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The Politics and Aesthetics of Ruin(s)

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Kaeleigh Herstad

on 13 January 2015

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Transcript of The Politics and Aesthetics of Ruin(s)

The Aesthetics and Politics of Ruination
We'll consider ruins both as a type of media (they hold and transmit information about historical and political processes) and as the focus of media
Urbex and Ruin Porn are two ways of interpretating/engaging with process of ruination, and the each have a variety of political implications.
"Ruins are the remains of human-made architecture: structures that were once complete, as time went by, have fallen into a state of partial or complete disrepair, due to lack of maintenance or deliberate acts of destruction" (Wikipedia).
Instructor: Kaeleigh Herstad
This semester, we will learn about the different ways people have documented and interacted with ruin(s) over time.
Write down your name, year, and major on the index card provided. Then tell me what specific topics you'd like to cover in the class and what you're most looking forward to learning about this semester.
Greystone Psychiatric Hospital, NJ
"The cultural practice of exploring derelict, closed, and normally inaccessible built environments" (Garrett 2012).

What thoughts and emotions do these representations of ruin evoke?
18th century German architectural term that connotes nostalgia for ruins and the past(s) they represent
Photographs of postindustrial cities that focus on the blight, decay, and abandonment of specific buildings
Fordlândia, Brazil
Pyramiden, Svalbard, Arctic Circle
18th floor dentist cabinet, David Broderick Tower, Detroit
Critics argue that ruin porn glosses over the complex social processes that lead to the abandonment and neglect featured in the photos.

Representing Detroit and other postindustrial cities as ruins or "ghost towns" has direct consequences for the people still living there (such as the continued withdrawal of resources from the communities that need it most).
(1950s): An approach to geography that emphasizes playfulness and "drifting" around urban environments. Has links to the Situationist International (an anti-authoritarian Marxist movement). Urbex as a
political act
The Maya site of Xunantunich, Belize
John Martin, The Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum (1822)
Chernobyl Diaries (2012)
The Keweenaw Peninsula, Michigan
J.M.W. Turner, Tintern Abbey (1794)
Ruins are a form of media. They store, and with some help from their 'interpreters,' transmit information about the effects of historical, social, and political processes.
Haikyo: Urbex in Japan
Public Schools Book Depository, Detroit
Abandoned cottage, Co. Donegal, Ireland
John Constable, Sketch for 'Hadleigh Castle' c.1828-9
John Armstrong, Coggeshall Church, Essex (1940)
Knightridge Space Observatory, Bloomington
Though our collective obsession with ruins has a long history, ruin porn and urbex are associated with the more recent global processes of deindustrialization and political/economic crisis.

Urbex and ruin porn are so popular (and controversial) because they engage with current issues and challenges that postindustrial communities all over the world are facing.
Nazi War Bunkers, by Jane and Louise Wilson (2006)
Our Goals:
Learn to think critically and creatively about the processes that lead to abandonment/ruination
Experience the built environment in different ways
Apply our new skills and knowledge to real-world problems.
(1) State and social institutions: prisons, asylums, military structures, hospitals/healthcare facilities, schools, Olympic venues, World's Fair infrastructure, public and governmental buildings of all kinds

(2) Industrial and commercial: mines, quarries, distilleries, power plants, factories, mills, transportation networks (subways, railroads, bridges, airports), food/agriculture (grain elevators, plantations, farmsteads, outbuildings), junk and scrap yards, retail (malls, shops)

(3) Residential and religious: houses and apartment complexes, churches, synagogues, mosques, cemeteries, orphanages, monasteries/convents

(4) Travel, Sport, and Leisure: theme and amusement parks, theaters, hotels, stadiums, ballparks, and other sports facilities.
Types of Sites Explored:
Supporters see ruin photography as a way of documenting/remembering a place and engaging with history in a nontraditional way. Some also argue that it brings tourism and a much-needed economic boost to struggling urban centers.
We'll learn about the future of urban ruins: blight management, urban renewal, and the sustainable, adaptive reuse of abandoned sites
Glass factory converted into an urban farm in Shenzhen, China
Ruin Porn
A future, post-apocalyptic Capitol Hill in Washington, DC
Grain silos converted into student housing in Johannesburg, South Africa
Central question: How can we use the perspectives we’re learning about to better understand how people relate to and interact with the past and with urban space?
Map by Krista Siniscaro
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