Cheer Up! It’s Not the End of the World (3 stars)

This article is from 2012.

Cheer Up! It’s Not the End of the World

Apocalypse images and tormented childhood dreams from Gordon Cheung, Damien Hirst and more

It’s coming. The end of the world, that is. Or at least that’s the case according to those who subscribe to the ancient Mayan theories of disaster-movie-style apocalypse, who reckon it will all be over by Christmas. As the title of this group show suggests, artists such as Damien Hirst and Etienne Clément don’t take such hokum altogether seriously, and are effectively fiddling while Rome – or wherever – burns. The likes of Gordon Cheung’s classical friezes set on backdrops of the FT index, meanwhile, have tapped into an infinitely more serious contemporary malaise.

Hirst’s gold-skulled ‘Death or Glory: Sunset Fold/Blind Impression Glorious Skull’ sets the scene on the stairs, while Clément’s ‘Second Coming’ finds a Jesus figurine stopping the Matchbox car traffic against a building site backdrop as the cameras roll. Beyond such japery, Cheung’s ‘Revelations I-XV’ and ‘Tree’ sum up the epoch-changing awfulness of this century’s financial collapse. In terms of the existential crisis forged out of such blind faith in mammon, Jake and Dinos Chapman’s Kafkaesque ‘I do not recall distinctly when it began, but it was months ago’ reimagines tormented childhood dreams of how it could be. It’s Andy Warhol’s tellingly empty ‘Electric Chair’, however, that sums up the way to go. In terms of the ultimate fin de siècle nightmare, it really is the living end.

Edinburgh Printmakers, 226 0000, until 8 Sep (not Mon), free.

Cheer Up! It's Not the End of the World …

  • 3 stars

Are we all doomed? A number of artists, including Gordon Cheung, Etienne Clement, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol have engaged with the subject of the end of the world as we know it, and with some claiming the apocalypse is nigh at the end of 2012, Edinburgh Printmakers has pulled together an…


1. Martin Lang13 Aug 2012, 3:42pm Report

While Cheung's allusion to capital is somewhat explicit the Chapman brothers are seemingly more associated with boyish play (air-fix kits, defacing art etc) and sci-fi-eque fantasy (their vision of Hell for example). However, with their Frieze Art Fair 'act' of defacing money (£10 and £20 notes), which of course had the perverse effect of increasing their value, and their support of students (and criticism of Con-Dem fee rises) entitled 'Can't pay your fees? We'll pay your fines!" could we now reconsider the Chapmans as critics of capitalism?

Indeed, their vision of Hell featured an apocalyptic McDonalds - reminding us of their long-term attack on consumerism. Even the perverted and twisted mannequins that brought them to fame critique capital - they were naked except for 'brand-name trainers'. Surely the Chapmans couldn't have predicted that things were to descend into such an apocalyptic scenario where 'youths' give up on everything and trash our cities in their quest to quench their thirst for trainers? And that's the interesting bit, it wasn't the inferno at Reeves Corner, the smashed shops all over London, the helpless police or any of that that became the defining aesthetic of the August Riots, it was the exposed rot of consumer capital that had set in: this is the contemporary apocalypse for us, where even if the world goes on we, like Chapman-esque zombies, just plod on trying to buy consumer products to give our life meaning.

Etienne Clement echoes this in his cheap, disposable plastic toys that are funny in their cartoon-like charm but sinister in their inhuman, zombie-like state (does anyone else see Dirk Skreber in these photographs? Especially The Second Coming, 2005-08).

Of course, the apocalypse is usually read in Biblical terms but in fact, it is older. It comes from the Greek, meaning something like 'revelation' or 'uncovering'. Perhaps something will be exposed on a specific date (before Christmas) as predicted by the Maya but I think that instead, we will accumulate revelations throughout 2012 until, at the Maya date, we reach a level of understanding. These 'revelations' include police corruption (Mark Duggan was only one of many deaths in police custody that have gone unpunished), press corruption (News of the World etc.) and political corruption (in their dealings with the two former examples, and in many other ways). It has been revealed to us that it is not only our institutions that are rotten to the core, but our consumerist lives that will lead to eventual ecological apocalypse. And yet still we cannot imagine any alternatives. In the wake of the global banking crisis of 2008 we just pumped more money into the system: it truly is 'easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism' and that's why artists like Cheung, Clement and the Chapmans are so important. They can show us the problem, but they can also help us use our imaginations.

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