Jonathan Horowitz

Apocalypto Now

Jonathan Horowitz, Apocalypto Now, 2009, 19:48 min, colour, sound, loop, still, © Jonathan HorowitzAlthough current ecological disasters are caused by social circumstances, they often are misrepresented as effects of force majeure. This way, climate change becomes the backdrop for the protagonists in politics or economy who can incorporate their secular interests in religious stories: depending on their motivation, they proclaim that the crisis is inevitable or that it can just be averted. Jonathan Horowitz has understood this pattern. In his ecological pleading, the 20-minute found footage film Apocalypto Now, he lets “heroes” such as the optimistic scientist Stephen Hawkins, the activist politician Al Gore or the ultra-Christian actor and director Mel Gibson speak.

Already in the title, two references meet: Apocalypto by Mel Gibson and Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola. One is a mystifying ethno-epos, the other an educational anti-war film. The term apocalypse incorporates both the religious connotation of revelation and the mythical connotation of doom. A documentation about disaster movies Made in Hollywood is the central theme of Apocalypto Now. However, the film clips are interrupted by scenes from current documentaries on climate change – fiction meets facts.

No disaster film can go without suffering and salvation. Jonathan Horowitz’s thesis is that disaster films have replaced religion as an important ritual in modern society. Thus, he uses its instruments to communicate a well-disguised call for climate protection.

Jonathan Horowitz, Apocalypto Now, 2009, 19:48 min, colour, sound, loop, still, © Jonathan HorowitzA narrator guides the viewers through the short history of the disaster movie. Slapstick-like silent film scenes are provided opposite current forecasts on climate change. With every real disaster, the economy of the disaster film slumped. The film The Towering Inferno from 1974 made the disaster itself the star of the film, and the film Earthquake was shown with Sensurround technology – making the cinema chairs vibrate. The disaster film grew with the continuous improvement of special effects.

Jonathan Horowitz, Apocalypto Now, 2009, 19:48 min, colour, sound, loop, still, © Jonathan HorowitzAfter two thirds of the film, Jonathan Horowitz stops the flood of images with a black screen. James Woolsey, the former CIA president, warns about the speed of politics on the example of Roosevelt and the car industry in Detroit. Then Jonathan Horowitz gathers all his emotional power: a photo of Stephen Hawkins in his wheelchair who is making a wake-up call in his computer voice is followed by a church scene in which a young handicapped woman suddenly has the strength to get up out of her wheelchair – a miracle. Should everyone be brave and leave their secure position, the metaphorical wheelchair?

With this montage, Jonathan Horowitz says that every fictional production like Apocalypto Now could be the reality today. The artist had had solar panels installed on the museum roof for the installation. Pleasure principle and climate protection are not mutually exclusive – the pleasure in the images of the disaster and climate-neutral behaviour can be brought together. Acting in this – seemingly ambivalent – way is possible today.

Vera Tollmann
works as a freelance author and curator in Berlin

Translation: Nicola Mahoney
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V. 2009


    © Aubrey Mayer
    Jonathan Horowitz (*1966 in New York) was a student at the New School of Social Research and also studied philosophy and film at Wesleyan University, Connecticut, and at New York University. In his videos and installations, for which he uses a montage technique, he alienates and contrasts themes from the entertainment industry with complex issues from politics and society. Horowitz is well-known for The Body Song (1997), a work of art that reverses the logic of Michael Jackson’s Earth Song music video. His solo exhibitions include, among others, Edition Bewegte Bilder (Museum Ludwig, Cologne, 2009), Jonathan Horowitz: And/Or (P.S.1, New York, 2009) and Go Vegan! (Greene Naftali Gallery, New York, 2002). Jonathan Horowitz lives in Greenport/New York.