'Ice Next Time' imagines starting over in a post-apocalyptic world

You're invited to the apocalypse after-party.

Dress is, to say the least, casual.

"Things fall apart. It happens slowly, like one of those catastrophe movies where scientists go to the politicians and the politicians do something -- in this case, they don't do anything," says Stephen Hendee, creator of the "Ice Next Time" exhibit, an imaginative rumination on a post-apocalyptic world at the Marjorie Barrick Museum on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus.

"He's asking the audience to go along with this," says museum caretaker Justin Crabtree, who helped Hendee mount the display. "It's grown-up stuff, even though we're playing make-believe."

Employing a speculative narrative on wall panels to support the after-the-disaster "artifacts" that comprise the exhibit -- huge cloth banners, costumes and tools of a suddenly primitive society attempting to rebuild and reinvent itself -- Hendee begins "Ice Next Time" with an explanation of the end, at least of the wired-up-the-wazoo world we know.

"You have to read the text," curator Aurore Giguet says. "It's not one of those things where you can just go around and look at things on the walls. You have to understand what he's trying to do."

Though we're spared the doomsday predicted by the Mayans in 2012 in Hendee's timeline, a cataclysm finally arrives in 2026, caused by a blast from the sun that emits destructive rays. Agriculture is wiped out. Electrical power disappears, throwing survivors into a basic mode of existence as advanced societal structures collapse and warlords and warring tribes emerge. Whatever printed books that remained (or weren't converted to Kindle) have burned away, and we've been unplugged from the techno-lives we now live.

"For some people, technology is more stressful than something that helps them," says Hendee, an assistant professor of art at UNLV. "The stress that follows connectivity is something the narrative of a post-apocalypse solves. People have to deal with each other directly."

Facing a Facebook-less future -- and just plain bookless world -- citizens discover that historical archives that documented pretty much all of human history are lost. As survivors band into small communities, traveling storytellers become vital, trying to preserve our collective memory by re-creating cherished literature, real-life milestones and even popular culture.

Illustrating that reconstructive effort, Hendee uses primitive banners -- made out of painters' drop cloths, rolls of fabric, ribbons sewn together, anything people might have saved -- that serve as backdrops for storytellers, printed with the titles of books, names of authors and reminders of news events scraped together from recollections.

Works by sci-fi and futurist writers such as William Gibson, Cormac McCarthy, Ray Bradbury, Octavia Butler and Phillip K. Dick are depicted, joined by movie references such as "Dune," the bleak "Escape from New York" with Kurt Russell and George A. Romero's zombie-apocalypse oeuvre, plus genuine documents, such as the disturbing manifesto of the Unabomber.

Fragmented and faulty memory are accounted for in the banners as humans struggle to recoup a culture lost. "There's gaps, mistakes, misspellings," Hendee says, pointing out the list of works for Dick (whose life-span listing, apparently calculated by a logic-challenged survivor, puts him at 154 years old). "A number of titles are changed. 'Blade Runner' isn't 'Blade Runner,' it's 'More Human Than Human,' which is a line from the movie." Other books, such as Dick's "A Scanner Darkly" and Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451," are correctly recalled.

"Some of the first books I read were science fiction -- Bradbury and J.G. Ballard," Hendee says. "I have a lot of those novels in there that are part of my understanding."

Another aisle over on the museum floor, Hendee chronicles post-catastrophe events that might have transpired with more imagined artifacts:

A "North American Flag" made of a camouflage pattern, a dark reimagining of the United States flag; costumed figures in paramilitary dress with masks obscuring their identity -- dubbed "Boogy Man/Death" and "Old Military Ghost" -- that serve as warnings of potential danger outside the protection of communities; the formation of "The Authority" as warlords vanish; the bright orange uniforms of the "dawn workers" tasked with restarting electrical power and digital communications and engineering "The Return"; a "Power Is On" banner to finally alert people of restored electricity, dated Nov. 8, 2211.

Optimism, Hendee acknowledges, grows out of the despair. "We're viewers looking back into the post-apocalyptic past," he says. "There's a sense of a movement toward a level of balance between technology and the world that sustains us. Things work out. Life goes on."

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.