Mats Bigert

Bigert & Bergström, one of the final pages from The Last Calendar, 2011.

Mats Bigert is half of the artistic and design duo Bigert & Bergström, along with Lars Bergström. In collaboration with Cabinet, they have created The Last Calendar, a project based on the Mayan long calendar calculations for 2012. Their exhibition “Meditations on Divinations” is on view at Forum Gallery in Stockholm until January 31. Here, Bigert discusses the research process for the calendar.

THE INITIAL IDEA FOR THE LAST CALENDAR came while we were working on Tomorrow’s Weather, an installation that uses weather forecasts to explore how we try to control our living conditions by making estimations on future events. We were examining the temporal nature of truth within celebrated ideas, scientific or otherwise, that history has proven to be wrong. The end-of-the-world Mayan long calendar scenario was floating around in these discussions, and I was interested to see whether there were other earlier and precisely dated opinions about the apocalypse. It turns out there were plenty. I pitched the idea of combining these cataclysmic fantasies with the banality of a wall calendar to the editors at Cabinet, and together with their research team, designer Richard Massey, and photographer Charlie Drevstam, we were able to get the project together in time for the new year.

In truth, Harold Camping, the host of Family Radio (who predicted the world would end on May 21, 2011), and his flawed line of prophecies wasn’t the igniting spark for the project; it was more our interest in the mind-set of a person who could convince a large number of followers that the world is about to end––especially someone who could keep doing so, even after being incorrect so many times before. Camping is a good example of the eschatologist in general. These people are usually equipped with a very vivid imagination and an enchanting charisma, but seemingly blind to self-reflection. He would never laugh about his own mistakes. It’s like Amoz Oz has noted on fanatics: What makes them immune against criticism is their absolute lack of humor.

We chose to explore different divination methods. Lars was going to teach my son how to make tin soldiers. But when my son got bored and turned to the iPhone, Lars and I started to play around ourselves, pouring melted tin into water. This technique of divination is called molybdomancy and is still used in Germany and Austria on New Year’s Eve to forecast the coming year. We became intrigued with the random outcomes, these small abstract sculptures, and started to look for other methods of divination. The list of “mancies” (a word which comes from the Greek manteia, or divination) is long and full of poetic ways to interpret the world. We singled out methods we could tweak and fit into the cataclysmic theme of the calendar; for instance, there’s the painting we made with coffee grounds, which looks like satellite images of arid landscapes or brown Yves Kleinian spacescapes. Or there’s our take on meteromancy––divination through looking at meteorological phenomena––a photo we took after an F5 tornado hit Joplin, Missouri, last summer. Myomancy––divination through the study of mice––is illustrated by a labyrinth model littered with mouse turds that we’re now using in a new film.

One doomsayer we found compelling is Joanna Southcott, who was a medium with psychic powers living in London in first half of the nineteenth century. She not only prophesied that a second coming of Christ was underway, but also that she was the bearer of that very child––at the age of sixty-four! It turned out it was a false pregnancy and she died soon after. Regardless of her mistaken virgin birth, she accumulated over one hundred thousand followers who called themselves Southcottians. I recently visited John Martin’s “Apocalypse” show at Tate Britain and was fascinated to see his images of absurd destruction and rupture. They’re really prequels to modern disaster movies. Martin’s Last Judgment triptych seems emblematic for the nineteenth-century when a lot of millennialists were trying to gain followers. The spectacular possibility of being part of that last moment of a crumbling earth is still very riveting to audiences. In fact, right now the Mexican government is launching a PR campaign called “Mayan World,” in hopes of an invasion of pilgrims in December.

I’m going.