The End Of The World: Contemporary Visions of The Apocalypse

In his art, Michael Cook juxtaposes the centuries-old science of alchemy with ultra-modern physics, specifically that of the collision of sub atomic particles in a bubble chamber. Interested in the unification of opposites, Cook examines both the positive and negative aspects of science, the old and the new, the beautiful and the horrific. The two paintings included in this exhibition focus on science’s destructive side. In Ashes 1982, a nuclear bomb is aimed at a “happy face” symbol, both overlaying a linear system of lines and curves. Derived from both 90mm bubble chamber film of subatomic particles and alchemical symbols, the two are formally very similar, at times almost indistinguishable from one another. To Cook, the resemblance underscores the continuity of life and the fact that modern chemistry developed from the occult and ancient desire to transfer one mass, base lead, into another, gold. Harrowingly beautiful is Work Completed, 1982, in which the alchemical sign for the title, consisting of a diamond and a cross, is repeated ad infinitum into the distance, creating the image of a cemetery. Cook, then, ironically questions whether all “work” will cease, or be completed, with our own destruction.

Lynn Gumpert

From the exhibition catalog for The End Of The World: Contemporary Visions of The Apocalypse, New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, New York