you only recently became aware of “ruin porn” and “urban decay” as artistic trends. Please tell us more.
RP: I had been a bit out of the loop during 2010–11 concentrating on a very big, complicated job project-managing the art component of the rejuvenation of twenty Brisbane train stations for Queensland Rail, so only became aware of it at the end of 2011. Although it is primarily a photographic movement it is evidence that the idea of decay in the urban environment is one that resonates deeply in us and is going to become a popular theme among artists. I feel a little ahead of my time!
As far as I can tell, “ruin porn” was originally localised in Detroit and has perhaps emanated out from there. I find it really interesting as I see it as one of the first new, spontaneously generated art movements to appear in a long time that is a tangible reaction to our modern environment. I feel the allure to photographers is in the richness of visual imagery and intuitive association with impermanence – hence the “charging up” of colours and the over-abundance of textural richness of the photos to heighten the sense of drama. However, it has become almost formulaic. It reminds me of the advertising photos for expensive cars – they somehow manage to make them look shinier, more expensive and seductive even than the real thing, and it is a recognised look.
I hope it doesn’t become a cliché, but I’ve already been surprised when I found out – so soon after discovering
“Detroit ruin porn” – how “urban decay” is almost the fashion. I feel it will eventually go the same way aesthetically at a superficial level as punk, grunge, heroin chic, etc. and is destined to hit mainstream over the coming years.
As far as I can tell, ‘ruin
porn’ was originally localised
in Detroit and has perhaps emanated out from there… However, it has become
SDk: That seems to be the way, for better or for worse. It’s a truism that by the time an avant-garde art or cultural movement enters the mainstream, it has already become passé – the pioneers have moved on, or get picked up by commercial industry and exploited until the next fashion is developed and marketed.
RP: I remember a few years ago almost every painting of people had little noses and big eyes like Japanese manga. Now that is really “out”…
I wonder if urban decay will become an architectural mini-fad where people will decorate with graffiti, broken floors and missing tiles – in the same vein as the Victorians had their “follies” in England – without realising the significance of what they are looking at or creating, just that it’s trendy and a designer has told them it will make them appear young and exciting.
I have been looking back at “ruin porn”
images and they rarely, if ever, seem to have people in them. That too perhaps is part of the attraction. The space is defined but empty. There are not too many spaces in the urban environment that are empty and are quiet, but with the same intensity of visual candy. Given the rapidity of information and image transfer over the web and social media, it is not surprising that Detroit has become such a mecca for photographers.
I must admit I do like the whole urban explorer concept of “leave nothing behind but the footprints”. That could even equate for our need to have exploration and that those who need to explore will always find something – even in the urban jungle rather than the Amazon jungle.
SDk: Rejuvenating city train stations sounds like an interesting job…
RP: Many of those stations also had major building works as well as office and amenity refurbishments that were managed by a team of architects, builders and other project managers. I managed the production, installation and on-site work of over 3,500 square metres of scenic-style public art in a ten-month period. We engaged forty artists and worked out of a disused automotive workshop/showroom that was owned by Queensland Rail. Once the major project was completed, I was given the opportunity to paint a couple of murals myself before my contract was finished, which I really enjoyed; it was a nice kind of winding down after
the hectic nature of the previous months.
SDk: Your research for the “Momenti Mori” series had already embedded you at the heart of an earlier Brisbane city rejuvenation project – you wrote in your article that you spent months on-site and had “unparalleled access” to the major building demolition that preceded construction. Can you tell us how you managed to do that?
I wonder if urban decay will become an architectural
mini-fad where people will decorate with graffiti, broken floors and missing tiles – in the same vein as the Victorians had their ‘follies’.
RP: Previously I had been documenting demolition as I saw it, or encountered it – but it was happenstance and often I was not allowed close enough to be able to really see what was going on or the things I was interested in, like close-ups of the surfaces or exposed layers.
I spent a solid few days on the phone working through the phone book under “demolition companies”. After many experiences of “we’ll get back to you”, and “sorry we can’t let you on site for health and safety reasons”, I finally spoke to a receptionist at Rosenlund Demolition who put me through to one of their project managers. Rosenlund is a very big, well-established