Just as the landscape painters of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries created scenes of dramatically lit dismantled columns nestled amongst brooding woods, the artists of our time, with their ruin-porn coffee-table books such as Soviet Ghosts and The Ruins of Detroit, offer the world a glossy, anesthetized image of abandoned infrastructure in places ranging from Chernobyl to Detroit. The aesthetic galvanized by early aughts photo books of Cold War science-fiction-tinged Soviet ruins and heavily processed, gritty panoramas of American industrial decay remain popular today through the medium of Instagram, where over forty-two thousand images have been tagged #ruinporn.
The fall of modernity, at least as understood by the postmodern turn, was universal—bridging both capitalist and communist societies. As Tong Lam put it in Abandoned Futures, his book about photography and posthumanism: “in a way, we are already post-apocalyptic.”
The choice is reminiscent of a line from Henry Thoreau’s “Walden” (1854), in which the Transcendentalist author assures the reader that if he were to follow a more intrepid path, he “will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws will be expanded, and interpreted in his favour in a more liberal sense…. He will live with the license of a higher order of beings.” There will always, however, be the daunting task of letting go.
They are in union with the forests, with the hillsides, with the trees, and although their materials may be of this century, their intentions are as old as Shintoism, Japan’s native religion and governing ideology: that every stone, every tree, every flower, is possessed with kami, a divinity. The society is greater than the self, and here, the society is comprised not of people, but of trees and rock. What at first appears to be rebellion is actually homage. It is a town full of reminders of what architecture can do: Instead of removing us from the land, it gives us a window to see the earth below — and returns us to it.