Revelation 21

The New Jerusalem and the Gates of Heaven

Mark Wallinger

Threshold to the Kingdom, 2000, Video, projection, colour and sound (stereo), Duration: 11min, 12sec, Tate; Presented by Tate Members 2009, T12811, © Mark Wallinger, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

A Discomfiting New Jerusalem

Commentary by Eleanor Heartney

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Read by Chloë Reddaway

British artist Mark Wallinger is best known for his explorations of loaded issues like class, British heritage, nationalism, and imperialism. But he has also drawn on his Church of England upbringing to create sculptures, photographs, and videos that deal with the intersections of religion and politics. In such works, quotidian settings like classrooms, underground railway stations, and airports become stand-ins for the sacred realm.

In his film Threshold to the Kingdom, Wallinger transforms the international arrivals door at London’s City Airport into an unsettling version of Judgement Day. This video was filmed surreptitiously in 1998 as travellers made their way out of the airport. They walk through the door, some slowly and apparently disconcerted, others purposeful, and yet others happily waving to waiting loved ones. As they pass a hidden camera they suddenly vanish, as if into another realm. The video is presented in extreme slow motion to the choral accompaniment of Gregorio Allegri’s sublime hymn of atonement, ‘Miserere Mei’.

Here, as the title of the work suggests, the airport serves as a metaphor for the gates of heaven. But it is an ambiguous symbol. Wallinger explains that the work was inspired by his own fear of flying and his discomfort with the heightened security measures at these places of arrival and departure. The airport, he remarks,

is where we experience the power of the state at its most overt: we are being judged, which I realized was analogous to confession and absolution in the Roman Catholic Church. (Bois et al 2008: 196)

In this work, the gauntlet that the faithful must undergo to achieve salvation is re-imagined in terms of the authoritarianism, the surveillance, and the potential humiliation and exclusion that are now part of the travel experience. As a result, Paradise, when finally achieved, begins to seem more akin to prison than to the glories of the New Jerusalem.



Bois, Yve-Alain, et al. 2008. ‘An Interview with Mark Wallinger’, October Magazine, 123: 185–204

Tim Rollins and K.O.S

Amerika the Stoker, 1993, Acrylic on book pages on linen, 167.6 x 231.1 cm; Courtesy of Studio K.O.S., Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul; Photo: Matthew Herrmann

An American New Jerusalem

Commentary by Eleanor Heartney

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Read by Chloë Reddaway

In his evocation of a ‘shining city on a hill’, Puritan leader John Winthrop (1588–1649) cemented the idea of America as the earthly site of the book of Revelation’s New Jerusalem. One of the most eccentric versions of this idea appears in the final chapter of Franz Kafka’s novel Amerika (written 1911–14). In this unfinished work, Kafka envisions America, a country he never visited, as a land of lawless opportunism and arbitrary authority. His beleaguered hero Karl Rossmann arrives, after many trials and tribulations, at the gates of the Nature Theater of Oklahoma. This institution serves as a metaphor for America’s promise as the land of new beginnings. At the entrance to the Theater, Karl is greeted by a host of angels creating a fearful din as they make very disharmonious music with their golden trumpets.

This comic scene is the basis of a series of paintings produced by the Art and Knowledge Workshop of Tim Rollins and the Kids of Survival. An American artist collective, the Workshop employs works of classic literature as teaching tools for groups of at-risk urban teenagers. Under the guidance of Rollins, who is the Workshop’s founder, the Kids of Survival transformed the last scene of Kafka’s Amerika into a celebration of creative freedom.

The Amerika paintings present intricate compositions of multifarious and entwined horns whose forms are drawn from such popular and high cultural sources as the Italian Renaissance artist Paolo Uccello’s battle scenes, African masks, Santeria icons, Hollywood horror films, Louise Bourgeois sculptures, and birds in flight. Painted in gold over the spread-out pages of the book itself, they give exuberant visual form to the promise of renewal and rebirth embodied by the New Jerusalem, a home ‘for those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life’ (Revelation 21:27).

Michael Takeo Magruder

A New Jerusalem, 2014, Real-time VR installation and soundscape, Dimensions variable, [Left] Installation in 'And I Will Take You to Paradise', Art Museum KUBE, Norway ; [Right] Internal view from the Oculus Rift VR headset; Images: copyright and courtesy of the artist

A New Jerusalem for the Twenty-First Century

Commentary by Eleanor Heartney

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Read by Chloë Reddaway

Michael Takeo Magruder’s A New Jerusalem is an immersive installation that presents the heavenly city as a dazzling virtual reality environment that only exists in the fourth dimension. It is part of a larger exhibition titled ‘De/coding the Apocalypse’ created to bring the book of Revelation into the digital age.

Each of the five installations that comprise this exhibition is designed to bridge the gap between this ancient text and the wired world using such tools as 3D imaging, video game technology, Google search engines, and digital code. While the other installations dwell on the spectres of war, devastation, and destruction that have driven prophecies of the apocalypse from the first century CE to the present, A New Jerusalem offers a more hopeful vision. Using descriptions from the book of Revelation, Takeo offers two views of the New Jerusalem. Presented on a screen, one can view it from the outside as a golden cube with twelve gates that slowly descends from on high. Or, with the assistance of VR glasses one can virtually enter the city and become enveloped by shards of golden light.

To create the architecture of these two perspectives Takeo has combined code generated from the text of the book of Revelation with data from Google Maps of present-day Jerusalem. By this use of advanced technology, Takeo is able to suggest a doubled vision of the New Jerusalem as a place that exists simultaneously above and below, in imagination and in fact. He melds the mythical and actual Jerusalem.

Abstracted and transformed, these two codes create a structure that is at once based on a concrete reality yet unlike anything that might exist on this earth. ‘Coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel’ (Revelation 21:10–11).

Mark Wallinger :

Threshold to the Kingdom, 2000 , Video, projection, colour and sound (stereo)

Tim Rollins and K.O.S :

Amerika the Stoker, 1993 , Acrylic on book pages on linen

Michael Takeo Magruder :

A New Jerusalem, 2014 , Real-time VR installation and soundscape

The New Jerusalem in a Post-Utopian World

Comparative commentary by Eleanor Heartney

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Read by Chloë Reddaway

The book of Revelation describes an angry God’s just punishment of sinful humanity. But however dreadful it may be, the end of history is also a beginning. Following the apocalyptic passing away of the old heaven and the old earth, John of Patmos describes his vision of the New Jerusalem as, at once, a city of gold, a verdant garden, and a place of rest for the weary and downtrodden. The arrival of the New Jerusalem heralds a new order of peace and harmony for the just and virtuous. This is an idea which has shone through the last two millennia as a beacon of hope, inspiring utopian thinkers as diverse as Thomas More, Jonathan Edwards, William Blake, H. G. Wells, and, even in a recent prose poem, punk icon Patti Smith.

However, there are ambiguities inherent in the notion of the New Jerusalem. For centuries, scholars, theologians, and believers have debated its meaning and status. Is it literal or metaphorical? Will it exist on earth or only in some dematerialized hereafter? Is the idyllic state to come something entirely new or a return to a golden age of the past? Should humans strive to perfect the world in which they live? Or should they wait out the trials and tribulations of their times in anticipation of a paradise that will arrive after the destruction of the world as we know it? Will the New Jerusalem come only after wholesale human suffering and destruction? Is the idea of Paradise and its promise of regeneration ineluctably tied to sectarianism and strife?

Such questions have also inspired numerous contemporary artists. Following the wreckage of the twentieth century’s utopian dreams, they tend to cast an equivocal eye on promises of a more perfect world. The three artists here approach the idea of the New Jerusalem from very different perspectives, but in each case, the promise of redemption and renewal is tempered by the realities of history and human nature.

Of these three artists, Michael Takeo Magruder presents the most hopeful vision. Using virtual reality, he envisions the New Jerusalem as a glittering, jewel-like fantasy. However, the larger work of which this installation is a part is haunted by the artist’s memories of his Cold War childhood. And indeed, much of the technology that he employs was developed by the military for less uplifting purposes. Thus, while the VR, digital code, and 3D imaging that he employs are the epitome of modernity, Takeo’s work forces us to question whether humanity has made progress on any other front.

Similarly, the Amerika paintings of Tim Rollins and the Kids of Survival present joyous images of creative freedom. But the source that they reference is far more ambivalent about the promises of the New Jerusalem. Kafka’s Amerika is more demonic house of mirrors than shining city on a hill. And the cacophony that envelops its gates deliberately undercuts the promises of harmony and order we normally associate with Paradise.

Mark Wallinger’s vision of the New Jerusalem is equally sceptical. By re-envisioning the gates of paradise as the airport’s arrival door, he collapses the sacred and the secular. In doing so, he suggests that the slings and arrows we suffer in the here and now will not be ameliorated in the hereafter.

The book of Revelation’s New Jerusalem presents an uplifting coda to a saga otherwise dominated by dark visions of death and destruction. Today, fears of global warming, nuclear holocaust, global famine, and worldwide pandemics render the dangers that underlie this apocalyptic narrative all too plausible. The promise of a New Jerusalem, on the other hand, is a promise of hope. But hope, these contemporary artists suggest, remains more challenging than ever to imagine.

Next exhibition: Revelation 22

Revelation 21

Revised Standard Version

21Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; 3and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”

5 And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment. 7He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son. 8But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.”

9 Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues, and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10And in the Spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. 12It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed; 13on the east three gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the west three gates. 14And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

15 And he who talked to me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city and its gates and walls. 16The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its breadth; and he measured the city with his rod, twelve thousand stadia; its length and breadth and height are equal. 17He also measured its wall, a hundred and forty-four cubits by a man’s measure, that is, an angel’s. 18The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass. 19The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every jewel; the first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, 20the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. 21And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass.

22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24By its light shall the nations walk; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it, 25and its gates shall never be shut by day—and there shall be no night there; 26they shall bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27But nothing unclean shall enter it, nor any one who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.