You're standing in the middle of the street, the same road you've walked all these years. Yet, this is the first time you've taken the time to stop and really look around. The faces that were once blurry and indistinct suddenly become detailed and unique. The mass suddenly becomes a jigsaw puzzle where a single person becomes part of a whole, each individual has a voice and role to play. What you once ignored becomes precious. Then it hits you, you're a tiny grain of sand in a sea of millions of lives, possibilities, and dreams. Your dream holds as much value as the one of the person who bumped your shoulder on their way to work. You are but a small atom in this universe and this seemingly irrelevance is comforting. How can a single atom create or have an impact? You may join the swirling mass of people and allow your essence to become enfolded into a common objective, or you may swim against the current and try to make a difference that will vibrate with energy in the centuries to come.
The very foundations and genetic make up of mankind date back to the Big Bang. Just as Carl Sagan once said: “the nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of star stuff.” While we may feel important thinking that we're made of stars, for the past few years we have been hellbent on transforming and modifying that star stuff to the point of destruction, thus snuffing humanity's glowing light as we know it.
Thousands of wars have left their mark on this earth and on our psyche. We may have evolved in certain respects but pain always seems to go hand in hand with power and supremacy. In this destructive setting, art has endeavored to show the chaos and pleasures of the human way of life. For this reason, many artists have decided to show what we tend to ignore or are too afraid to confront: our own destruction.
Zdzislaw Beksiński and his apocalyptic artwork
Zdzislaw Beksiński's death was a heartbreaking event in the art world. He was stabbed to death because of the greed of a single man who wanted money from him. His life reflected his art in many ways and one could even say that he was able to summon the most apocalyptic scenarios in his paintings. Beksiński's paintings drag us into the dark corners of our soul. The deep reds, the dark shadows, and intense yellows are ingrained in our minds. We cannot help but feel the blood dripping from the canvas.
That darkness represents the future of humanity. It shows us suffering the direct consequences of our own actions. In Beksiński's paintings we can see nature's decay amidst oceans of fire and waste lands that once were spaces of purity and peace.
Os retirantes by Cândido Portinari
In a world where expressionism dominated all artistic movements, Os retirantes highlights the feelings of Brazilian painter, Cândido Portinari. His work is a mixture of social commentary and human decay. It's a depiction of the hunger and poverty many people endure in his home country. These figures are surrounded by a dark aura, which conveys the horrors many were forced to endure in the first half of the twentieth century.
Os retirantes compares migration to a domino effect. In the past, humanity decided to settle and build great civilizations. The idea of setting down roots was the epitome of progress. However, in today's age, many have been forced to abandon their homes. In this painting all the figures shown are victims of circumstance. The dark and empty valley that surrounds these decrepit figures is desolate. All hope has been lost.
Apocalyptic Landscape by Ludwig Meidner
The Apocalyptic Cityscapes isn't not just one of the most unsettling series of German expressionism, it also manages to create a more objective and critical portrayal of reality. With vibrant colors, Meidner exposes how violence overpowers and overwhelms life.
A rain of fire coming from the sky destroys the city. The power of this painting lies in the fact that destruction doesn't come just from the land, but it's everywhere. The landscape bleeds all over the painting, drowned in the purest decadence. The decay is such that its main agents are forgotten: humanity and nature itself.
Pieter Brueghel and The Triumph of Death
If we were to set The Triumph of Death in a determined historical period, it would definitely be a time of chaos, ruled by economic and social crisis. Here, catastrophes ravish the population, famine is an uncontrollable force, and wealth is only for a few. However, as a matter of "divine justice," Death comes to bring order and composure. It closes cycles, no matter your status. Whether you're poor, a soldier, a prisoner, a villager, a merchant, or a politician, Death comes to announce that the end will come equally to all of us.
Death's visit to the valley of the living can be interpreted in various ways. Within the context of Pieter Bruegel's artwork, we could say that Death is a merciful being that intends to take all banalities that human beings have conferred to themselves. Imagine what would happen if something like this did occur?
Gilberto Esparza and his Nomadic Plants
Art has left the passiveness of the galleries, which only invited the spectator to appreciate and reflect upon the work, in order to acquire a more active role and convey meaningful critiques. That's what Gilberto Esparza's Nomadic Plants intends to do: show nature's future with the imminent implementation of technology in all the areas. He's created a device that allows nature and technology –with all it's toxicity– to coexist without destroying one another. This work attempts to save nature and all the living creatures that depend on it from human selfishness and its predatory survival instinct.
Nomadic Plants represents an automaton robot capable of walking on water to reach highly polluted spaces. It decomposes garbage while purifying the water. It's completely self-sufficient due to its mechanism that's fueled with energy. It has plants inside its structure, which makes it a symbiotic machine.
The thesis behind this creation is that we must combine artificial intelligence and biology to survive, otherwise, we'll end up destroying nature. It may sound easy and can be seen as a very practical solution, but it also raises a more philosophical and moral debate: are human beings that selfish that they have to invent a machine to repair their damages? Nowadays, it's been created as a work of art, but who knows? Tomorrow it might be an everyday gadget.
John Martin and The Great Day of His Wrath
The Great Day of His Wrath is an oil painting that portrays the Christian perspective of the Book of Revelations or the Apocalypse. This passage of The New Testament can be seen like an artistic work rather than a practical text. Reading it won't mean that you're a religious person. It will only reflect your interest on how the scriptures describe the destruction of humanity. John Martin depicts how God will destroy humanity, not through magical or divine powers, but with an imminent natural catastrophe.
If we analyze it from a secular perspective, the main protagonist in this particular scene is nature. Lava has taken over the setting while human beings are battered on the hills of the mountain, destroyed by a sky that spits bolts filled with nature's wrath. This painting predicts how the wind, water, fire, and earth themselves will destroy their millenary enemies, who refused to live in peace with them.
Millions of years ago, the universe was created by a massive explosion. Billions of particles spread to create life: water, earth, animals, plants, all you can imagine. And here we are, a microscopic being in the middle of that tiny blue circle we know as planet Earth. That blue is what represents us in front of that massive, big universe. It's the color of all the oceans that allows us to enjoy life.
Perhaps, humanity's destruction will come one day. However, if we want to abandon this world with dignity, we must leave a legacy that goes beyond ourselves: that blue of the oceans is what gives us an identity as a planet.
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards