The Making of Barbie of the Apocalypse
Early in my studies it became obvious that reading the beliefs and hypotheses of others, though fascinating, ultimately wouldn’t take me where I wanted to go. I had to engage the imagery of the symbolically dense Book of Revelation as a way of having a direct dialogue with it.
I wasn’t looking for a definitive ‘meaning’ as crafted by some other person. I wanted intellectual stimulation and understanding through reading; I needed relationship through art. Revelation contained an onslaught of symbols that I lacked personal affinity for. I needed bridge images to aid me in having a dialogue with Revelation.
The most important aspect of my research was done via taking the symbols of Revelation and combining them with symbols that I have been in relationship with throughout my life. I connected with the relationship of personal and collective symbolism and mythology as they evolve over time, which I believe is directly related to the alchemical roots of surrealism.
I began with by distilling the idea of the Christ and Anti-Christ into what I saw as their essential definitions: the spirit of inclusion and the spirit of exclusion. Though Anti-Christ isn’t specifically mentioned in Revelation (It comes from 1 John, but most Christians would think it comes from Revelation because of the collaging of the story; it’s a rare person who reads this texts for themselves, and if they do, many can’t penetrate or be penetrated by the symbolism), most today consider Anti-Christ synonymous with the Beast, or 666.
For my visual representation / icon of the apocalypse, the most inclusive image I could think of was a goddess. That had a nice twist, since the Feminine – at times named Sophia, and the Bride in the latter part of the Book of Revelation – has been banished in the West for some time, so that icon represents not only inclusion, but the exclusion of inclusion.
The spirit of exclusion was a bit trickier to find, and so it found me. One day, as I was wondering what elements I would bring in to this embroidery project, I practiced aikido with a man who had barbed wire tattooed around his wrist; as he gripped my wrist with his own, the image simultaneously took hold of me.
Memories of a mandatory poster project in middle school: I didn’t do well with school art projects, so my parents helped me. I affixed a stark photograph of barbed wire (‘the devil’s rope) that my father took in post WW2 Paris on a piece of poster board and filled in block stencil letters with a message about the Iron Curtain and Radio Free Europe (my father worked for them when we lived in New York).
All our posters were put up around the classroom and I squirmed in my seat whenever I looked up at the pastel palettes of the other posters, the crayon drawings, the sweet messages, and my dark, bold rectangle. I wanted to disown it; I wanted to have produced something like the others, something more sweetness and light. The desire to be sweetness and light haunted me for decades, as did the desire to include the banished dark. One could say I was highly conflicted until I met apocalyptic spirituality.
When I was in my early twenties, living in Israel, and out on a walk in the middle of the Negev Desert with my then lover, we came across a barbed wire fence, with nothing but the fence to distinguish one side from the other. As we climbed over, I lost my balance, instinctively reached out, grabbed the barbed wire and cut my palm. “Why did you do that?” he asked. I had no answer and felt stupid for a short time, but in the privacy of my own mind there was something magical about it, a kind of spontaneous blood brother ceremony . Later, I enjoyed having a barbed wire scar on my palm right alongside my life line.
If there is inclusion to be fashioned, it must be made of the raw materials we find ourselves surrounded by. I wouldn’t want a goddess made of anything less rough than barbed wire. I need a tough goddess who says ‘yes’ to the whole damn mess. The symbol erupted into life as I seized barbed wire once again to embroider the goddess/icon/self-portrait/prayer I was to name Barbie.
I set up my barbed wire palette and mixed six different colors of embroidery thread to suggest different levels of rust – three shades of grey for the wire and three shades of red/ orange to suggest rust. I created Barbie as a seated goddess – my mother drew her for my according to my specifications as the last creative favor she did for me in her lifetime. I filled Barbie in skeletally, on a four foot by four foot piece of black duvotene.
I broke my collarbone in an aikido accident just as I began working on her, so I hung the drawn outline at the foot of my bed and studied her for some weeks, imagining different ways it might go. I studied the black cloth hanging at the foot of my bed, the inverse of the blank white page. I lived with the possibility of her while I was broken and unable to create.
At the time, it seemed an unfortunate accident, bad timing, but now, looking back, it seems every important event in our lives begins with some form of dismemberment, some sacrifice, some break, some change, some price, some delay during which subterranean aspects of self and other connect.
As I embroidered the barbed wire I fell into a rhythm with the making of it; the back and forth looping of the embroidery thread began to suggest organic forms: the thorny stems of roses, the double helix of DNA. My tactile meditation on a substance made for enforcing separation led me to what we hold in common in our physicality. It was while I was stitching the barbed wire and because I was stitching the barbed wire that it changed from a symbol of exclusion, a manifestation of ‘us vs. them’ to a symbol of wholeness, the DNA that we all share. As my hands repeated the back and forth looping movement, I began to understand, in an embodied way, that everything longs for and seeks wholeness even when it doesn’t look like it, even if that desire becomes perverted through the 666 mind that generates the self/ other war and sees the other, the not-self, as a threat to the prime directive of wholeness and comes up with the idea of destroying “them” to have “us” as a whole.
Though humanity is continually horrified by acts of genocide, ethnic cleansing, the crimes against humanity, the increasingly horrific ways to wage war, it continues, despite cries of ‘never again.’ The subtext of those cries seems to be, “never again for us; never again for those I identify with, my ethnic group” rather than ‘never again’ for the earth and the humans and other-than-humans we share it with. As long as we continue to identify as us / them, there were always be the drive to get rid of ‘them’ so that we can be ‘us,’ the wholeness that we long for in the depths of our genetic code.
Fundamentalist apocalyptic stories of non-dying believers and suffering unbelievers are a perversion of the imperative towards wholeness. If I consider an awareness of collective wholeness our prime directive, and I have since that time of intensive embroidery, then it makes sense that if one can’t conceive of a people of a certain race, religion, or culture as part of ‘us’ then one would wish for them to be destroyed, to ease the intolerable tension of ‘us’ and ‘them’ in the psyche. If the ‘other’ is destroyed, then there will be only ‘us.’
Of course this can never work. Even if a group of people succeeded in eradicating a whole group of people, the consciousness of us / them would find another them – as the end of the Cold War carried within itself the beginning of the War on Terror. The only viable way out of that tension is to train the conditioned ego out of ‘us/them’ consciousness and into ‘us’ consciousness.
As the book of Revelation says at its end, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ … let all who are thirsty, come: all who want it may have the water of life, and have it free.” As rumors of future privatization of water, and water wars, begin to rumble, perhaps nothing else in Revelation speaks so urgently to the Western consciousness. The commodification of basic human rights gives an even more brutal face to us/them consciousness, and to the whore of Babylon. The whore of Babylon is not a woman, but a state of consciousness, one where everything is commodified. The Bride is also not a woman, but a state of consciousness.
I had always felt repelled by the image in Revelations of the lamb with seven eyes representing the seven spirits of God, perhaps because of art that has two rows of eyes on a lamb; the mechanistic look of the lines bothered me. It seemed to utterly deny nature. For this reason, it was important for me to put the seven eyes in my embroidery. The first thing I did was to put the eyes into a bouquet. I put it inside Barbie’s right hand to honor the hand of Fatima (Islamic), the hand of Mary (Christian), the hand of Miriam (Jewish) – a hand of protection against the evil eye, connected with a woman, running through the entire lineage. That image generally has a single eye, but when I put in seven, I saw the seven eyes of God as an image of the utter incomprehensible depth and vastness of consciousness that we call “God” – consciousness everywhere. What would it be like if we were able to feel everything that happens, not just our limited, singular consciousness? No doubt we couldn’t bear it, but if we could bear even a glimpse, how would that change the world?
I needed to create a vessel of some sort. Revelation is full of vessels. Seven gold bowls, filled with the wrath of God, are emptied over the earth. Jung writes, “the dark god has slipped the atom bomb and chemical weapons into his hands and given him the power to empty out the apocalyptic vials of wrath on his fellow creatures. Since he has been granted almost godlike power, he can no longer remain blind and unconscious.” James Morgan Pryse, in Apocalypse Unsealed, writes that the word translated as ‘wrath’ is more accurately translated as ‘ardor’ which puts a whole different spin on things. Are we humans the alchemical vessel for the ardor of God?
The whore of Babylon holds a “gold wine cup filled with the filth of her fornication.” (Rev, 17:5) She is “drunk with the blood of the saints” (Rev. 17:6). Edward Edinger notes that this image “shows us that everything ‘feminine’ (earth, nature, body, matter) underwent a profound deprecation with the onset of our aeon.”
The bowls and cup are combined in the bowl that Barbie has in her lap. The bowl is filled with wine/blood. She has three tears of blood on her cheek. Convicts sometimes tattoo tears on their cheeks, one for each year of incarceration. Jesus sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. Perhaps Barbie weeps for the whoredom of humanity and how we have commodified everything, up to and including our spirituality. When I embroidered this section, I had the thought “True Holiness is a beggar in this world” as the bowl had unintentionally (it’s gold after all) taken on the appearance of a begging bowl.
I made two Photoshop collage versions of Barbie, and the expression of differing aspects of the bowl was the prime motivation. White Barbie’s bowl is filled with healing waters, but though much is “unveiled” in our times, the healing water, the Sacred Feminine, is still veiled. The Book of Revelation says, “I’m the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give water from the well of life free to anybody who is thirsty” but it’s all too clear that this part of the text isn’t a part that’s focused on by fundamentalism. Free? To anybody who needs / wants some? In this culture of commodification and whoredom?
Blue Barbie’s bowl is filled with apocalyptic fire. The fire is contained, though barely, by the alchemical bowl. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus said, “I have thrown fire on the world. Look! I watch it until it blazes.” According to The Heart of the Quran the fires of hell are but an eternal moment when humans are purified of everything that is not divine love. Hell is the process of ending the self/other war, if one has not done so in life. Perhaps this process is trying to happen all the time, not only at the moment of death: The imperative to wholeness.
I wanted to do something with incense. Rev. 8:5 has an angel taking a censor and filling it from the fire, “which he then hurled down onto the earth; immediately there came peals of thunder and flashes of lighting and the earth shook.” I spent an enchanted hour one day just watching the smoke from incense rise. I wanted to have incense coming out of Barbie’s mouth and let Barbie herself be the censor. The incense would drift like a cloud into images of the four horseman and the dragon, but my skills weren’t up to the task.
Yet, Barbie continues to be as incense censor for me. She is my deepest prayer, a prayer for humanity to learn its alchemical directive: to become ‘us’ with everything, to let the love affair between individual and collective, spirit and matter, Mystery/ God/ Goddess and all created, mortal beings express consciously through us.
I used the x-ray from my broken collarbone in the Photoshopped Barbies. It looks to me like she is in a cave or an egg, something that holds her and protects her. It’s satisfying to me to see the literal image of my brokenness holding the wholeness of the goddesses I made with my hands.
I embroidered Barbie’s heart with roses around it, like the sacred heart of Mary. The sacred heart is the one image I took with me after I broke with Catholicism. Blue Barbie’s heart has a ribbon that says ‘mom’ like tattoo flash, and is pierced with the sword that belonged to Frodo Baggins in the film version of the Lord of the Rings. White Barbie’s heart is made of a photoshopped picture of my own naked self erotically wrapped up in rose petals.
Blue Barbie has an owl wing over her eye. Owl wings suggest wisdom; the reference here is to Sophia as well as to the “eyeless mind,” perception and wisdom that come from beyond what we can perceive with our senses. She is also surrounded by “holy sparks,” seven, to be exact, in homage to the abundance of sevens in Revelation.
Jewish mysticism considers the world to be filled with sparks of holiness that are hidden in matter, and that our job as humans is to redeem the material world through the act of blessing everything as a way of freeing those holy sparks.
After saturating myself in different views on apocalypse, particularly symbolic and archetypal views which seemed to amplify my surrealist upbringing, and embroidering Barbie and creating her two photoshopped companions, my own holy trinity, White Barbie and Blue Barbie both encased in personal auras / sanctuaries created by the x-rays of my collarbone, I felt like I had thrown a sacred Molotov into my psyche.
Though Revelation as a manuscript of mystical meaning was still a mystery to me, everything paradoxically seemed to be making sense for the first time in my life. In my mind’s eye, I saw myself standing at a door. I saw myself reaching for a golden doorknob. I saw the golden door knob turning, but whether it was my hand turning the knob or the knob turning itself, I couldn’t say.
Though that wasn’t my conscious intent, Barbie is a triple goddess: Blue Barbie is the mother, of course, and Original Barbie, sitting skeletally in Blackness would be Hecate, Queen of the Underworld, and also she who holds all three in Herself, and manifests herself in three forms.
White Barbie, with her erotic self in her heart, power in her right palm, veiled waters of nourishment, and both shrouded in white like an underworld spectre and veiled in white like a bride, is the virgin / maiden / mystical child. She is the most riddlesome. How to become the women we are meant to be in a time when what women are programmed into a sexuality devoid of its innate mystical nature? How many of women’s gifts slumber, and worse than slumber, suffer, and worse than suffer, wreak havoc with frustration and inhibition?
It’s another way that the body is reduced to its physicality: loving expression, the imaginal body, the indigenous wisdom is banished in the ways we are taught to eat, relate, fuck. Not for all of us, of course, and not all the time for any of us, but that is the direction consumer culture wants to send us any chance it gets: the madness of constant consumption that never feeds the true hunger.