Apocalypse – End Without End

10. November 2017 - 10. November 2022

Divided thematically into seven rooms, the exhibition "Apocalypse - End Without End" manages to combine factual analysis with prophecy and speculation and even undisguised delight at the prospect of man's downfall. The layout is complex and deliberately choppy in places: abrupt shifts followed by smooth transitions within and between rooms convey the sense of a single narration interrupted and resumed, sometimes linking divergent discourses, sometimes setting them against one another.

 

 

The seven rooms: a walk round the exhibition

Divided thematically into seven rooms, the exhibition "Apocalypse - End Without End" manages to combine factual analysis with prophecy and speculation and even undisguised delight at the prospect of man's downfall. The layout is complex and deliberately choppy in places: abrupt shifts followed by smooth transitions within and between rooms convey the sense of a single narration interrupted and resumed, sometimes linking divergent discourses, sometimes setting them against one another.  

 

Prelude: The stairs

For visitors who don't take the lift, the exhibition is accessed via a temporary staircase from the ground floor to the third floor. On the way up, they encounter works by some of the artists involved in the exhibition, while humorous, macabre and fundamentalist film sequences from popular internet videos provide a taste of what lies ahead. 
 

Room 1: The only certainty

The exhibition itself starts by presenting the only definitive end currently foreseeable, the one apocalypse scenario which is certain to occur. In around two billion years it will be so hot on Earth that all life will cease to exist, and in four and a half billion years the sun will swell into a Red Giant and burn out. This particular fate is evoked by a dramatic light installation created by the Berlin-based media agency TheGreenEyl which visually transforms the room more powerfully than any words.
 

Room 2: The end is always nigh

The second room explores the omnipresence of the Apocalypse - in our beliefs, prophecies and hopes, in media and religion. A goggling array of images and audio documents awaits, including a montage of End Time-related texts read out over five loudspeakers, the Last Judgement-depicting tympanum from the portal of Bern Cathedral, a theatrical production of the Apocalypse of St. John, and a Hollywood jaunt through almost forty apocalyptic films. These visions of the End Time only rarely envisage a definitive end: the eradication of evil and the rooting out of sinners is usually followed by a new and better age. The sculpture "Souvenir from Hell" by Jake and Dinos Chapman, a work of video art by Roberto Fassone and a real-time media installation by Marc Lee lend a delicious touch of irony. 
 

Room 3: Earth at risk

The iconic image of the Blue Planet, taken from space, is a breathtakingly effective ambassador when it comes to Earth's vulnerability. This room, then, is about real dangers: cosmic catastrophes and terrestrial terrors such as meteorites and volcanoes. A work by Roman Signer sees the Wörlitz Volcano erupt. The threat from outer space is symbolized by a window from Chelyabinsk in Russia, where four years ago the best-documented meteorite shower in history took place. The greatest threat to mankind, however, remains man himself. The Danish art collective Superflex recreates the Great Flood in a branch of McDonalds, providing a metaphor for the way we are killing ourselves by consumption. Julian Charrière's film of the Bikini Atoll, the site of a series of nuclear bomb tests in the 1950s, does important work in calling to mind what we would rather forget. Other traces of human influence on the planet are symbolized by two particularly striking objects: Andreas Greiner's two-metre high 3D-printed carcass of an industry-fattened broiler (chicken bones betray the presence of humans all over the world), and an ice core from Greenland which only sophisticated technology makes it possible to display at all. Investigations of polar ice layers show that the carbon dioxide content has risen more sharply in the last decade than in the preceding 800 000 years. Photographs by Armin Linke, and Ingo Günther's globes also speak of changes that are only apparent close up.  
 

Room 4: Wiped out

Natural disasters have caused at least five mass extinction events in the history of the Earth, and it is likely that we are currently experiencing the sixth, this time triggered by human influence. Among the countless victims is the woodchat shrike, which just ten years ago was a common breeding bird in Swiss gardens. Thousands of species disappear globally every year –  Joël Sartore's portraits lend them dignity and a face. Even the remaining fish, amphibian, bird and mammal populations are declining drastically - numbers have halved since the 1970s. An animated film projected across a whole wall explores the processes by which species emerge and disappear over millions of years, while a number of silent witnesses, mainly fossils, look on. But people die too under catastrophic conditions, and have done since they began to inhabit the planet. Their cities flourish and decline, as Camille Henrot shows in a fictitious display. Katie Paterson's celestial map charts all the stars that have already disappeared.   
 

Room 5: We'll all be merry and bright

The constant threats that we face spark not just fear but feed defiance, denial and, in some cases, creativity. "Davon geht die Welt nicht unter" ("This is not the end of the world") sings Zarah Leander, amidst a hall full of Nazi officers swaying in time to the music. The prospect that the end is nigh inspires visions, madness, music, escape plans, rescue schemes - and, as shown by the luxury bunkers available for purchase to Americans attempting to flee the Apocalypse, there's money to be made from it too. Preparing for a catastrophe can lend meaning to life, as the vibrant "prepper" movement proves. The animal world, too, is wired to react to changes in living conditions, inspiring the designer Kathryn Fleming to create three experimental new animal species whose adaptations equip them for the world of the future. And then there's the world outside the world, often imagined in films but now perhaps more real than we thought: NASA is already holding architecture competitions for the design of Martian habitats.  
 

Room 6: A world built on shaky foundations

Many people have experienced "their" world come crashing down. The end of the world can take on significantly less drastic forms than the end of all life or the end of the planet. Dementia patients lose their hold on reality; heartbreak can shatter an existence - the objects from the Museum of Broken Relationships are the debris of such catastrophes. Existential uncertainty abounds in this room, in sobering reports about the state of the deep sea and attempts to pollinate plants using drones, in dystopias and longings and in the illusion of victory which Elodie Pong blasts with an avalanche. Batoul Shimi's world vessels silently demonstrate the pressure they're under, while Gino de Dominicis' attempts to take flight are touching in their futile persistence. A few steps further on, Bazon Brock invites us to pause for philosophy, advising that apocalyptic thinking is a prerequisite for purposeful action. 
 

Room 7: Open end

The world hasn't ended yet - the end remains open. And so, rather than culminating in a conclusion, the exhibition finishes with a changing series of perspectives provided over time by different artists. The rules of the game are simple: the Museum invites an artist to create content for the last room of the exhibition and thus to draw their own personal line under it. The artist's contribution is displayed for a year, meaning that the final comment on "Apocalypse", the statement made from the vantage point of the end, will change over time. To emphasize this, the display will actually be changed in front of the public during exhibition opening hours. Beni Bischof's installation "Fist Teeth Money" opens the series with a spectacular mixture of real life and media realities in which banality, the grotesque and unexpected empathy generate an ever-changing succession of new and surprising alliances.
 

Nature and culture, fear and courage, fantasy and catastrophe: "Apocalypse" - the new exhibition 

 

"Apocalypse - End Without End" (opening 10th November 2017) represents a departure for Bern's Natural History Museum in several respects, merging the natural sciences with cultural science and pointedly featuring a range of works of art. Moreover, the exhibition sees the Museum, which is funded by the Community of Burghers of Bern, make use of new space for the first time. "Apocalypse" takes the visitor on a rollercoaster ride of fear and fascination. While catastrophes destroy worlds, they also unearth incredible life forces. "Apocalypse" was created in collaboration with exhibition designer Martin Heller and his team at Heller Enterprises.  

 
For Dunkleosteus, the fish whose fossilised skull now rests in a display case in the exhibition, the world ended long ago. These particular predators, which reached lengths of up to ten metres, disappeared from what were then the planet's seas 375 million years ago during one of the five major mass extinction events to have taken place on Earth. It's no secret that the Earth itself is still around, but countless worlds have disappeared over the course of its long history - from entire biological environments such as that of the dinosaurs - to human cultures. When will it be our turn? Since its very beginnings, mankind has been concerned with its end. The topic arises in the earliest surviving written texts, including the Epic of Gilgamesh, while the biblical vision of the Apocalypse has had a profound and far-reaching influence on Western culture. Today it is mainly Hollywood which feeds our imaginations with awe-inspiring portrayals of the end of the world. 
 
The apocalypse, more of a human invention than a scientific phenomenon, is by no means an obvious topic for an exhibition at a natural history museum. Yes, nature poses a threat to humankind - we remain at the mercy of storms and volcanoes, and natural disasters have always been a breeding ground for human fears. Despite this though, the entity that mankind should probably be most afraid of is mankind itself. The notion that humans are likely to be the cause of their own extinction is not new. It was reinforced with frightening clarity on 6th August 1945 at 8.15 am local time when the first atomic bomb was detonated over Hiroshima. And for an alarmingly large number of animal species on Earth, the mere appearance of Homo sapiens marked the beginning of the end. Are we currently in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event, this time caused by human influence? It is undisputed that species diversity is declining rapidly all over the world. This apocalypse is taking place on a daily basis, quietly and often unnoticed.
 

Onwards and upwards with a new strategy: nature and culture

"Apocalypse - End Without End", the new exhibition at the Natural History Museum Bern (planned duration five years), visits an ancient topic that is more relevant than ever. The exhibition compiles scientific, societal and artistic perspectives on the never-ending story of the end of the world. Images, objects and narratives from science, culture and art are set against each other in deliberate provocation. The resulting contrasts force visitors to confront their own beliefs and experiences, edging them onto a rollercoaster ride that lurches between human life and the universe, from confirmation to uncertainty. There is nothing moralizing about the exhibition though, and nor does it lead to blank despair. Like the show itself, the feelings inspired are contradictory: fear engenders courage, and catastrophes, however great, always unearth incredible life forces. 
 
For the Natural History Museum Bern, the exhibition represents a departure of sorts. The institution's strategy for the future places greater emphasis on temporary exhibitions, something that has not been possible until now due to a lack of space. The Museum, which is funded by the Community of Burghers of Bern, is currently in the process of taking over two floors of the building (an extension to its original premises which opened in 1998) that were previously rented out to external tenants. "Apocalypse" covers an area of over 600 m2 on the third floor, and the second floor, which is the same size, is due to open in 2019.  At the same time, "Apocalypse – End without End" continues the Museum's recent approach of bringing nature and culture together.  
 
"Apocalypse" was developed in collaboration with Heller Enterprises, Zurich, the company headed by the exhibition developer and one-time artistic director of expo.02, Martin Heller. After his involvement with the Swiss National Exhibition, Heller went on, among other things, to be artistic director in Linz's successful bid to become European City of Culture in 2009. This coming year he is teaming up with Holzer Kobler Architekturen, Zurich, an international architecture and design firm, to create a permanent exhibition about the city of Zurich at the Swiss National Museum. The striking and idiosyncratic scenography of "Apocalypse" is also by Holzer Kobler Architekturen. 
 

    Quotes from the exhibition's makers

     

    Martin Heller, Heller Enterprises

    "The end of the world is something that affects everyone. Any exhibition dedicated to the topic is going to move constantly between "high" and "low", switching easily between cultural and scientific reflection and more mundane, popular perceptions. You get to embrace the trash while remaining deadly serious. It's the best thing that can happen to you as an exhibition designer - the Apocalypse provides a licence for role plays of the subtlest and not so subtle kind."
     

    Julia Stoff, Heller Enterprises

    "Contributions from around twenty different artists bring a wide range of perspectives into the exhibition. Their work comments on, questions, confirms, ironizes or complements the scientific accounts presented, and this establishes an additional level of discourse which runs throughout the rooms right up until the open end. The variety and internationality of the artistic positions here is proof of the existential draw of the topic."
     

    Frerk Froböse, Heller Enterprises (Project Manager)

    "Apocalypse: it's a word which sounds definitive and final, but the possible ways of approaching it are endless. Our exhibition explores the 'end without end' by compiling a range of different and sometimes contradictory positions. Natural threats are juxtaposed with manmade dangers, hard facts with daring speculations, fear set against hope. What does the audience get from it? An interdisciplinary, apocalyptic rollercoaster in seven rooms."
     

    Tristan Kobler, Holzer Kobler Architekturen (Scenography)

    "What kind of architecture does the Apocalypse need? It's all about lending a strong form to uncontrollable forces which defy any attempt to tame them. At the start of the exhibition we go up high, towards the sun. From then on we're captive, in rooms whose layout is not random but governed by a unique and idiosyncratic logic. Lured by the aesthetic of reduction and driven by the content we find our way to the inevitable end - of the exhibition." 
     

    Christoph Beer, Director, Natural History Museum Bern 

    "This exhibition is an important milestone in the implementation of our new strategy: to present the natural sciences in a way that integrates cultural science, art and society.  We believe that our innovative exhibition concepts will turn this Bern-based museum into the leading natural history museum in Switzerland, as well as strengthening its international reputation and standing. By taking a multispectral approach, we hope to appeal to a broader audience - to speak to a wide range of visitors with accordingly varied interests. Our aim is to confront exhibition-goers with topics of acute relevance, approached through the lens of their own experience, thus opening as many doors as possible to a deep and inspiring understanding of the issues in question and of nature as a whole." 
     

    Dora Strahm, Exhibition Curator, Natural History Museum Bern

    "Why is a natural history museum putting on an exhibition about the end of the world?  Because it's a fantastic story that affects everyone  - everyone has a stake in it and it's always relevant, whatever the climate of the current age. On top of that, the Apocalypse is about as interdisciplinary as it gets, a topic which brilliantly combines elements of science and art. The exhibition explores it fearlessly but without taking away the magic - when all's said and done, the end of the world remains a mystery."
     

    Beda Hofmann, Head of the Geology Section, Natural History Museum Bern

    "Asteroid hits and nearby supernovae are scenarios which are possible, but not likely to occur. It's still important that we inform ourselves about the dangers, though, because this makes us aware of the fragility of our existence. Our options for preventing mega-catastrophes are extremely limited, so it seems to me even more important to focus on our treatment of the planet and on protecting at-risk populations in volcanic regions and earthquake zones."
     
      Beni Bischof
      *1976 in St. Gallen, lives and works in St.Gallen and Widnau
      benibischof.ch
       
      Michele Bressan
      *1980, lives and works in Bucharest
      www.michelebressan.ro
       
      Jake & Dinos Chapman
      *1966 in Cheltenham and 1962 in London, live and work in London
      jakeanddinoschapman.com
       
      Julian Charrière
      *1987 in Morges, lives and works in Berlin
      julian-charriere.net
       
      Chiu Chih
      * in Taipei, lives and works in London and Shanghai
      www.chiuchih.com
       
      Gino de Dominicis
      1947 in Ancona – 1998 in Rome
       
      Roberto Fassone
      * 1986 in Savigliano, lives and works in Florence
      www.jamaicainroma.com
       
      Omer Fast
      *1972 in Jerusalem, lives and works in Berlin
      www.gbagency.fr/en/42/Omer-Fast/
       
      Andreas Greiner
      *1979 in Aachen, lives and works in Berlin
      www.andreasgreiner.com
       
      Ingo Günther
      *1957 in Bad Eilsen, lives and works in New York
      ingogunther.com
       
      Camille Henrot
      *1978 in Paris, lives and works in New York
      www.camillehenrot.fr/en/work
       
      Marc Lee
      *1969 in Knutwil, lives and works in Eglisau
      http://marclee.io
       
      Armin Linke
      *1966 in Milan, lives and works in Milan and Berlin
      www.arminlinke.com
       
      Vladimir Nikolić
      *1974 in Belgrade, lives and works there
      www.vladimir-nikolic.com
       
      Katie Paterson
      *1981 in Glasgow, lives and works in Berlin
      katiepaterson.org
       
      Elodie Pong
      *1966 in Boston, lives and works in Zurich
      www.elodiepong.net
       
      Batoul Shimi
      *1974 in Asilah, lives and works in Tétouan
      www.roseissa.com/artists/Batoul/Batoul-Shimi1.html
       
      Roman Signer
      *1938 in Appenzell, lives and works in St. Gallen
      www.romansigner.ch
       
      Kasper Sonne
      *1974 in Copenhagen, lives and works in New York
      www.kaspersonne.com
       
      Superflex
      founded in 1993 by Bjørnstjerne Reuter Christiansen (*1969), Jakob Fenger (*1968), Rasmus Nielsen (*1969), the artists live and work in Copenhagen
      superflex.net