Few things capture the present like the ruins of the past. After the lofty projects of the twentieth century have crumbled or collapsed, we are left today with certain reminders: literature, memories, a socio-political legacy, and – more photogenically – the rotting ruins of sundry grand architectural schemes. The connection between architecture and utopianism has a long and fascinating history. So too does the connection between architecture and power. Perhaps that’s why we are so obsessed with ruins today – as the Romantic love of crumbling Gothic piles gives way to the concrete blocks of modernity rapidly overrun by nature.
Such images serve a myriad of functions: in one way, they offer a nostalgic reminder of a more hopeful age; in another, they serve as a reminder of the hubris of the past – and in so doing shore up the politics of the present. Read in a different way, they can also remind us of our inevitable future: utopias are bound to fail; the lichen and the weeds will always return.
This month, Calvert 22 Foundation in east London opens an exhibition entitled Dead Space and Ruins (7th July – 7th August 2016). On show are works across film and photography that document the decaying architectural remnants of the once mighty Soviet Union. Eric Lusito, Danila Tkachenko, Anton Ginzburg, and Vahram Aghasyan explore different places across this vast territory: from the military monuments of Mongolia to the headquarters of the Bulgarian communist party, half-submerged in the snow.
In this context, such images do two things. Firstly, they confine communism to history, where many of those in power would like it to stay. But at the same time, they demonstrate how difficult it can be to kill the past. Ideas linger on – first as architecture, then as art.
Dead Space and Ruins is part of the Power and Architecture season at Calvert 22 Foundation. The exhibition takes place from 7th July – 7th August 2016 at Calvert 22 Foundation, 22 Calvert Avenue, London, E2 7JP.
Image credits (from top to bottom):
1. Eric Lusito, Mig-21, 126th Fighter Aviation Regiment, Mongolia, from Traces of the Soviet Empire series, 2009
2. Eric Lusito, Site 120, 44th Mixed Air Corps, Mongolia, from Traces of the Soviet Empire series, 2009
3. Eric Lusito, KGB, military unit 93544, Russia, from Traces of the Soviet Empire series, 2009
4. Eric Lusito, Site 131, 2nd Guards Tank Division, Mongolia, from Traces of the Soviet Empire series, 2009
5. Danila Tkachenko, Headquarters of Communist Party. Bulgaria, Yugoiztochen region, from Restricted Areas Series (2015). Courtesy of the artist
6. Danila Tkachenko, Russia, Yamalo- Nenets Autonomous Okrug, 2014. Courtesy of the artist
7. Vahram Aghasyan, Ghost City 2005-2007. Courtesy of the artist
8. Vahram Aghasyan, Ghost City 2005-2007. Courtesy of the artist