In 1562, Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder completed a painting called “The Triumph Of Death”. In this panoramic landscape the sky is blotted out by black smoke; ships and dead fish litter the ocean shore; and an army of skeletons experiment with myriad death techniques. The living are badly outnumbered and the variety of fated tortures seems endless. There is little room for whimsy in this tableaux.
Over 200 years earlier, a nasty plague, commonly known as “The Black Death”, left a cruel and massive mark on European civilization, wiping out half of Europe’s total population. This was a quiet pervasion of death – an invisible pathogen carried by herds of tired rats. This plague triggered a series of social and economic upheavals with profound effects on the history of medieval Europe, guiding its survivors into the sort of self-inflicted darkness pictured by the Elder Bruegel.
Looking back at this historical trajectory, Peter Burr, Mark Fingerhut, and Forma have created a spiraling interdimensional narrative aptly titled DESCENT – a meditation on one of humanity’s blackest hours. Taking the form of a desktop application, descent.exe gives the user a brief glimpse of a world descending into darkness – an unrelenting plague indifferent to the struggles of the user. There is a silver lining, however, tucked into the software’s final sweep. An equanimous watcher, reduced to a single eye, looks on as the plague of rats that has infested your desktop destroys itself.