Preparations for the Worst-Case Scenario
Extended Artist Statement

The way we imagine the future drastically changed at the end of the 20th Century. Ideas of infinite technological and industrial progress were replaced with pessimistic visions of environmental catastrophe and nuclear war. The heightened sense of unease that has come to define our times has crept into all aspects of popular culture. Reality feeds into the narratives of fiction, and in turn imagery from science-fiction is increasingly used as shorthand to make sense of real-world situations. The borders between real-world anxieties and entertainment have become blurred; it is as if we are choosing to stay on the edge of our seats, to be prepared emotionally and psychologically for something looming on the horizon.

Narratives of civilisation collapse are as old as civilisation itself, but its increasing popularity says something about our contemporary condition. What was once a niche part of speculative fiction is now mainstream. At the time of its release Mad Max (1979) was the most profitable film of all time, the year it came out Fallout 4 (2015) was one of the highest grossing video-games, The Walking Dead (2010) has the highest total viewership of any series in cable television history and at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic the 2011 film Contagion topped streaming charts. We turn to these narratives to try to make sense of what is going on around us. In philosophy, the concept of Catharsis describes how audiences seek tragic stories to gain a kind of emotional relief from witnessing a protagonist overcome traumatic events. With the advent of video games, live-action experiences and immersive theatre productions the participant becomes the protagonist at the centre of their own post-apocalyptic fantasy. These activities offer participants a way to process and deal with our collective anxieties for an uncertain future.

In Preparations for the Worst-Case Scenario, Joe Pettet-Smith photographs sites and ephemera related to this growing phenomenon. A doomsday bunker styled escape room, a shopping mall used for zombie survival experiences, a Hollywood film set of a destroyed suburban neighbourhood, theatre productions inspired by the environmental crisis. The creators of these simulations go to great lengths to offer complete and total immersion, making the experiences as indistinguishable from the real thing as possible. These are spaces of rehearsal for paying participants to experience the end of the world as we know it, before returning to the relative safety and security of their everyday lives. Although each is created for recreational purposes their increasing popularity says something about this moment in contemporary society; a time defined by eco-anxiety, infodemics, media-induced paranoia and fake news.

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