Saturday, January 12, 2013

Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck

G. Trignac

“I have always looked upon decay as being just as wonderful
and rich an expression of life as growth.”
Henry Miller

The Empire in a state of dissipation, portrayed as a post-industrial nightmare on the brink of total ruin, is a theme common to art since, well, the Industrial Age. [I'm doing my best Robert Hughes impression here]. The theme has many artistic commentators working in various media, but there's something about engraving that lends itself best to burned-out apocalyptic landscapes.

 Piranesi (1720-1778) was above all an architect who loved recording ancient ruins in his etchings, but it's his Carceri (1745), or Prison Views, that are called to mind in the works of French engravers Charles Meryon (1821-1868) and Gérard Trignac (1955-). Supposedly conceived as "visions during the delirium of a fever," it's Piranesi's surrealist side that is his most enduring legacy, and it's illustrators like these who've carried the torch.

G. Trignac

Why do we love dead things? From "live fast, die young," to Shakespeare, to furniture with a fake patina, we have a double-edged relationship to physical decay. We like to surround ourselves with stuff that looks old. Edgar Allen Poe said that "the death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world." Besides it's morbidity and sexism, he touches on a powerful subject.

G. Trignac

The Freudian preoccupation with Eros and Thanatos, sex and ruin, is all around us. This fascination with memento mori lies partly in the puritanical reminder that while everything dies we are here now, hanging on to life. That ruin lies just around the corner for all of us is something we enjoy being reminded of now and then, if only from a distance. "But far from nihilism, tragedy is a storyteller laying the cards on the table and asserting that even though the journey ends in a cliff, the miles are worth it for their own sake." [S. L. Wilson]

[image source]
All that death and decay making you feel frisky? You can even book your wedding at the neon boneyard in Las Vegas. This acreage in downtown Vegas is off the tourist trail, but has been a steady spot for nuptials amid the detritus of old casinos and storefronts slowly falling to dust in the desert sun.


 Beauty in Decay: The Art of Urban Exploration [Image source]

The exhibition and Book, "Beauty in Decay" showcases the photographs of "urban explorers", anonymous artists who risk police records and safety by busting into "overgrown industrial complexes, disused lunatic asylums, abandoned palaces and forgotten monasteries," recording what they see and then leaving with no trace but their footprints. 


Flickr group Abandoned Urban Decay is a pool of hundreds of great shots taken by these intrepid explorers the world over.



"There is no true Beauty without Decay"
-Uncle Monty from Withnail and I


Vicissitudes series, Jason deCaires Taylor

Jason deCaires Taylor's work wrests life from decay. His "eco-sculptures" are essentially lifeless, but they take on the living and morph into magnificent coral gardens. Ignoring the morbid preoccupation with death as an endpoint (but perhaps referencing it), deCaires Taylor emphasizes the cyclical nature of life while reminding us that 40% of the world's reefs have disappeared in recent years. But, rather than disappear in Poe's adolescent funk and hug gravestones all day, deCaires Taylor does something about it, and in the meantime creates art of the most sublime beauty.

Vicissitudes series, Jason deCaires Taylor

9 comments:

  1. Well, you know old and crusty is my "thing". I do love the book Beauty and Decay (have a file on Pinterest on it)and the Henry Miller quote is just great!

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  2. This post reminds me also of the traditional Japanese aesthetic notion of wabi-sabi:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi

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    1. Thanks, Mark. I had forgotten about Wabi-Sabi though I know we spoke about it before ;)

      I saw recently that cracked and broken Japanese ceramics are often "fixed" by filling the crack with a paste of gold dust. This did the exact opposite of what we would do in the west; it brought attention to the crack.

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  3. I like G. Trignac's work- it has the looks of social surrealism but seems much calmer for the lack of color. I adore Taylor's underwater work and I hope someday he can combine this idea with the reef ball or even the burial reef idea where ones ashes are mixed into concrete and help create an environment for coral reef restoration.

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  4. Thanks for the link to Trignac's site — he has picked up Piranesi's baton like nobody else. It's interesting that in so many of these images there is a sense of both order and decay.

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  5. So fascinating, the theater, the staircase, Trignacs' works!

    xoxo
    Karena

    2013 Artists Series

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  6. Thanks. Reminds me of Quinlan Terry: "No reinforced concrete structure could last anything like so long because once air and moisture have penetrated to the reinforcement there is nothing which can permanently inhibit its breakdown. It does not even make a good ruin!"

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    1. Thanks, Terry. I had the pleasure of doing some ornamental drawings for a QT project recently. I remember a friend telling me the same thing about re-enforced concrete, warning that all those protruding steel bars that we always see on job sites just channel the water to the inside of the concrete and ensure its demise.

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