in – well, five years.
No matter, as part of the Coastal Currents Arts Festival, artist Sharon Haward, who, for the record, tells me she doesn’t actually believe the end of the world is scheduled to spoil the Christmas hols, has collaborated with other artists in her basement studio Underground in Robertson Street to create different end of the world scenarios. They are inspired both by the Mayan calendar and by writers as diverse as Angela Carter, William Gibson, and Slavoj Zizek and together combine to create a layered effect of impending doom, which however makes for less gloomy viewing than you might think.
In Haward’s own work the viewer feels as if he or she is sheltering in a flimsy structure, half swept away by a hurricane or worse; the ceiling looks as if it might fall at any moment; you are surrounded by disturbing images.
There is the recurrent motif of bands of light and dark, bars perhaps, suggesting imprisonment or constraint of some kind; these are punctuated by clips of floods and storms as well as the shocking scene of riot police kicking a defenceless victim. At the end of the world the rule of law breaks down or becomes corrupt.
In contrast Sarah Locke’s nuclear bunker appears almost cosy; it is post apocalypse and she has created a sound installation which is nostalgic for the recent past. In her vision of the future, people are isolated and those who can mend things or cook are valued. I’m not much good at mending things, but I’m quite a dab hand at rustling up meals so that was encouraging.
Maff Littlemore’s work Sweet Dreams Countdown seemed more sinister – the press release speaks of “a childlike vision of the future” but while a screen showed work featuring sampling, remix and collage, digital numbers projected to the side gave the unmistakable impression that time is running out for us all, while Scott Robertson reflects on time in an intricate drawing installation which at first sight appears to be printed but is in fact done with a pencil.
Matthew Pountey and Johnny Crump audio-visual work, displayed on an old-fashioned TV screen in front of a an armchair, was strangely hypnotic and disturbing and has a brilliant soundtrack. It is also unexpectedly funny which in itself is somewhat uncomfortable. It includes clips from the 1986 Challenger Disaster, which even a quarter of a century later has not lost its power to shock, shots of Thatcher, action men and plenty more besides. I was not sure what it meant – perhaps that the end of the world started some time in 1970.
On the night of the private view, a man coming up the stairs as I was going down commented, ” it’s fun down there.” He was right – it is fun but it also makes you think how habituated we have become to the nightly diet of disaster that is beamed into our homes. We need to be – to survive.
Unless the real end of the world kicks in early there is still time to the see the installations. The End of the World is open from 2-6pm on 15/16th and 22/23rd September. Address – Underground 35 Robertson Street, Hastings TN34 1HT.