Exhibit immerses visitors in ideas of mortality, the end of days and sitting in tubs with strangers

A new exhibit at the Art Gallery of Alberta invites visitors to take the plunge into exploring the end of the world. Nests for the End of the World presents five projects, including a hot tub which can be booked for a quick dip.

New Art Gallery of Alberta exhibit contemplates the end of the world

The exhibit and hot tub are open until May 3. (Clare Bonnyman/CBC)

A new exhibit at the Art Gallery of Alberta invites visitors to take the plunge into exploring the apocalypse. 

Nests for the End of the World presents five projects, each curated and executed by a different group of artists. One of the projects is a hot tub that can be booked for a quick dip. 

The hot tub exhibit, curated by Lindsey Sharman and commissioned by artist duo Cindy Baker and Ruth Cuthand, is an immersive experience that recreates the place where its artists "meet to discuss the future." 

"[Cindy and Ruth] picked up some notions of self-care that came in this idea in a nest for the end of the world, which is something comforting," said Sharman, who works as the AGA's curator.

"You can bring your suit down to the gallery and ... go in the hot tub," she said. 

"But once you're in there, you're confronted by these difficult truths that are all around you." 

Sharman explained that the piece talks about self-care as denial, which emerged out of a discussion with the other four curators. 

"We were talking about how horrible everything seems. Even now, we're being confronted by coronavirus, environmental collapse and seemingly total climate disaster," Sharman said Thursday on CBC Radio's Edmonton AM

"Everything seems to be a little bit depressing and so we wanted to … present those ideas to the artists and see if they could take that on."

Edmonton AM's Clare Bonnyman experiences the exhibit firsthand as she interviews curator Lindsey Sharman. (Kerrie Sanderson)

The exhibit features a flashing neon oil derrick, a representation of anthrax and a speech bubble piece. 

The intention is to be surrounded by ideas of consumption and a few of the issues contributing to the end of the world. 

Those who choose to enjoy the hot tub are invited to relax while reading a text piece on the wall, which scrolls through research about contaminated water, outbreaks and more. 

"It's an unnerving experience. Everything is very shiny and sexy, but you're sitting in water that other people have been in while contemplating the next outbreak," Sharman said. 

Sharman also hopes that sitting in the tub will spark thinking about water consumption as well as about hot tubs as a symbol of excess in the world.

"Even though each of the installations are different, there is something that combines them: our relationship with our ultimate demise," said Sharman. 

Visitors are invited to book a 30-minute time slot to soak in the tub. There is room for four people but only two spots are available to book because the artists could show up to join at any time. 

As for whether the exhibit will sink or swim — that remains to be seen. It runs until May 3. 

With files from Clare Bonnyman