In a review of my series Façade, curator Angela Weight described the abandoned breezeblock shells of semi-constructed developments in Ireland as the ‘new ruins of contemporary Europe’. There is a certain paradox to the idea of ‘new ruins’, for to describe empty dwellings as such defines them by their history. The ruin stores a cache of lived narratives, like a conduit to past events. Yet these edifices are like new stages, awaiting narratives which may never occur. They are in a state of limbo, caught between ruin and function, absent from history. Ruins carry a certain allegorical power and these are no different, for they speak of the failure of the neo-liberal fantasy. These ruins, much like the crisis they symbolise, are constructed.
These ‘new ruins’ are not unique to Ireland, Europe, or to photographic series’ for that matter. The image above, from Hrair Sarkissian’s series City Fabric, shows the entrance to an unfinished luxury apartment complex in the city centre of Yerevan, Armenia. Existing residential homes from the 19th century were demolished to make way for these new ruins, built en masse to attract the Armenian diaspora. Here fantasy has been woven into the built environment, but the crumpled and faded fabric disrupts the simulacrum. What was once a crisp computer-generated vision of modern urban living is now ghostly and decaying, not unlike the ideology that underpinned it. The veil here has fallen, revealing nothing more than a stark black void. A past history erased in anticipation of a future history. The faded facade is powerfully symbolic.
These new ruins stretch from Keshcarrigan in western Ireland to Ordos in Inner Mongolia, China; from Connecticut, USA, to Almeria, southeastern Spain. As the dust gathers and the moss proliferates on these contemporaryruins, they offer us a narrative on the condition of global capital. As well as Sarkissian’s work, photographic projects such as Corinne Silva’s Badlands, Edgar Martins’ This is Not a House and Sze Tsung Leong’s History Images, to name a few, coalesce to furnish us with perspectives on a globalised world increasingly fraught with political, socio-economic, geographic and architectural tension. As we attempt to navigate a route through crises of modernity and ideology, photographs can be critical beacons in our quest to find meaning.