Ruin Lust

In Steintrager’s lecture, he talked about Joseph Gandy and John Soane. Soane created the Bank of England and Gaudy was the one who created a painting based off of it but it was a picture of the Bank of England in ruins. Soane’s Bank of England was considered his masterpiece. So much so that there are competitions being held to recreate Soane’s bank in virtual space. Soane commissioned Gandy to make a painting of what the Bank of England would look like after one hundred years. This picture shows what Gandy thought would happen.

Imagined view of the Bank of England as a ruin.

Soane saw the picture and agreed to it. Much like many other artists during his time, Gandy’s work was criticized and not accepted. But two of his works shown to us depict ruins. So the question remains, what is with our fascination with ruins?

57ede8a24967d51ea33e83b1d02fe958Hadrian’s Villa. Watercolor. Joseph Gandy.

As it turns out, there is a word for having an aesthetic pleasure of ruins is ruinenlust. A German word which means the pleasure that ruins evoke. The most direct English use of this German word is ruin lust. Despite the connotation that lust has, the word ruinenlust has more of an appreciation for ruins. This phenomenon, known as ruins photography or ruin porn has been gaining more and more popularity in the recent year. There are many blogs, Ruin Porn, Abandoned America and Architecture of Doom, that exist that cover this but has been mainly been focused on urban decay that is seen in cities like Detroit, Chicago, and Berlin.

Yet, despite this popularity, it is not considered a new fad. If anything, this would be considered a resurgence. Many artists in the past would have gone to decaying architecture for inspiration. Artists such as Piranesi and Hubert.

louvre-peinture-francaise-p1020324Imaginary View of the Grand Gallery of the Louvre in Ruins. Hubert Robert

giovanni_battista_piranesi2c_the_colosseumThe Colosseum. Giovanni Battista Piranesi

piranesiarchtrajanbeneventoVedvta dell’ arco di Benevento nel regno di Napoli. Giovanni Battista Piranesi

One example to prove that this is a resurgence is the exhibition that was held in Tate Britain called Ruin Lust. In this exhibition, art from the seventeenth century to present-day was showcased. A full review of Ruin Lust can be seen here but I will mention some key ideas that Yoanna (Yoli) Terziyska goes over. Ruin Lust proposes that one of the sources of inspiration is derived from the ruins of Greece and Rome. For many artists, ruins evoked the past and stood as a relic of culture while others depicted it as a symbol of commemoration or mourning.

paolozzi_michelangelos_davidSir Eduardo Paolozzi, Michelangelo’s ‘David’, 1987, Ruin Lust: 4 March – 18 May 2014. Image courtesy of Tate Britain. Tate © DACS 2013.

As Brian Dillon, the curator of Ruin Lust, says, “Why are we fascinated by ruins? They recall the glory of dead civilizations and the certain end of our own. They stand as monuments to historic disasters, but also provoke dreams about futures born from destruction and decay. Ruins are bleak but alluring reminders of our vulnerable place in time and space.”

p80083_gvJane and Louise Wilson, Azeville, 2006, Ruin Lust: 4 March – 18 May 2014. Image courtesy of Tate Britain. Tate © Jane and Louise Wilson.

This ruin lust appeals to the imagination of times long gone. Ruins that are created by decay evoke many emotions of tragedy and a strange joy when something beautiful can be seen. It cannot be simply dismissed as a morbid fascination with decay as it is far too intricate for that. Professor Tim Edensor, In Industrial Ruins: Space, Aesthetics, and Materiality, best puts it when he says, “… ruins still contain the promise of the unexpected. Since the original uses of ruined buildings has passed, there are limitless possibilities for encounters with the weird, with inscrutable legends inscribed on notice boards and signs, and with peculiar things and curious spaces which allow wide scope for imaginative interpretation, unencumbered by the assumptions …”


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