Just before 2012 gave way to 2013, we saw another end times prediction come and go. As the Mayan calendar drew to a close, the world kept on turning, and as far as I can tell no massive shift of consciousness took place. This most recent brush with doomsday anticipation now sits neatly at the end of Wikipedia’s list of “dates predicted for apocalyptic events”. Each prediction on the list has of course been repudiated by the world’s pesky habit of sticking around. Perusing this catalogue of grim prognostications, it is clear that mankind has always been beguiled by the idea of its own undoing. Looking back, it’s easy to dismiss each of these fraudulent oracles as hogwash. Hindsight as they say, is 20/20. Moving forward, however, who is to say what wild foretelling will capture our collective imaginations next time around? There is something immensely seductive about the idea that within your own miniscule lifetime you might be around to witness the unraveling of it all.
Michelle Blade, Day 252, 2012; Courtesy of the Artist and CCA Santa Fe.
Making Light of It, an exhibition currently on view at CCA, features artist Michelle Blade’s ambitious project, 366 Days of the Apocalypse displayed alongside a few of Blade’s sculptural pieces. For 366 Days, Blade made an image for every single day of the year 2012. In case you’re concerned that Blade fudged the math, 2012 was in fact a leap year. 366 Days reflects the artist’s musings on the theme of the end of the Mayan calendar and 2012 doomsday predictions. All 366 works are acrylic ink on paper and are roughly 9x11 inches in size. The series is displayed in long rows atop tall white shelves in CCA’s Muñoz Waxman Main Gallery. Though they do not appear in chronological order, a map is provided at the entrance to the exhibition to help you locate the number/day assigned to each work.
Recurring themes throughout 366 Days are abundant: palmistry, masked figures, burning buildings, cats, and a variety of book titles. Subjects range from the weighty—a Chevron refinery toxic cloud—to the mundane—a festively colored winter hat. Many works in the series have a dreamy, gaseous quality. For them, Blade has employed a cosmic, aurora-like color palette. Other images are more graphic with blocks of bold color and patterning. Taken together the series is visually dynamic; the eye dives into the cool depths of the softer paintings then leaps back out to skim across the surfaces of the flatter, textile-like images.
Michelle Blade, Day 296, 2012; Courtesy of Artist and CCA Santa Fe.
The most salient reoccurring imagery in the series is that of miniature human figures appearing in relief against monumental landscapes. These figures amble on cliffsides, negotiating apocalyptic, lunar territories. They climb out of caves, and stare raptly at the stars and moon. Clouds of smoke, and licks of flame billow up in front of their fragile forms in curtains of yellow, umber, green and blue. In these images, there is a palpable feeling of wonder at the vastness and mystery of the universe. The figures are searching for answers as they stumble through the unknown. In this sense, they can be taken to be representative of the existential state of mankind in general.
End time predictions, though centered on disharmony and chaos, are ultimately about exercising control. They aim to reign in the vast unpredictability of our existence by assigning a time and cause to the end of it all. The series 366 Days seems aptly tied to the theme of doomsday prediction as Blade’s work here is also about assigning structure to chaos. The practice of creating an artwork for every day of 2012 is a way of bridling the unpredictability of creative inspiration by channeling its energy into a formal routine. There is something very satisfying about seeing a body of work that marks a prescribed period of time’s passage. Though not all works in 366 Days are exceptional, taken as a whole the series tells a compelling story about a year, about an artist, and about being human.
(Image on top: Michelle Blade, 366 Days of the Apocalypse Installation View; Courtesy of Artist and CCA Santa Fe.)