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Journal (2018) by Alek Mechlinski


This year’s annual thematic for the network paintingresearch is Ruin. 


In the coming months we will be interrogating Ruin as a collapsing of time, as a recording of a non-fixed and transitory state determined by circumstance, environment, politics and nature. In recent years architectural ruin has been fetishised via an attention to its texture, to the collapse of industrial spaces and the letting in of nature this promotes. The fall of twentieth century versions of Fascism and Communism has left its architectures - built to last - as totemic structures serving collective memory and providing material for political critique. Robert Smithson identified an ‘area between events… [those] that exist in the blank and void regions or settings where we never look and the monumental vacancies that define, without trying, the memory traces of an abandoned set of futures.’ (Smithson, 1996, p: 44)


There is an urgency to this subject - politically, bodily and environmentally. We aim to approach our interrogation of ruin without lingering on its fetishising - adopting a less aesthetic, or specifically architectural, approach. We will test the destabilising of our inhabited world through the idea of ruin as an apparition (a tangible but ghostly residue) via narrative, conflict, transience and scientific (dis)order. Ruin is in the present. Malleable histories, notions of the relic and questions of how to capture - through painting - the monumental, often slow-changing worlds we inhabit will be debated. Among the events scheduled is a screening of the film China’s van Goghs, focusing on the work made in a small town dedicated to the reproduction of European painting. The film’s director, Kiki Yu will be discussing its themes with us. 


Through the year we will be examining:


*    the body as ruin - including ageing, prosthesis, cellular ‘theft’, the body as donor, supra-bodies.


*    material and architectural ruin - ruin as recording and a purgatorial collapsing of pasts and futures. This includes decay, entropy and notions of the copy or replica as a form of ruination, taking down the ‘original’. Hito Steyerl’s assessment of the demise of an ‘originary original’ - to be taken down by ‘swarm circulation, digital dispersion, fractured and flexible temporalities’ provokes the question about whether the first image is the ruin or the subsequent ‘poor images’ to follow. (Steyerl, 2012, p: 44)


*    political ruin - to include personal experience (of war and disaster) and models for future ruin. Susan Sontag, in Regarding the Pain of Others, talks of memory as ‘an ethical act’ and that ‘it is necessary that memory be faulty and limited’ as reconciliation for a peace-driven forgetfulness. (Sontag, 2004, p:103) It may be pertinent therefore to ask that ruin performs a necessary reminder in the evocation of change. 



Smithson, Robert, ‘What is a Museum? A dialogue between Allan Kaprow and Robert Smithson’, in Flam, Jack, ed., (1996) Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press

Sontag, Susan, Regarding the Pain of Others, 2004, Penguin, London.

Steyerl, Hito, The Wretched of the Screen, 2012, Sternberg Press, Berlin.



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