The New Dark Ages

“I’m bringing back to the forefront principles that are gradually fading away from our modern societies.” Mohammed Ali (aka AerosolArabic)

“You can’t appreciate English literature unless you are steeped to some extent in the King James Bible … not to know the King James Bible, is to be in some small way, barbarian.” Richard Dawkins


It was in a private meeting called by Prime Minister David Clegg at 10 Downing Street itself that the full implications of the crisis were finally articulated.

The published reports were of an increasing series of thefts; systematic thefts of artefacts from museum displays throughout the country and with no sign of forced entry. Security had been immediately increased, access had been restricted to significant sections of most museum collections and free entry to all but the most localised of museums suspended.

Yet the full extent of the crisis was being actively suppressed with the media being fed only the bare bones of the true story which in its fullness constituted a cultural crisis and had led to the Directors of all the national collections being summoned to meet with the Prime Minister.

“There have been no thefts,” explained Neil Dixon, the Director of the British Museum.

“No thefts!” exclaimed Clegg. “Then what in God’s name are we doing here and why the massive expense of the measures you have all demanded from me and my Government!”

“That is correct,” Dixon stated. “No actual thefts, but to all intents and purposes theft is what appears to have occurred.”

“All who visit our institutions see absence where certain artefacts should be displayed,” cut in Dr. Michael Penny, the Director of the Natural History Museum.

“The artefacts remain in their place of display.” Dixon resumed his account. “Our curators can touch and feel them and can confirm that they have not been stolen, yet these artefacts are enveloped in an impenetrable darkness which means that they cannot be seen.”

“In the circumstances,” Penny cut in once again, “it seemed more understandable to talk to the media of thefts than to persuade them and the public of the true nature of the crisis.”

“A crisis,” shouted Clegg, his voice rising in sync with his flushed colour, “which I still fail to fully grasp, beyond what now appears to be wholly unnecessary expenditure on increased security for objects which have not in fact been stolen, nor are under any threat of being so.”

“To be frank, Prime Minister,” interjected Sir Nicholas Jones, the Director of the Tate Galleries, “that is the least of our worries. The darkness which is enveloping these cultural artefacts – and it is artefacts of human creation which are affected – is doing so systematically and period by period, epoch by epoch.”

The bearded, bespectacled face of the Director of the Natural History Museum once more jutted forward with an interruption. “The darkness began at the beginning with the first objects known to have been human creations and is progressing systematically forward from that point.”

“In addition,” continued Jones, his face beginning to glisten from heat and sweat – the effect of the import of the news he sought to convey combined with his concentration in doing so and the stuffiness of the room in which they met – “not only are the artefacts themselves being blanked from sight but so too are all references to them in the artistic and literary artefacts which follow them in history.”

“Our contacts tell us,” added Dixon, “that this is a global phenomenon.”

“What periods of history are currently affected?” asked the Prime Minister.

“We are currently in the Mesolithic Period,” stated Penny, pleased to finally take the lead and supply hard facts. “The forward movement of the darkness appears to be weekly and we have no indications as to what its cause might be or how to counteract its progress.”

Dr. Martine Serota, the Director of the V&A, made her first contribution, “Prime Minister, you must understand that we remain at present in a period of crafted objects rather than written words. As a result, the current impact of the darkness is much less than it will become if its progress continues as to date.”

“Even so,” stated Jones, “I have paintings, photographs, sketches and notes which cannot be displayed because they contained images of artefacts which the darkness has covered and these images have also been covered by darkness at the same time.”

“The Lascaux caves now look like the redacted documents issued by the US after the first WikiLeaks publications,” blurted out Dr. Christophe Newby, the Director of the Science Museum, almost in tears.

Serota continued her analysis. “What will happen, Prime Minister, when the darkness reaches crafted objects which are in the landscape, rather than our museums, and are national icons? Stonehenge being just one significant example!”

“Constable’s mezzotint, Gropius’ photos, the arrest of Tess …” Jones muttered.

“What too will happen once we reach the periods of the written and then the printed word? Take the King James Bible as example! What will happen when that is enveloped by this darkness? Will all the phrases which it gifted to our culture and which are peppered throughout our language also be enveloped? Will the phrase ‘salt of the earth’ no longer be seen in our literature? Will that phrase still form itself on our lips? We do not know the answers to these questions but we fear the consequences for our culture and future.”

“Without a solution,” exclaimed Clegg with a sharp intake of breath, “we will be entering the new Dark Ages!”



The Times, Thursday 22nd December 2011

The New Dark Ages

Our palaces of cultures – the museums and galleries of which free access to the riches of their great stores of human learning and culture have been among the greatest achievements of our culture in recent centuries – lie in ruins. Barricaded by rings of security personnel and barred by locks, chains and all manner of high-tech security devices, we, the public, can no longer access the collections to which we previously shared the right of open access.

Yet this denial of access combined with its concomitant rapid increase in security has been powerless to prevent the slow but relentless eradication from sight of artefacts from the earliest times of human culture together with all reference to these artefacts in later artistic, educational and scientific creations.

The darkness which is systematically obliterating human culture and which, if it continues, will lead us into a new Dark Age shows no sign of being abated by the actions taken to date by the Government to seek to protect what remains of our national collections.

Culture, to be preserved, must be lived and breathed in order that it fertilises future creativity and learning. Too much of our current culture is already blind to the extent to which it utilises and is informed by past culture. We think and act as though we emerge from the womb as fully formed independent individuals with no debt to nurture, yet our every thought and word and action is inevitably and unconsciously predicated on some past learning.

This year, we celebrated a cultural artefact – the 1611 King James Version Bible – which is among those artefacts that will shortly be lost from sight should this dark blight on our culture continue its relentless progress. When this Bible is lost from sight, we will not only lose the artefact itself but all that it has contributed to our culture in terms of imagery, story, phraseology and much, much more.

Our culture cannot sustain such a loss, such a repeated series of losses, and survive unharmed. We face a new Dark Age which cannot be prevented by denial of access and security cordons. Therefore, we call for the doors of the palaces of cultures to be flung wide open once again. Maybe in the learning which ensues an answer to the relentless rush of this tide of darkness in our culture can be found. Or, like Canute’s courtiers, we will see the folly of our hubris.



Birmingham-based street artist Unit-Y begins a new work today at the entrance to the Water Hall of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. At the artist’s request I will be present to document the development of this work for God’s graffiti and readers of freeze.

The inspiration for this new work has come as Unit-Y has reflected on the current culture crisis through the lens of his Islamic faith. He has always viewed his unique brand of street art as a spray-painted message to humanity by directing his aerosol to themes of diversity, justice and love. Now he intends to recreate the cultural journey made by humanity in the form of the 100 objects identified by Neil MacGregor as telling the story of the world.

Images of these 100 objects will be spray-painted onto the wall of Birmingham’s principal palace of culture containing, as it does, a collection of similarly significant artefacts. Unit-Y is well aware that the earliest objects which he paints will inevitably be enveloped by the darkness which is currently extending through our cultural heritage. This is part of his thinking for this work. As a graffiti artist he is used to his own work being eradicated by Council cleansing teams and he will, in his usual fashion, simply begin again each day that the darkness continues to cover up his images.

In an act of faith Unit-Y commits to repainting each day in a different form these 100 objects as an act of actively remembering our heritage and its influence. His work is therefore envisaged as an act of resistance against this eradication of our cultural history. Unit-Y invites the general public to join and assist him in this act of resistance and remembering.

In view of the significance of this initiative, freeze will follow the project posting visuals documenting the project and regular reports on Unit-Y’s activity and achievement. Unit-Y is taking a stand, a stand for human culture and deserves the active support of all who value our common culture past, present and future. This is art for humankind’s sake.

Don Wolf, Editor of freeze, 31/12/11

The New Year began with clear skies and a hard frost. Unit-Y, keeping active with his aerosol to combat the cold and begin the work, explained the genesis of his decision to begin this resistance project which dates back to the Prophet’s (pbuh) time in Medina.

At Medina, the Prophet (pbuh) and his followers lived peacefully with Christians, Jews and pagans, each valuing the culture of the other. Equality and freedom of religion were both codified in the Constitution of Medina. Unit-Y says that he seeks through the images and messages of his work to recapture the essence of that Medina vision.

In this project he aims in an act of solidarity, as a Muslim, to demonstrate his valuing of the cultural artefacts of many other faith groups, in addition to those of his own. He sees this as an opportunity to bring to the forefront of our collective minds understandings that are gradually fading away from modern society.

News of the project begins to circulate. Passers-by stop to view proceedings and share views. Texts are sent, the website gets hits, and the numbers arriving increase. Unit-Y shares his vision with those who come and the work expands to encompass each of the 100 artefacts.

This first version sets the objects, logically enough, on a timeline which doubles as a Swarovski charm bracelet; so seeing the artefacts as the precious jewels of humanity. As each historically early object is completed it is immediately covered by the darkness; the onset of which palpably deflates those present.

As natural darkness descends, candles are lit and prayers recited in differing forms. The small crowd begins to disperse, Unit-Y is congratulated, hands are shaken, backs are slapped, people commit to returning, and the completed work is left to the street light’s glow. The soft light makes vivid the voids created by the darkness.

Don Wolf, Editor of freeze, 01/01/12

Returning a week later, the transformation is immense. The eyes of the world are now on Unit-Y. Cameras from TV companies and News Agencies are relaying his work and observations around the nations. The street is a milling mass of well-wishers, many of whom have taken up residence intending to be with Unit-Y for the duration. The area surrounding his painting has become a shrine through the crowd of candles which mark the boundaries of the space within which he paints. Scaffolding towers with tarpaulin stretched between them now offer protection to the work and respite from the inclement weather to Unit-Y.

Gazebos and other shelters have been erected. Food outlets have sprung up. A stage has been erected as a festival feel is unfolding. Local acts have begun to perform in shows of solidarity or associated publicity. Areas and times for various types of worship have been initiated.

Yet, while an organisation of sorts has emerged, what seems most positive are the myriad examples of more informal and casual interactions: musicians jamming together; rappers inspiring each other to more audacious rhythmic rhymes; accapella folk singathongs; ad-hoc interfaith groups studying each other’s scriptures together, among others too numerous to document here.

Unit-Y is thrilled with these developments. “I started this project just as a gut response to the crisis of culture caused by the darkness. It was a simple act of resistance and I had no idea whether others would share that gut response. Now, though, I’m getting a sense of something much bigger building. People are getting the project. They’re not just here for the vibe. They’re checking out the 100 objects and getting the connection between these objects and us, here and now. I’m sensing that forgetting or ignoring those connections is in some way linked to the rise of the darkness and could be key to us resisting its rise.”

Today’s image is word heavy replete with phrases deriving from or accruing around the objects themselves. The wall of the Water Hall becomes a word cloud of associations released by human creativity. Phrase upon phrase building a construct of creativity. The darkness redacts this visual document with increasing censorship of that same creativity.

Don Wolf, Editor of freeze, 07/01/12

I have been fortunate to have able to globetrot in order to see art in many countries and cultures around the world. I have reviewed and reported on most, if not all, the most recent trends in contemporary art. I have met many of the most significant artists of our time and have been present at some of the most profoundly original and exciting exhibitions, festivals and installations of recent years. Yet, I have never experienced an art happening such as occurred today.

It began with the great and the good descending on the Water Hall. The Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Directors of each National Museum and Gallery, national religious and secular community leaders, all came to stand in front of Unit-Y’s latest creation; a global interlinking of the 100 objects with countries of origin and countries where Unit-Y’s act of resistance was being replicated. The speeches and prayers that you would anticipate from such figures were duly made. The crowd was restive, not fully appreciating the stereotypical phrases praising Unit-Y’s initiative and prayers which seem ineffective in the face of the relentless rise of the darkness over human culture.

Unit-Y commended this gathering of the great and good to the crowd as a unique coming together of culture, politics and religion before requesting that those who had come to speechify and pray now took time, before leaving, to speak with those in the crowd and hear from some of the myriad other performers present now responding to the artworks and the cultural crisis.

Clocks nearby sounded the hours and the crowd rose as one to tell the history of the world by naming, in order of their creation, the 100 objects. TV cameras relayed the chant around the world where it was taken up in the same moment by those at each site where Unit-Y’s initiative was being replicated. Millions of human voices – the great and the good, creatives, religious, secular, marginalised, dispossessed, nameless – each naming the great cultural artefacts of human history; knowing, owning, valuing, appreciating, and understanding these same artefacts. Collective scales were falling from the eyes of humankind. These objects are what we made and what have made us.

And in this moment of collective realisation the darkness stalled, weakened and faded before vanishing like mist. For a moment following stillness was absolute then the dam of pent-up emotion broke in a vortex of hugs and tears and kisses and dances and whoops and cheers releasing all into a realisation that the world had listened and learnt and understood.

Dan Wolf, Editor of freeze, 10/01/12




Jonathan Evens





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One Response to The New Dark Ages

    1. All very interesting and concerning. I do see and fear this rise of darkness. But creativity is alive and well too. Our son Tom is just publishing his book on the building of Wells Cathedral, “Cosmos in Stone” it’s spiritual and philosophical and geometric beginnings in medieval knowledge. One small fight against the rising tide.

      Comment by Alice Bree on 15 January, 2023 at 1:06 pm

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