The Imagination of Disaster

Marcelo Guimarães Lima, Semente. Digital painting. 110 x 80 cm. 2021.


A visual reflection on the experience of catastrophes, cataclysms and disasters in our time: from the global to the personal

The Imagination of Disaster was an exhibition that I held, together with the American artist Julia Townsend, at the Total Arts Gallery in Dubai (United Arab Emirates) in 2011. The origin of the theme of the exhibition was the tsunami (seaquake) that suddenly hit the coast of Japan in 2011, without being anticipated by alarm systems and information for the local populations, it caused deaths and destruction in some coastal cities and reached the Fukushima nuclear power plant, contaminating the region and potentializing a nuclear disaster of great proportions. Until today, according to some authors, the issue of Fukushima has not received more complete explanations from the Japanese authorities. If the last nuclear disaster was very fortunately avoided, the consequences of atomic contamination on land and sea continue to be felt more than two decades after the incidents.

Marcelo Guimarães Lima – Dark Wave digigraphy – 65×45 cm 2011

Widely publicized at the time by the media, we were able to watch videos on the internet of the course of material destruction and the loss of lives, human groups stranded and threatened, fleeing the waters, being swallowed up in avalanches of debris, in landslides, the anguish of the victims made images as a spectacle of destruction and death, distanced representations in the “here and now” paradox of the media representation of reality. Reflecting in visible intuition these images and their sources, events and their close and distant, sensitive and emotional affectations, duplicating the visibility given by another visibility, such was the “paradox” that we proposed to address.
In the presentation text, I based myself on the writings of Susan Sontag, especially the essay that gave the title of the exhibition, whose literary work, essays and fiction, thematized experiences of the limit of the human condition, individual and collective, such as death, illness, war, physical and moral suffering, uniting in an original way the distance from the analysis of human finitude and the empathy of individualized artistic expression that manifests itself, I would say, in an almost autonomous way, that is, where the essential dimension of literary expression takes hold of the writer, malgre soi, and makes it a kind of seismograph, an instrument for collective emotional consciousness.

Marcelo Guimarães Lima – Event Horizon – digital painting 2011

Our time seems to have multiplied boundary experiences encompassing nature and society in their specific spheres and equally in their reciprocal constraints. The artistic experience is, in an essential way, what allows us to approach what we can perhaps designate as the constitutive precariousness of the human condition. Attribute that is, sometimes, a source of hopelessness but, equally, the soil of resistance and appreciation of life, expressed in creativity, in the challenge of history and culture, that is, of time and conscious action, for collectivities, in the becoming human, which is a perennial task and at the same time universal and everyday meaning of what is called existence, or life as it is, which equally and necessarily implies how it can be, that is, as a project and activity.

What follows is a translation/adaptation of my original English text. Here a link to download the original catalogue.


Marcelo Guimarães Lima – Fukushima – digigraphy 50×70 cm 2011

The exposure The Imagination of Disaster (The Imagination of Disaster) presents a visual reflection on the experience of catastrophes, cataclysms and disasters in our time: from the global to the personal.

When Susan Sontag wrote her celebrated essay on the themes of Cold War period science fiction films, the "Imagination of Disaster" expressed in science fiction the unconscious and historically unprecedented fear of atomic conflict. In the middle of the XNUMXth century, the potentialized atomic catastrophe added to the human anguish of individual mortality, the additional horrors of the sudden and total annihilation of the human race.

More than half a century later, the recurrent anxieties of a potential tipping point in human history are recreated in our current context of diverse catastrophes produced or assisted by men: continuous, accumulated, resized, added or created in new ways, in the various fields interconnected areas of human activities and life processes, from ecology to economics, including culture and the arts.

Marcelo Guimarães Lima – Memento – digitizes 65×45 cm 2011

The theme of disaster, noted Sontag, is "one of the oldest themes in art." And yet, the imagination of the disaster, within its perennial symbolic dimensions, and among its various forms and diverse elements, large and small, also reveals, in its current symbolic expression, the historical specificity of the dilemmas, real and imaginary, of our time.

The fantasy of fear in science-fiction cinema, Sontag observed, covered up real fear in the twentieth century, and isolated it from its concrete sources. Going beyond the neutralization of historical anxiety, the artistic imagination of the disaster at the beginning of the XNUMXst century can have the task of deconstructing the instrumentalized and imposed image of fear that contributes, in the current context, to paralyze the historical consciousness and the historical imagination of the present.

*Marcelo Guimaraes Lima is an artist, researcher, writer and teacher. In this link you can find more information about the author's work.

The A Terra é Redonda website exists thanks to our readers and supporters.
Help us keep this idea going.
Click here and find how

See this link for all articles