Apocalypse now . . . and then

"Signs of the Apocalypse / Rapture" (Front Forty Press: 284 pp., $65) is one of the strangest projects I've ever come across, an oversized art book, featuring text, images and two CDS of music (by Sonic Youth and others), dedicated to an aesthetic/intellectual consideration of the end of the world. Or no, not the end of the world -- at least, not in standard millenarian terms -- but something more elusive, more difficult to pin down.

"There is an end to be sure," writes Doug Fogelson, one of the "curators" of this volume, in an introduction, "but depending on one's belief there may be something after the end . . . perhaps." The work here, then, is an attempt to navigate the idea of rapture or apocalypse, not as literal prediction but as a metaphor for transformation, whether positive or negative.

As a result, "Signs of the Apocalypse / Rapture" operates on a variety of levels, depending on how deep you want to go. The visuals -- paintings and photographs by 62 artists, including Ed Ruscha, Carrie Schneider and Bill Viola -- are a striking mix of the concrete and the abstract: skulls, clouds, chaotic street scenes, an empty beach.

But the secret draw here is the writing, particularly a collection of transcripts from Jerome McDonnell's Chicago Public Radio program "Worldview," which in August 2007 did a week of shows around the theme "The End of the World." Featuring psychiatrists, authors, religious scholars and journalists, the conversations here encompass everything from the Antichrist to the Mayan calendar, reminding us that all cultures have their visions of the end times, that apocalypse and humanity go hand-in-hand.

-- David L. Ulin

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