Sodom and Gomorrah
The reference to Sodom and Gomorrah in Michael Pettet’s latest work, with its implication of approaching divine punishment for our collective sins, is not just ironic but profane.
What Pettet constructs is not a world that God is about to punish and then cleanse to allow life to start again. For this time we have gone past the point of no return. Despite the implications of the title, in this abandoned world where man has been left to exercise his free will, there is no hope of survival in the form of a ‘Lot’ or ‘Noah’ – no fragile wooden ark carrying life to a new world and a fresh beginning. There are to be no more second chances after a baptism of fire.
What Mike Pettet presents is a visual reflection on our state of being, our collective soul, at what surely is the end of our final stage of evolution. He provocatively demands to know “if there is a God.... then why has he not taken action and punished the sins of man?”
He blatantly draws our attention, and deliberately mocks the absent God to witness what we have become. While the placards of roaming preachers in the distant old world warned, “Repent of thy sins for the end of the world is nigh” Pettet speaks darkly of “Babel”, “The Tower of Babel”, “Hydra”... and “Animal House”. Is this the place, one wonders where the dark robbed priests of Catholicism have raped the innocent- sexual deprivations that go far beyond even the excesses of previous ages so destroying the last vestiges of the Church’s moral authority?
In keeping with his biblical references Pettet hints that many of today’s current sins are a return to ancient tastes, as modern man unravels and regresses to indulge in the excesses of his primitive state. There is an illusion to the worship of false idols with “Fetishism”, contrary to what is written as guiding laws in the “Parchment”, which God decreed in the past, and now modern man has forgotten.
There are more recent warnings of approaching destruction other than the words scribbled in ancient scripts. On the concrete surfaces of the uniform corporate metropolis crude graffiti has been sprayed in a hurry by those who fear that they are constantly being watched and will be punished for their dissent.
But there will be no fire and brimstone from heaven for this is a world where God is dead. For what else can explain the lack of divine punishment given the state that we have evolved into goes far beyond the wickedness of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the eternal battle between good and evil that has been waged since man’s creation, one senses in Pettet’s pictures that the soul of man has finally been extinguished, and with its demise the death of all hope and salvation.
Pettet’s illusions may well be biblical but the world that he portrays is definitely current. The arrival of the 21st century inaugurated by the most audacious terrorist attack ever witnessed: passenger planes flown deliberately into the sides of the Twin Towers to begin a new crusade of Muslim against Christian. The suspension of civil liberties with the use waterboarding, imprisonment without trial and the creation of fortress “Homeland America” in order to defend “democracy”, leading in its turn to the appearance of the ‘suicide-belt’ wearing jihadist, without mercy and scruples, ready to self-detonate to achieve martyrdom and to rid the world of the Infidel.
Ironically, at a time of rising terrorism our world has now become smaller, interconnected by the wires and the universal language of information technology. But this new form of communication and the shared experience of globalisation and the growth of corporate power, like the multi-headed hydra, have not brought us together, in spite of our common humanity, but polarised us into political extremisms, more ready to resort to intolerance and cruelty. The pool of hate has spawned the rise of the morally bankrupt messiahs of the popularist right with their false utopias and their persecution of ‘’the enemy within” and “the enemy at the gate”. We have lost all judgement: too quick to denounce and to ridicule. Any pretence of engaging in proper discourse is gone: we tear at each other using our bare hands and teeth. Pettet’s pictures speak of a return to basics. In the age of the computer our language of diplomacy has become reduced to simplistic tweets, insults and the most primitive forms of graffiti – scribbles that adorn the concrete surfaces of the Babel tomb that we have constructed. The natural world that we have plundered and poisoned, but which normally is so strongly sensed in Pettet’s earlier works, is absent.
In his previous work, one felt a greater sympathy of Pettet for man and the human condition. Man’s dusty wanderings since the expulsion from Eden; being made in the image of God, but tormented with desires and the curse of original sin. Recognising the fragility of his existence but wanting to believe that his short existence mattered. The faces that left traces in Pettet’s death masks were translucent but instantly recognisable, beautifully human.
But now there is a sense that the face of mankind is no longer recognisable. In these dark images there is recurring sensation that in every shadow lurks Ridley Scott’s telepathic alien that has entered the space station and then waits, opportunistically hunting and dissolving in its foul salvia, the final terrified human victims.
We only have our selves to blame. The truth is in our arrogance we have turned our backs on God and created a virtual world, an alternative reality in which we feel that there is no need for a higher being to comfort and guide us. In our technological advances we have become untouchable, invincible without fear and shame. For this is an existence of surface: the age of narcissism where we pose and we pout at reflections of ourselves: self-obsessed, craving God like celebrity status and constant gratification merely by virtue of being born and existing. Mass delusion in the era of the ‘selfie’ and ‘fake news’: rejecting truth for our fifteen minutes of fame.
This is hell and we who have forgotten the questions that tormented man in the early stages of his evolution of “why are we here?” and “what will our contribution be to future generations?” deserve extinction. Our collective end suggested so ominously in these pictures will be by our own hand, the result of our own actions and poor judgements, our abuse of the gift of free will and not by God with some grandiose Old Testament style punishment.
We are on our final descent into the pit of the “Animal House”, no longer 21 Century men and women but crawling on our bellies like snakes, evolution in reverse: for we are the damned.
Dominic Simmons 2018