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Nadim's Ark: Nadim Abbas's Apocalypse Postponed

By Stephanie Bailey  |  Hong Kong, 16 May 2014

Photo: Roberto Chamorro. Courtesy Absolut

There’s a TV show on the National Geographic called ‘Doomsday Preppers.’ The show describes itself as one that follows ‘otherwise ordinary Americans who are preparing for the end of the world as we know it.’ In fact, there is a whole sub-culture in the United States of ‘preppers’—other outlets include Be Ready magazine, which explores ways of preparing for natural or manmade disasters. 

Of course, the end of the world has always been something of a preoccupation for humankind: we all remember the Y2K mania and the Nostradamus prophecies. The running joke in Goscinny and Uderzo’s classic comic series Asterix, is that the villagers constantly fear the sky falling on their heads.

Is this the reality, Nadim Abbas invoked in his Absolut Art Bar commission at Art Basel in Hong Kong this year? Titled Apocalypse Postponed the thematic premise was a post-apocalyptic bunker environment that draws inspiration from science fiction films, 20th century military architecture and defensive plans. The result was a space that invoked the cyberpunk visions of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Robert Longo’s Johnny Mnemonic. Yet, judging from the performance programme—which included an anime drag performance by Ming Wong—the irony of Abbas’s chosen theme was thick: this was a project that posited the idea that a postponed apocalypse is in fact an eternal apocalypse; or in other words, a permanent crisis. This idea resonates today as we enter the 21st Century on an edge. Everything seems permanently on a tipping point: the environment, the economy, our politics.

Recently in a New York Times article, Roy Scranton even posited that today, ‘ the biggest problem we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead.’ The sooner we confront this, Scranton continues, ‘the sooner we can get down to the hard work of adapting, with mortal humility, to our new reality.’ And what better place to start thinking about how to emerge from our collective death than the notion of a bunker—the place in which we might at once protect ourselves from our fears, while succumbing to the lures of our own paranoias? After all, in thinking about the visions of future apocalypses projected to us through literature and film, it is from a bunker that the new world will emerge. The question, then, of what we would hoard—what we deem worthy of preserving during the end times—becomes the message in a bottle not only to the future, but to the present.

Thinking about this, Ocula asked Nadim Abbas what he would take with him into his bunker, a space he designed so as to become a contained space in which temporalities are skewered. Fittingly, his answers to the question are a curation of books, movies and artworks that place importance on memory: an ark in which ideas for the future might be discovered and developed.

1. Two books: Henri Bergson’s Matter and Memory and Søren Kierkegaard’s Either/Or.

2. One Album: Current 93, Earth Covers Earth.

3. Two historical artworks: Manet's Olympia and something by Henry Darger.

4. A contemporary artwork: Mike Nelson's, A Psychic Vacuum, 2007.

5. Two movies: Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil and Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.

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