Michael, renowned for his work in digital media and his use of cutting edge technologies, spent a year working with academics and research students within the Department of Theology & Religious Studies and his residency culminated in an exhibition in the Inigo Rooms. The exhibition, titled De/coding the apocalypse, was on display from 7 November 2014 to 19 December 2014, and the works which made up the exhibition were responses to critical essays by five academics from the Department.
De/coding the apocalypse was an exhibition investigating our enduring fascination with the Book of Revelation, updating and interrogating both its positive and negative aspects. The word ‘apocalypse’ originally indicated an ‘unveiling’, and the Book itself documents not only the destruction of the current world, but also maps out the creation of a new, better one. Using the latest in technology, from 3D printing to virtual reality, the show brought various elements to life in ways that were as playful as they were engaging.
The exhibition was an interdisciplinary collaboration that blended arts practice and academic research from the Department, and was in partnership with Welsh contemporary art centre, MOSTYN. Alfredo Cramerotti from MOSTYN was the curator of the exhibition.
Watch a video of Alfredo and Michael discussing the exhibition below:
By aligning contemporary art and theological study, the collaboration aimed to create new ways of looking at an ancient text and to make it relevant for modern audiences. The exhibition was an opportunity for the public to think differently about theology and to gain unique behind the scenes access to the work of leading King’s academics.
During his residency, Michael came to the decision that four academic contributors in particular could provide generative, and contrasting, perspectives on the Book of Revelation – each of which would offer a stimulus for the artist’s own response – and that both their ‘readings’, or provocations, and his responses, could eventually be included in the exhibition guide. The four perspectives are from New Testament studies, Christian art history, contemporary cultural criticism, and political theology and represent a cross-section of some of the complex sub-disciplines that cohabit in the disciplines of Theology and Religious Studies. The exhibition text, which also includes a foreword from Michael, is available to read here.
Using these academic responses as inspiration, Michael constructed five digital media installations for the exhibition using a range of digital technologies, such as mobile devices, virtual reality, live data and user interactivity, as well as physical materials associated with traditional installation such as painting, print and sculpture. This blending of new and old delivered an update and expansion of the concepts and contexts that have surrounded the Book of Revelation throughout its history.
More information about each of the installations is available below:
The Horse as Technology
This installation presented the Horses of the Apocalypse as symbols of technology that embody transformation, with the power to either create or destroy. The room took the form of a laboratory filled with modern digital production technologies including computer workstations, digital displays, 3D scanning and printing systems. A real horse skull and other related biological materials were displayed as the installation's focal point, surrounded by various automated systems that continuously generated digital copies of them, including 2D and 3D prints and wireframes. Viewers were able to witness the technological processes first hand and reflect on their potential to both create and destroy, like horses in ancient times, which were often symbols of power.
Playing the Apocalypse
This series of compositions explored how archetypes found within the Book of Revelation are very much a part of today's digital pop culture. The works displayed here were exclusively created from in-game footage sourced from the popular third-person shooter Gears of War (Epic Games, 2006-11). The game's setting – a once beautiful, but now ashen world called Sera that is home to humanity’s last survivors – was used to create scenic compositions that are reminiscent of the English Romantic painter John Martin's seminal apocalyptic landscapes (such as The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, 1852 and The Great Day of His Wrath, c.1853).
Revelation as Mirror
This room contained a series of digital stained-glass windows that referenced how the Book of Revelation remains relevant throughout the centuries. The lead-like frame that holds the glass was composed by text from the Book of Revelation as well as digital (LED) light that carried fleeting images from live web searches based on celebrated keywords from this sacred text.
This artwork reflected on our endless preoccupation with deciphering the hidden messages within the highly symbolic Book of Revelation. The work took the form of a series of large wall-mounted metal plates with a highly modern look, whilst it also visually referenced ancient stone tablets. Passages from Revelation were transcribed onto these plates as 'readable' machine language via a CAD laser etching process, and incorporated QR codes that could be scanned by visitors using their mobile phones, instigating automatic web searches based upon the surrounding texts.
A New Jerusalem
This immersive installation explored Revelation's positive outcome, namely the creation of a new Jerusalem descending from heaven into the vacuum of the old world. Audiences were invited to step into a virtual reality 'illuminated' metropolis based upon Revelation's architectural descriptions, constructed using real-time data collected from urban centres via mapping applications and sensor networks.
A New Jerusalem was shortlisted for the prestigious Lumen Prize 2015 and won the Immersive Environment Award.
Michael Takeo Magruder is a visual artist and researcher who works with digital and new media including real-time data, digital archives, immersive environments, mobile devices and virtual worlds. His practice explores concepts ranging from media criticism and aesthetic journalism to digital formalism and computational aesthetics, deploying Information Age technologies and systems to examine our networked, media-rich world. In the last 15 years, Michael’s projects have been showcased in over 250 exhibitions in 30 countries, and his art has been widely supported by numerous funding bodies and public galleries within the UK, US and EU.
In 2010, Michael was selected to represent the UK at Manifesta 8, the European biennial of contemporary art and several of his most well-known digital artworks were added to the Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art at Cornell University. More recently, in 2014 Michael was commissioned by the UK-based theatre company Headlong to create two new artworks: PRISM (a new media installation reflecting on Headlong’s production of George Orwell’s 1984) and The Nether Realm (a living virtual world inspired by Jennifer Haley’s new play, The Nether).
A symposium on De/coding the apocalypse and its theological and artistic themes was held on 3 December 2014 at King's with the artist, curator and academics behind the exhibition. The discussion focussed on the guiding idea at the origin of the project, its process in the form of research, and its ultimate realisation as an exhibition.
Participants included Michael, curator Alfredo Cramerotti, lead academic Professor Ben Quash, and three of the four academic ‘readers’ of the Book of Revelation whose ideas informed the artist’s work, namley Professor Edward Adams, Dr Michelle Fletcher, Professor Aaron Rosen, and Dr Simon Woodman.
On 21 November 2015, four of the academics who worked with Michael during his residency contributed to a panel discussion about the exhibition at the international conference of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) held that year in Atlanta, US. The session was called De/coding the apocalypse: Contemporary Artistic Insights into the Past, Present, and Future of the Book of Revelation and was part of the conference theme Visual Contact with the Apocalypse.
A recording of the 2014 conference at King's is available in two parts below: