Modern Ruins, Urban Archaeology, and the Post-Industrial Sublime

March 18, 2010

That would make a great title for a panel event and discussion, don’t you think?

….et voilà!

From Stages of Decay by Julia Solis

Joanna Ebenstein, who runs the amazing Morbid Anatomy library, is launching a panel series at the Observatory event space (Morbid Anatomy and Observatory are part of the Proteus Gowanus collective at 543 Union Street, Brooklyn). I am honored to be part of the first event on Thursday, March 25, featuring people who explore the aesthetics and phenomenology of contemporary ruin, spaces that still evoke powerful responses in the beholder. From the panel description:

. . . the ruins that captivate us today are of the relatively recent past—not just the industrial era that established Western hegemony, but now an even more recent service/retail age that dominated American culture until the crash of the late 00s.

A few dedicated individuals are committed to investigating and documenting this ruinous legacy. These intrepid photographer-researchers infiltrate a variety of hidden and abandoned sites, often risking physical danger or arrest, to capture and share stirringly uncanny photographs expressing the grandeur and pathos of these majestically crumbling spaces.

I will moderate the event, which features presentations by three people with fascinating qualifications and specialties: Ian Ference, who is “particularly fascinated by insane asylums and quarantine hospitals, both for their uniquely purposed architecture and for the particular threads of history they embody;” Tarikh Korula, cofounder of Uncommon Projects, who will be discussing photographer Brian Ulrich’s topical and attention-getting Dark Stores project; and Julia Solis, a veteran urban archaeologist/photographer whose explorations of subterranean New York have inspired many (and whose book New York Underground: The Anatomy of a City is a classic).

From Stages of Decay by Julia Solis

Each panelist offers opportunities for robust discussion, but I also hope to address the issues that bind them—including the history of depiction of ruins, the search for truth and derangement in the built environment, and whether the contemporary interest in ruins has something to say about the anxiety over the state and fate of our own empire. These topics are all central to the research I conducted for my recently submitted thesis, and along the way I found a lot of other people interested in these subjects. If you are one of them and are in Brooklyn next Thursday, I hope to see you there! Admission is $5.


  1. I’m late in commenting, but thanks for this event – I enjoyed it. The discussion at the end was the best part, when the dialogue with the audience started. If I may make a suggestion, it would be to allot more time for discussion next time (if there is a next time).

    Also thought I’d send over my contribution to the topic, which was exhibited in DC over the summer:

  2. hi, I am so sorry I missed this event. Was it video-d at all or available in any form at all?

  3. Yes, by the way, the event was videotaped and once it has all been formatted it will be posted here and on the Observatory page. We hope to have more events like this!

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