The Making of Barbie of the Apocalypse
I realized early on that study alone wouldn’t satisfy. I had to directly engage the imagery of the symbolically dense Book of Revelation. I wasn’t looking for a definitive ‘meaning’ as crafted by some other person. Intellectual understanding comes through study but for relationship I needed to make art. I needed to bridge the distance between me and imagery in the text I felt no personal resonance with and so combined the symbols of Revelation with personally meaningful symbols.
I distilled the Christ and Anti-Christ into their essential polarity: the spirit of inclusion and the spirit of exclusion. Anti-Christ isn’t specifically mentioned in Revelation – it comes from 1 John, but many Christians think it comes from Revelation because of the collaging of the story and most today consider Anti-Christ synonymous with the Beast, or 666.
To iconize inclusion, I chose a goddess. The Feminine — 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 the inclusionary.
The spirit of exclusion found me when practicing 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:
While in middle school, my parents helped me with a poster project. Onto poster board I affixed a stark photograph of barbed wire, aka “the devil’s rope”, that my father took in post WW2 Paris 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).
When all our posters were put up around the classroom I squirmed in my seat whenever saw the pastel sweetness of the other posters contrasting with my dark, bold rectangle. I wanted to disown it and be like the others. The desire to be sweetness and light haunted me for decades, as did the desire to include the banished dark. I was highly conflicted until I met apocalyptic spirituality.
I lived in Israel in my early twenties, and once while walking with my lover, came across a barbed wire fence in the seeming middle of desert nowhere. As we climbed over, I lost my balance, instinctively reached out, grabbed the barbed wire and cut my palm. I felt stupid for a short time, yet in the privacy of my own mind there was something magical about it, a kind of spontaneous ceremony, though of what, I didn’t know. In some mysterious way, I cherished having a barbed wire scar alongside my life line.
If there is inclusion to be fashioned, it must be made of the raw materials that surround us. I needed 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 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, altar-like, the inverse of the blank white page, and lived with the possibility of her while I was broken and unable to create.
At the time, it seemed like bad timing, but with hindsight it seems important events in our lives often begin with some form of dismemberment, break, price, delay during which subterranean and above ground aspects of self connect.
Once I got to work on the barbed wire outline, the rhythmic looping of embroidery thread kinesthetically suggested the double helix of DNA. My tactile meditation on a substance that enforces separation led me to a common component within the web of life. 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. As my hands repeated the back and forth looping movement, I began to understand, in an embodied way, that all humans long for and seek wholeness even when that desire becomes perverted through the 666 mind. When an individual psyche can’t incorporate the Other into Us, the self/ other war arises, 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.
Humanity is continually horrified by acts of genocide, ethnic cleansing, the crimes against humanity, the increasingly horrific ways to wage war. Yet such atrocities continue, 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 community as a whole. 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. This can be as visible as genocide or as subtle as dismissing someone’s experience because it conflicts with one’s comfort zone.
If I consider 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.
Close to its end, the Book of Revelation states, “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, 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 isn’t 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 was always repelled by the Apocalyptic image 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 the commodification of everything, 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?
How would that impact the addictive the madness of constant consumption that fails to satisfy true hunger?
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 could be called the process of ending the self/other war, if one has not done so in their own consciousness.
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.
I embroidered Barbie’s heart with roses around it, like the sacred heart of Mary, the one resonant image I took with me from 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.
Though it wasn’t my conscious intent, Barbie is a triple goddess: White Barbie, with her erotic self in her heart, power in her right palm, veiled waters of nourishment in her lap, both shrouded in white like an underworld spectre and veiled in white like a bride, is the virgin / maiden. Blue Barbie is the mother, and Original Barbie, sitting skeletally in Blackness would be Hecate, Queen of the Underworld, yet each holds, in some fashion, all three in themselves.
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, unseen Mystery and visible creation, express consciously through humanity.
I used the x-ray from my broken collarbone in the Photoshopped Barbies. It’s like she’s in a cave or egg, an oval that holds and protects her. It satisfies me to have a literal image of my brokenness hold the wholeness of the goddesses I made with my hands.