Ragnarök: Anthropocene Gallery Guide

The intention behind the installation is to encourage people to question and identify repeating elements and patterns. Through the stories of Norse Mythology and the lens of art, visitors to Ragnarök: Anthropocene experience a seductive space that provokes further investigation. Beyond visitors wondering or reading the gallery guide, a touch-screen device will be installed to facilitate deeper investigation into process and content.

“What is it?” “Does it mean something?” Questioning the world around us is a fundamental human characteristic, and finding meaning in life is not simply an abstract exercise in philosophy or spirituality, it is necessary for survival. After questioning, communicating what has been learned and understood, then allows us to move beyond survival to civilization. Both civilization and it’s opposing force, chaos, are personified by gods and giants in Norse Mythology, each having their necessary role to play in intertwined, cyclical, and predetermined action. Stories about the gods and giants helped Northern European tribal peoples, before the age of Christianity, understand their world and anticipate future events. In the story of Ragnarök, as recorded in the Voluspa in the Poetic Edda, we hear about the void before the beginning of the world, the creation of the world, it’s destruction through fire and flood, and then the beginning of the next new world. And then finally we hear about the seeds being planted for the eventual cycle of destruction to repeat itself. In our site-specific installation’s title, Ragnarök: Anthropocene, we also include the name given to our current period in geologic history to emphasize the fact that human beings are playing out the roles of creation and destruction, – the gods and giants – and that we can benefit from identifying repeating elements and cyclic patterns and adjust our behavior to ensure survival and strengthen civilization.

How are we communicating these ideas? First, the walls in the installation space are painted with five stanzas selected from the primary source of the story of Ragnarök: the poem Voluspa in the Poetic Edda. These stanzas, written in the Viking age runic alphabet, the Younger Futhark, are arranged on the gallery walls in a visual composition that emphasizes the vertical element in each of the runes. Further, the rune “font” has been designed to also emphasize the vertical element. Western alphabets tended to evolve from an initial vertical stroke with one or two additional lines then attached to it. The design as well as the production and painting of the runes in the gallery uses this evolutionary principal, as well as the tendency of the additional lines in the runes to have a direction.

The runes are painted in the same color as the walls, with only a difference in sheen, semi-gloss over matte, to reveal their form. They appear and disappear as the viewer walks through the installation space encountering varying angles and sources of light. Also changing strength in visibility are a series of “Galdrastafir,” or magic symbols, that are made with gold interference paint. Gold has a long history of signifying power, but also the sacred, and both interpretations are referenced here to emphasize the symbols’ power to protect. On the west gallery wall, they flow through the space superimposed over the field of runes to protect, and mark the position of, the figures of the gods.

On the east gallery wall, they symbolically represent the counter-flowing action of the forces of chaos: the giants. In Norse mythology, the gods themselves have ancestry that includes families of giants. Thor, for example, has more giant ancestry than god ancestry, so it is clear that the battles between chaos and order are often internal clashes and cycles. Our own private Ragnaröks.

The spiral of sculptures that represent the gods form an ellipse inscribed within the rectangle of the gallery space and hint at the foundational geometry that was used in the creation of the larger composition. These geometric forms conceptually escape the gallery space and expand the ideas behind the installation beyond the museum into the public realm.