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Beneath the Surface of Abandonment

Fragments of collage ruins (Ewa Fornal)

Fragments of collage ruins (Ewa Fornal)

Abandonment art is routinely lamented for its literal and metaphorical focus on aesthetic surfaces; that is, abandonment art risks reducing the weathered, damaged, and derelict exteriors of abandoned buildings to an ahistorical style that fails to illuminate processes of ruination.  Some critiques of ruin art are guilty of their own romantic desire to paint transparently uplifting or “authentic” pictures of a place; in many instances, they somewhat xenophobically resist a host of “outsiders” spilling into eroding urban cores; and some critics of “ruin porn” hazard ignoring the genuine structural decline of much of urban America.  Nevertheless, a shallow gaze on abandoned landscapes may indeed hazard trivializing complicated historical decline by fixating on the visual dimensions of ruin.

A collage from "I'm the Mempry of Mannix F" (Ewa Fornal)

A collage from “I’m the Memory of Mannix F” (Ewa Fornal)

Ruins may well have assumed their elevated contemporary prominence because of the digital documentation of abandonment: the likes of flick’r and tumbl’r are awash with ruin images; instagram-armed camera phones document a decaying planet; and artsy urban transplants have led a digital dissection of the ruins in their midst.  Images of decline can quite productively evoke waste, loss, and transition and fuel interventions against structural processes of ruination; the challenge simply is to avoid romanticized notions of an aesthetic decline disconnected from deep-seated inequalities.

An archaeological approach to ruination ideally sifts through layers of ruination and visually and materially interprets processes of creation, growth, decline, and ruin.  Some artists may be borrowing much the same method to creatively rethink ruins.  Polish artist Ewa Fornal, for instant, might be circumspectly characterized as an abandonment artist.  Fernal, who lives and works in Ireland, toys with the distinction between aesthetic surfaces and the historical depth of ruination.  Many photographers work with the visual representation of abandonment, but Fornal is among a handful of artists who work with the material detritus of ruins (e.g.,  the 2010 Modern Ruin exhibit in Dallas). Read the rest of this entry