Apocalypse and World Salvation

Annual Theme 2020/21

On the subject
Our expectations of the future have rarely been so defined explicitly by the idea of collapsing worlds as they are currently. In addition to concerns about climate and biodiversity, anxieties about the end of a human-dominated world are growing as artificial intelligence threatens to take control of the human species.

These catastrophic fears of the various ends of our world are spreading in different ways. Most striking currently is the fear of climate catastrophe. Whereas, until relatively recently, environmental and climate activists were often considered as fringe groups of radicalized idealists and cranks, their positions, concerns and worries have now entered the mainstream and form a significant part of our omnipresent media discussion. As a result, latent fears about the future - according to the analysis of the French philosopher and sociologist of science Bruno Latour - have now and for a number of years become axiomatically decisive points of political discourse.

At the same time, as science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson puts it, we are living in times of “The Dithering”, and the second and newly-entered third decade of the 21st century does not seem to be a period in which we are oriented towards a positively understood common future. But is this understanding true? That the widespread growth and promulgation of apocalyptic scenarios means that there are hardly any opposing relevant ideas of global salvation? Does the unprecedented growth of worldwide protest culture not change this narrowed horizon of the future? Has the project of modernity – understood as a move towards greater emancipation, more democracy and, above all, towards a global improvement of living conditions for all kinds of species – come to a standstill, despite all the activity, the demonstrations, appeals and reports? Is there a growing epistemic doubt that we are actually learning from history? And have, as Jürgen Habermas noted as early as 1985, utopian energies really been exhausted? Or are these being replaced by fantasies of world salvation by means of exponentially growing artificial intelligences, as Ray Kurzweil has in mind? It is striking that some well-known utopian advocates now subscribe to relatively modest future horizons. The biologist, feminist activist and author of the Cyborg Manifesto, Donna Haraway, for example, no longer positions the intertwining of humankind and technology as a great promise, and in her more recent texts, she, tellingly, only hopes for increasing places of refuge.

At the same time, however, there are also doubts as to whether the current zeitgeist is really being described accurately through the invocation of apocalyptic fears and ‘end time’ ideas, and talk of the narrowing future horizon. There is much to suggest that the Silicon Valley and Fridays for Future generations have a significantly different view of world events than those that preceded. Architects, for instance, design local and global utopias for climate-friendly and socially acceptable survival on the planet.

With the annual theme "Apocalypse and World Salvation", the focus will be on current end-time scenarios and narratives, possible future horizons and the aesthetics of related political movements. A lecture series on art and cultural history will focus on the historical dimension of artistic disaster prediction. In a group exhibition and an accompanying series of student-curated and devised events, current artistic engagement with end-time fears and impending global disasters will be contrasted with possible rescue scenarios and utopian refuges.

About the lecture series
The lecture series invites renowned art, cultural, film and literary scholars, and is intended to shed light on the contrast between historical and contemporary apocalyptic scenarios to elucidate the political and social developments, insights, experiences and images fueling these forecasts of catastrophe.

In doing so, the lectures will show that disaster forecasting is anything but a new phenomenon; as Frank Kermode and others have been able to show, it is a narrative with a "sense of an ending". This is not only manifested in the Christian tradition since the Revelation of John, but also embedded in the signature of both the Middle Ages and modern times. Thus, not only at the first turn of the millennium, but also into the 16th century, very far-reaching fears of the “end of days” were widespread. Joachim von Fiores or Savonarola's models of history bear witness to this, as do Leonardo's stirring Flood drawings and Dürer's famous "Dream Face", in which the painter captured his own dark nightmare of a landscape overrun by dark torrential waters, only a few days after the bloodiest battle of the Peasant Wars. Historical examples such as the doomsday fears of artists and theologians of the Reformation were at that time fueled by experience of violence in the course of great social upheavals. Even in the 20th century, fantasies of the end of the world (in the wake of the nuclear threat or the second millennium) were not simply forgotten. A variety of examples will be discussed in lectures and subsequent panel discussions and these will examine whether our current apocalypses are merely the latest expression of a long series of world endings, or whether they represent a different form of de facto urgency.

About the exhibition
The White Box will host an emerging interactive space of experience. Over the course of a year, changing constellations and configurations of objects, photographs, graphics and videos will be shown here, creating a complex picture of future fears and new drivers of a hopeful future, unclouded by apocalyptic visions. Visitors will be invited to form hopeful, yet sophisticated and plausible visions of the 21st century. We think of a constellation of Michael Pawlyn gigantic architectural visions of a fertilized desert and a documentation of a micro-invasive interventions by Israeli and Palestinian architecture students from the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, and a film about Agnes Denes' large-scale utopian planting campaigns in the cabinet space (the passage behind the wall). The main exhibition space should include Orkhan Huseynov's ironic soap opera adaptations of conversations about the climate catastrophe, Oliver Ressler's rich documentations of the work of climate activists, and Levi van Veluw's irritatingly beautiful conjoining of man, world and machine, as well as Pinar Yolda's toxic-futuristic micro-ecotopes which create a space full of abysses, grace and humour - enticing refuges for the future.

Further Information

Events of Apocalypse and World Salvation FT 2020/ ST 2021

Time to decide

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