It is the year 2052. Works of literature are banished and the only way to save them is to learn them by heart. So I did.
That is the surprising premise of the haunting new exhibition at the Liverpool Tate: An Imagined Museum.
This collection of about sixty significant works from the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt as well as the Tate reminded me of the Christmas party game of remembering objects on a tray. You gaze in order to remember.
And in doing so your perception of reality changes.
Of course, some of the works are daft, like The energy of a potato by the late Argentine artist Victor Grippo.
Others fascinate, like the familiar 100 Campbell’s Soup Cans, Andy Warhol’s 1962 masterpiece.
And then there are those which are just off the wall, in this case literally, like this jumble of clothes from performance artist Pawel Althamer’s Self-Portrait as a Businessman 2002, with additions 2004.
It seems that most of the artists want to challenge, even disturb, the way we look at things and so how we engage with reality. It can be unsettling.
And so on finishing my breakfast I noticed that the table was cluttered. But rather than clearing it, my instinctive response, I saw the scene through new eyes. So in the spirit of Althamer, I photographed it.
This table is my life, at this point of time.
As you would expect, I shall be entering my magnum opus for next year’s Turner prize.
On the table partly hidden by my cappuccino you will notice my NRSV Bible. I am reading Revelation, the final – and arguably the strangest – book in the Bible.
John shares his vision of Jesus in his risen glory:
“In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” (Revelation 1:16)
Just the first of some very strange images through which John, like the artists at the Tate, challenges and disturbs our view of reality. Here he uses the baffling and extravagant imagery of apocalyptic, a popular genre at the time.
And what is his vision? What does he want us to see?
That we are caught up in cosmic warfare, as shown by the power of tyrants set against the people of God, the Church. However, victory is secure through the blood of the Lamb. For the truth is that Jesus and not Caesar (or his present-day equivalent) is Lord.
‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’ (1:8)
Consequently we may anticipate a glorious future, enabled through his defeat of evil. Notice the first word in this quote from Revelation 21:3.
“Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. . . He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
So in the meantime, be faithful, be steadfast. Above all, don’t be taken in by the world, its false promises and its empty threats. Decide to view reality through God’s eyes. Look!
So we can say with Martin Luther King:
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
Works to Know by Heart: An Imagined Museum is at Tate Liverpool upto 14 February 2016.