Imagining the Apocalypse

Keynote: Professor Robert Mills (University College London)

Organised by Dr Edwin Coomasaru (The Courtauld) 

#ImaginingTheApocalypse | @CourtauldRes

Shaped by different religious traditions, the apocalypse has been called upon throughout history to articulate collective anxieties, act as a warning, or a yearned-for spiritual salvation. These contradictory and competing aims behind imagining the end of the world in specific cultural moments make it a fertile ground for analysis. This conference will ask: what are the politics of picturing annihilation, from the early Christian Church to climate change today? From medieval mosaics to Hieronymus Bosh, Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1498) to Keith Piper’s critique of Thatcherite-era racism, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1984) – culture has played a crucial role in imagining the apocalypse.

Claiming the end is nigh has always been political. The Democratic Unionist Party’s 1970s ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ campaign, for example, invoked the threat of Biblical floods: “The legalising of homosexuality would open the floodgates of immorality … The consequences of such a deluge would be grim”. What does this nightmarish vision tell us about the way we direct violence at others when fearing for our own survival? Rather than call for a saviour and salvation, could there also be an opportunity to contemplate and perhaps even come to terms with feelings of powerlessness in the face of our own annihilation? If the apocalypse is employed as a metaphor – a framework for conceiving reality, rather than a faithful portrait of it – it is regularly used to describe situations that are not literally the end of the world.

If we scratch under the surface, doomsday is often evoked time and time again to articulate a worldview of ‘us’ versus ‘them’: the desire to re-establish a sense of mastery over those perceived to be threatening. The fear that underscores these catastrophic accounts may be sincere, but if we take a step back from the immediate sense of dread they provoke – how can we unpack the politics and psychoanalytic stakes at play? Can we look across time and space to make sense of how such anxieties are intimately bound up with their specific historical moments, and that considering them comparatively can throw into relief how power and violence often fuel these fantasies of disaster? This interdisciplinary conference will examine imaginative representations of the end of the world from antiquity to the present day.



Friday 18th October
9:00am – 9:55am: Registration and coffee (Research Forum Seminar Room)

9:55am – 10:15am: Opening Remarks

Dr Edwin Coomasaru (Courtauld)

10:15am – 11:00am: Survivalist Fantasies

Chair: Prof Christine Stevenson (Courtauld)

Mischa Luy (Ruhr-University Bochum), ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine): Preppers and the Apocalypse’
Hattie Induni (Leeds), ‘‘What a beautiful world we destroyed’: Ruin and Ideology in Metro and Call of Duty 4’

11:10am – 12:10pm: Ecological Fears

Chair: Prof Caroline Arscott (Courtauld)

Harvey Shepherd (Courtauld), ‘Folklore in Translation: Rural Apocalypse and La Bête du Gévaudan’
Theresa Deichert (Heidelberg University), ‘A Dystopia Called Fukushima?: Sion Sono’s The Whispering Star and the Present-Potential Future Ecologies of the Nuclear Disaster’
Shirlynn Sham (Yale), ‘”My Hypothesis Has Gone to the Devil”: Accident and Apocalypse in the World’s First Industrial Subterranean Project’

12:10pm – 1:10pm: Lunch break (lunch provided for speakers and chairs in Research Forum Seminar Room)


1:10pm – 2:10pm: Climate Change

Chair: Dr Thomas Hughes (Courtauld)

Sarah France (Newcastle University), ‘Before the End: Anticipation, Extinction and Futurity in Pre-Apocalyptic Fictions’
Erdogan Sima (University of Lapland), ‘“Posthuman” as apocalyptic reflection: surviving the terror of symbolic castration in the Anthropocene’

2:20pm – 3:20pm: Psychoanalytic Anxieties

Chair: Prof Mignon Nixon (UCL)

Dr Rachel Warriner (Courtauld), ‘Maternal Apocalypse’
Isabel Millar (Kingston University), ‘The Apocalypse of Sex?: Extimacy in the Age of the Sex-Bot’

3:20pm – 4:00pm: Refreshments (Research Forum Seminar Room)


4:00pm – 4:55pm: Sexuality and Bodies

Chair: Dr Theo Gordon (Courtauld)

Andrew Cummings (Courtauld), ‘Apocalypse, Now!: Queer hope for the end of the world and Dew Kim’s Succulent Humans (2018)’
Dr Stefanie Snider (Ferris State University), ‘The Generative Power of the Fatpocalypse: Contemporary Artists Making Fat Art’

4:55pm – 5:15pm: Comfort break


5:15pm – 6:30pm: Keynote

Chair: Dr Rachel Warriner (Courtauld)

Prof Robert Mills (UCL), ‘Apocalypse Then: Derek Jarman’s Revelation and the Middle Ages’

6:30pm: Drinks reception (Research Forum Seminar Room)



Saturday 19th October
09.45 – 10.15: Registration and coffee (Research Forum Seminar Room)


10:15am – 11:00am: Supernatural and Spiritual

Chair: Emma Merkling (Courtauld)

Dr Johannes Huhtinen (Åbo Akademi University), ‘Reforming the End: John Foxe’s visualisation of the apocalypse’
Kate Pickering (Goldsmiths), ‘Weird Atmospheres and Biblical Floods: The Inundation of the American Megachurch’

11:15am – 12:15pm: Capitalism and Crisis

Chair: Dr Boris Čučković Berger (Courtauld)

Dr Arthur Valle (Rio de Janeiro Federal Rural University), ‘Fascist Apocalypse in Brazil! Jair Bolsonaro and the End of the Days imagery’
Dr Ian Dudley (University of Essex), ‘Postcolonial melancholia: apocalypse, eschatology and entropy in the late works of Aubrey Williams and Stanley Greaves’
Dr Jae Won Edward Chung (Rutgers University-New Brunswick), ‘Dis-alienating Apocalypse: De-visualization and South Korean Literature of the Post-2000s’

12:15pm – 1:15pm: Lunch break  (lunch provided for speakers and chairs in Research Forum Seminar Room)

1:15pm – 2:15pm: War and Violence

Chair: Prof Julian Stallabrass (Courtauld)

Erica Payet (Courtauld), ‘After the Storm: photography in the aftermath of the First Gulf War (1990-91)’
Tobah Aukland-Peck (City University of New York), ‘’The Abbey in Ruins and Ablaze’: Staging Disaster at the 1924 & 1925 British Empire Exhibitions’
Lucy Byford (University of Edinburgh), ‘An Embodied Apocalypse: Dada performance in Berlin’

2:30pm – 3:30pm: Science and Myth

Chair: Dr Esther Chadwick (Courtauld)

Francesca Cavallo (University of Kent), ‘The Apocalypse is Immanent’
Laura Gill (University of Lincoln), ‘John Milton, John Martin, and Mary Shelley’s Myth of Endings’

3:30pm – 4:00pm: Refreshments (Research Forum Seminar Room)


4:00pm – 5:00pm: Digital Dystopias

Chair: Andrew Cummings (Courtauld)

Colin Ross (Independent), ‘Gothic Games: A Transhistorical View of Jon Rafman’s Digital Dystopias’
Dr Emma Fraser (University of Lancaster), ‘Playing the Apocalypse: Imagining the end of the city in video games’
Dr Grace Williams (Independent), ‘The Uncanny Valley to Singularity’

5:00pm – 5:20pm: Closing Remarks



This event has passed.

18 Oct - 19 Oct 2019

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Vernon Square, Penton Rise, King’s Cross, London, WC1X 9EW