Ruins…ruined…beautiful

November 3, 2010

 The Renaissance humanists found beauty in ruins.   They took what they could dig up.  They thought the best was behind them, and they sought to live up to the ancient ideals.  Was this the first example of stylistic revivalism?

 

Later on, archaeologists got to work on those beautiful ruins.  Enlightenment artists like Piranesi took a methodical interest in the remnants of Classical Civilization, and produced views of it that were part postcard, part scientific document, and part aesthetic reverie.

Finally, the Romantics found ruins beautiful, but only certain kinds of ruins.

Today, the aesthetic back and forth between beauty and ugliness, the sordid and the sublime, the natural and the artificial continues, as always.

Now, there are a bunch of photographers who love to take pictures of industrial decay.  Some call it industrial decay pornHaving spent lots of time in Detroit, I can understand the frustration of the person in this link.  Others are clearly entranced by the aesthetic possibilities of magnificent abandoned sites, as in these pictures on Flickr.  Not sure how they would feel about their subjects if they were simply unemployed with no propsects, after working on the factory line…

This color image is almost over the top, but it looks very much like factories I visited on Doremus Avenue, NJ, which is shown in the B&W image at the top.  Doremus was the center of the chemical industry in the USA during the late 19th and early 20th century. (More images here.)

Is it the romance of industry that draws them?  The Ozymandias outlook?  Fascination with decadence?  Purely aesthetic possibilities of texture, space, tone?  The image at the bottom left looks positively Piranesian, while the one on the right is simply depressing in its presentation of utter decreptitude.  Would these subjects be interesting to anyone but engineers if they were functioning and in good repair?  (I know there are photographers of contemporary industry too…)

Plowden was making a statement, a plea, with his photographs of American wastelands, but these images seem contemplative and a bit voyeuristic.  At least on the Web, I find very little interest in what the subjects actually are, what they were for,  only how they look.

 

Coming full circle, sort of, we have the image below which shows not ruins, but a functioning geothermal plant in Iceland.  No ice to be seen; bathers and boaters frolic in this Edenic scene from Dante’s Inferno.  An absolutely mind-bending union of thematic opposites.

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Red Scare Irony

November 29, 2008

allen

Did the Joe McCarthy Red Scare produce anything good?

The other night I was at a gathering of people who were mostly quite a bit older than I am.  I spent some time talking with a fellow who has endowed a local cultural organization, the Puffin Foundation.  He’s a socialist from way back, and he was blacklisted during the 50’s.  That meant that many jobs were totally closed off to him, and I guess he didn’t have the inclination or resources to set himself up as an independent professional.  So he did things the good old American CAPITALIST way, and he went into business.

Turns out, this commie had a good head for capitalism, and he ended up getting rich.   He gave a lot of his gains to his workers in benefits, stock ownership and stuff like that, but he still had  plenty of filthy lucre from his exploitation of their labor left over, so he set up a foundation.  It hosts interviews, art exhibits, performances, and lectures, and it is a wonderful resource for the region.

What was his business?  Machine screws!  As an engineer and sometimes tinkerer, I know all about Allen screws, those fasteners with the hexagonal shaped hole that tightly fits a bent piece of metal that you insert to torque the screw down. They fascinated me as a kid by their precision.  Such pieces are the foundation of industrial society.  Before they existed, fasteners were made by hand, individually.  Then someone built a metal lathe to create them more precisely, but of course, that lathe was built with hand-machined fasteners.  That was the end of the artisan screw, however.  From then on, machines were used to make machine parts from which more machines could be made, bigger and better.  Without that, industrial capitalism would have stalled in its tracks.

He broke the monopoly on fastener distribution in the USA.  How’s that for a pinko!  I hope Tailgunner Joe is turning over in his grave.