Delving into the world of doomsday preppers, online exhibition ‘Preppers’ feels like a fantastical diversion from the catastrophes that are already with us, writes Miranda Johnson.
‘Preppers’, Loren Kronemeyer, Tiyan Baker, Guy Louden, Dan McCabe and Thomas Yeomans ·
Online exhibition ·
How often do you think about the end of the world?
For doomsday preppers this topic is an obsession and a way of life, and it’s this subculture that is the subject of “Preppers”, an exhibition collaboratively developed and curated by artists Loren Kronemeyer (USA/Tas), Tiyan Baker (NSW), Guy Louden (WA), Dan McCabe (WA) and Thomas Yeomans (UK). The exhibition takes as its focus the lifestyles of people who dedicate their lives to preparing for a cataclysmic event such as an earthquake, climate change, and the collapse of capitalism.
The project began in 2016 and has since developed into a major exhibition at Fremantle Arts Centre (FAC) in 2019 and a regional touring schedule for 2020, postponed due to COVID-19. The online exhibition is thus a response to this delayed touring schedule, but rather than simply existing as a stand-in for the real thing, has been developed into a sophisticated and comprehensive experience in itself.
Having previously seen the exhibition at FAC, I found it quite easy to navigate the online exhibition, which allows viewers to click through to look at specific artworks from multiple viewpoints, watch the video works, and read the didactic texts. The website also links to a video walkthrough of the FAC exhibition, as well the recording of a panel discussion that was presented as part of the public program.
Even for people who have not seen the physical exhibition, however, the website provides an intriguing experience. This is particularly so because much of the content for the works in the exhibition was already digital or responding to online content, in particular instructional videos made by preppers, of which millions exist on YouTube.
The preppers phenomenon is a complex one. The contradictory forces of the lifestyle are firstly, extreme individualism and violent rhetoric, and secondly, a focus on returning to a pre-industrial way of life, including growing your own food and learning archery, hunting, sourcing water, and so on. Preppers largely belong to the demographic whose lifestyles are the most unsustainable. Many of the skills the preppers choose to develop are ones that became lost during the violent process of colonialism and the advent of industrial capitalism… a process from which their demographic has, perhaps, benefitted most.
Tiyan Baker, Thomas Yeomans and Loren Kronemeyer’s works attempt to undermine or engage with this complex topic, with Yeomans’ digital flags setting up a dichotomy between neo-Imperial USA and an imagined queer utopian nation, to point towards the exciting possibilities the collapse of civilisation could include.
Kronemeyer’s traps and archery works reclaim the machismo of the movement as a queer feminist act of survival and strength. Baker’s works undermine the predominantly North American face of the preppers movement to explore the “primitive” lifestyle content from a survivalist Youtuber in Cambodia.
Other works display a sense of the slightly sick fascination we all feel when considering the end of the world, with the slick aesthetic of metal and camouflage in both Louden and McCabe’s works reminiscent of the display of luxury goods as well as military compounds, control, and high-tech security – an aesthetic reflected in the slick website design.
The exhibition has embraced its increased relevance in light of the pandemic, with many of the online works now directly referring to the shutdown. It is an interesting opportunity to see the works in a new light, but it also made the exhibition feel even more fetishized, a fantasy of a particular kind of apocalypse. In a pandemic where the majority of people in Australia as well as the USA are hoarding toilet paper and flour, rather than stockpiling weapons and building bunkers, I found the preppers’ lifestyle even more removed from reality.
If we are learning anything from this time, it’s that the end of the world is already here. The collapse of the world as we know it will be slow and ongoing, and for many cultures it has already arrived. Apocalypse is embedded in the disasters that humanity has already invented and perpetuated for itself; inequalities of class, race, gender and geography laid bare as what is a mass extinction event for some becomes a question of individual rights for others.
“Preppers” takes a dark pleasure in the prospect of the destruction of the world, and provides a glimmer of hope, but this particular model of destruction feels like a fantastical diversion from the catastrophes that are already with us.
Pictured top: Loren Kronemyer, ‘Wounded Amazon of the Capitalocene’, 2019. Photo: D. McCabe