Posts Tagged ‘urban decay’

The show is titled “A Fantastic Journey.” That’s inviting! The invitation goes on to inform us that the work “explores the relationships between issues of gender, race, war, globalization, colonialism and the black female body.” These are important topics but when I see a claim that someone is exploring them all at the same time, I get suspicious because it’s just too big a claim. If an artist promises to explore any two of those topics– gender & race, gender & war, race & globalization, war & colonialism, war & black female body—I will rush to see the work in the hope of gaining new insight. Let’s go over that list again and let’s slow down to imagine the implications:
gender & race
gender & war
race & globalization
war & colonialism
war & black female body
Just focusing on one of these for a minute will exhaust you, while you’re sitting at your desk.
The claim that an exhibit encompasses all of these is preposterous. Let’s not get bowled over by buzz words.
When we see art, we must try to keep our heads and to respond honestly to what we experience. When I saw the work by Wangechi Mutu at the Block Museum last week I was not reminded of any of these grave news items. The images, composed of collages mounted on Mylar, are all huge, six to eight feet high. They looked slimy. I was reminded of decay, microbes, digestion, wormy things, swarms of insects, childish fascination with excretion and general intestinal events. All this, with an overcast of trashy, wit-less pornography.

Why does this kind of thing make it to a highly respected gallery? Perhaps it’s seen as part of the aesthetic of decay that’s in vogue in what is perceived to be a hopeless, apocalyptic time. By all means, let’s look at the complexity of microbes, the beauty of worms and intestinal flora and fauna and let’s make art honoring them. But then let’s say so. Let’s not pretend we’re “exploring” things like the relationship between gender and race and all the rest.
Compare these images to images of urban decay.

Urban-DecayConsider some photographs of urban decay and observe your reaction, without pretense or deference to fashionable buzz words.
All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.

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In “The Blot and the Diagram,” Kenneth Clarke talked about Leonardo’s intellectual range.  His formidable brain loved to analyze systems (diagrams); but he was also fascinated by chaotic forms (blots).  In his notebooks Leonardo tells us that he often would stop to look at a wall that was water stained, cracked or peeling.   He writes, contemplating such chaotic forms stimulates the imagination.

I think of Leonardo as one of us,  he shared our sensibility, with his insatiable curiosity and courage, his scientific approach; his playfulness; his openness to possibilities; his skepticism; his use of inconsistencies; his caricatures; and for the purpose of this post, his embrace of accidentals.  In this sense, Kenneth Clark says, he anticipated modern art.  About 120 years ago, when paint started dripping on a canvas, it was sometimes allowed to do so.  By the 1940’s dripping paint had come to represent an aesthetic in itself, with Jackson Polack it’s most famous representative.  An aesthetic of chance occurrence was edging out the old aesthetic of control.

If you’ve ever seen Urban Decay Photography, you know that it speaks to the modern sensibility.  At first, it may be shocking (never was to me, though) but then it sinks in and reaches you at a very deep  level of your  life experience. Where the old sensibility measured time teleologically, this new sensibility embraces time– how shall we say—mystically, as an element of constant surprise and potential.  And isn’t that where we live, from one moment of consciousness to the next and to get to the next moment, we have to let the previous moment die.

Decay.  Urban Decay.

What other kind of decay is there?  Well, obviously, rural decay.  But that’s too fast and predictable, since in a season or two the new crop grows out of the compost of the old.  But Urban Decay is slow and it’s not predictable, because it’s about ideas.  What we see crumbling is not just that wall, that arch, that mural, that tracery, that tile floor, etc, but the ideas, values and hierarchies these things once defended.


My shot of the CTA tracks at Wabash and Madison (above) has some of that reflection in it.  It has that reference to crumbling urban structures and the reminder that these structures are inventions, as man-made and ephemeral as the ideas and hopes from which they sprang.  But that shot illustrates one other element we find in Urban Decay Photography:  severe composition.  In this case, it’s three horizontal stripes, progressing from narrow at to top, to wider in the middle, to widest at the bottom, creating a progression.

This emphasis on form is what distinguishes Urban Decay Photos.  It is well worth your while to study this genre. Here’s a link, for a start:


All contents copyright (C) 2010 Katherine Hilden. All rights reserved.




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