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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Dina Shenhav's "Tarchish"

Today is international museum day, and a number of Israeli papers had coverage of various exhibits going on in Israel. One of these exhibits, Tarchish (scenario) by Dina Shenhav, has a decidedly ruinous feel to it. The exhibit is being staged at the Nachum Gutman Museum in Neveh Tzedek.

According to Achbar Ha'ir,
"Shinhav's work deals with the human fear of apocalypse. This fear, she believes, is based on events from the dawn of history and up to modern time - places that were destroyed, destruction caused by man and civilization or by nature. The stories of Noah and Sodom in the Bible, the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the bombing of the World Trade Center, destruction of forests, earthquakes and tsunamis - all these are natural components of the human genome."
Here is a video of her work. It's worth watching, and an interesting way to capture the feeling of ruins and destruction. She apparently has done other ruinous work before. Here are pictures from her series, "The End of the City", "And the Wind Returneth," and from some of her earlier work.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Irresistible Decay

In 1997, The Getty Center held an exhibition entitled "Irresistible Decay: Ruins Reclaimed." Along with the exhibit, an accompanying volume was published, with a few essays about ruins. The exhibit was divided into three parts, with the second part titled "Recycling, Reconstruction and Preservation." Michael Roth writes that
"Some commentators have perceived it as necessary, for example, that an ancient building be separated in some way from daily use so that its pastness could be more dramatically made manifest. Seen from this vantage, it becomes important that the ruin appear as an anachronism: as a message from the past more than as an active site of life in the present."
However, Roth goes on to explain the manifest contradiction in reusing a ruin while at the same time trying to preserve it as a thing of the past.

Later in the essay, Roth mentions an interesting case study: a semi-fallen gateway in Baalbek, Lebanon. In a 1799 painting, the keystone is in the process of falling, but by 1870 the British had propped it up with a brick column, "preserving the keystone by making it impossible for nature to continue its work, in effect, stalling time." Finally, the Germans returned the keystone to its original location. This, Roth writes, is an example of what John Ruskin meant when he claimed that restoration equals destruction.

A second essay by Charles Merewether discusses some more points about ruins, including the way in which Daniel Libeskind and Lebbeus Woods use ruins in their work. The book's third essay, "Archives in Ruins: The Collections of the Getty Research Institute" by Claire Lyons, explains how ruins are used as historical sources. This touches on our work, and how we hope to preserve ruins as historical witnesses.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Belated Pesach Post

This is a bit late, but I wanted to add two points about ruins and Pesach.

1. If I were the one striking the Egyptians with ten plagues, I'm pretty sure that at least one of them would target their pagan temples, the storage cities they forced the Israelites to build, the palace, the pyramids, etc. Yet for some reason, not one of the plagues is reported to be aimed at the architecture. Why not? Why wouldn't it be good symbolism to leave the Egyptian buildings in ruin, the same way the economy, monarchy, army and ecosystem were left in ruin? I have no convincing answers to this question, and have never seen any commentators address this issue. If anyone has an idea, I'd love to hear. If not, maybe you can pose this question at next year's seder.

2. During the course of the Pesach seder, we do two things which can loosely be classified as ruinous.
  • We spill out some wine from our cups to show sorrow over the loss of Egyptian life.
  • We break the middle matza in half. This commemorates our ancestors enslavement (as with the matza itself, it mimics the way poor people eat).

American Ruins: Photographs by Arthur Drooker

While in the States recently, I picked up a copy of American Ruins. The book centers on infrared photographs taken by Arthur Drooker.
"Infrared light conjures up ethereal landscapes where shadows hover like apparitions, leaves and grass glow in downy white, clouds float in their own dreamy dimension, and ruins appear as fragments of an unsolvable mystery."
The use of this technology to capture the essence of ruins is both inspiring, and a reminder that one must consider multiple perspectives and try different techniques to capture those aspects we find fascinating in ruins.

The photographs are accompanied by an essay by Christopher Woodward, author of In Ruin. However, this essay introduces little new material to the discussion. One thing Woodward mentions, which he left out of his previous book, is a thought by Charles Dickens regarding the Colosseum.
"Dickens wrote that the structure should continue to crumble one inch per year, so that it demonstrated the destruction of paganism."(p13)
The ruin is preserved by allowing it to continue to crumble. It's unclear how the ruin can be maintained so that only one inch decays each year, and in any case, the idea is mostly a symbolic way to mark the defeat of paganism. It's kind of a bygone, insecure way of thinking. Should Rosh Haayin ruins be allowed to stay ruins in order to emphasize that the British Mandate is over? It would be kind of silly.