“We now for the first time in history, as human beings, have the means to destroy ourselves,” says Patrick Merrill, curator of “Meditations on the Apocalyptic” exhibition at the W. Keith and Janet Kellogg University Art Gallery, during a discussion about a grander destruction of the world and culture as illustrated in his upcoming and last show at the gallery.
“The origin of the show is from my own work, from quite a while back actually,” he says. “About around 2003 or so, you began to see artists dealing with what I’ve already identified with this sort of biblical rewrite of our intentions as a country and this use of the Book of Revelations and the idea of the apocalypse, as if it was a goal, almost the goal of the U.S. government.”
In “Meditations on the Apocalyptic,” Merrill gathered five California artists (such as Christopher Hinton, Mark Bryan and Duncan Simcoe) and gave them free rein of the open spaces available in the gallery for large-scale installations draped with symbolism and iconographic images. The focus is the idea of the apocalypse and what it means to the society we live in, centering on the consequences of human actions.
“Our images of what God looks like, what Christ looks like, the nature of our vices and virtues, these things are all worked out iconographically over a number of centuries and as a result we’ve internalized them . . . These artists are dipping into the iconographic well that history has created,” Merrill says. “[Artist] Robynn Smith, in the show, is using images she’s extracting from the Holocaust. But she’s also placing them in a fairly benign landscape. Like in the one painting, Trinity; what looks to be something organic and a part of the environment dealing with the visual and contextual references of the holocaust is actually the first nuclear bomb.”
Another work, Sierra Pecheur’s installation, focuses on the story of Daedalus and around themes of Latin American Catholicism, utilizing post-apocalyptic images of mutilated characters with a whole wall contributed to Man-Rabbits.
“While not speaking directly to a post-apocalyptic kind of imagery, nevertheless [Pecheur] evokes it, and along this more carnal, visceral, Catholic version referring to it for at least 300 years was a major apocalyptic sense of early Christianity which fueled the Book of Revelations,” Merrill explains.
But despite the physical references there is an underlying theme throughout the exhibit: man-made destruction. While the contextualization of this destruction is easily mimicked in movies about the end of the world, Merrill’s initial interpretation for the show stemmed from politics.
“In a culture that really doesn’t know what direction it’s going in, that seems to have lost direction, the politicians—the classic imperialistic ones—seem to want to insert the renationalizing of the country,” he says. “And it worked for quite awhile, but we saw the disasters of it through Bush and we don’t live in a world like that anymore, we don’t live in a world in which one nation can do that.”
“Meditations on the Apocalyptic” at W. Keith and Janet Kellogg University Art Gallery at Cal Poly Pomona, 3801 W. Temple, Pomona, (909) 869-4302, www.csupomona.edu/~kellogg_gallery. Thru Oct 23, Tue-Fri, 11AM-4PM, Sat, noon-4PM. Free.