• Numéro Russia

Dimitri Ozerkov

The image of the ruin carries many meanings projected into the future.

   THE FUTURE is what we invent in the present and project beyond it. It is impossible to imagine the future, as one of the characters of Nabokov’s .Ada. rightly claims telling about the structure of time. Someone, including us, thought of the recent past as the future. So the near future will approximate soon, it will slip and go into oblivion of the ruins of the past. The speed of time and the truth which it reveals are the only themes that can be adequately discussed.

   What will happen with art in the future? And what is happening with it right now? Art has gone from the result and turned to the process. It uses actual speeds for achieving the goals. It pretends that discovers the truth, and it really works — depending on the age of the audience. It is not interested in the audience, but depends on it more and more. It is still divided between the decorative and the conceptual, while there are the conceptualists - committed marginal - .officially appointed. by the criticism. This will continue further. With decorative everything is clear: the surfaces of the walls, as well as today, will fill the moderately complex within the meaning of images — unchanged in its formality expensive old canvases or changing thanks to technology images on the thinnest air screens. What about the concept? The past accumulates daily in culture as an inevitable cargo, and in the future, in my opinion, will be visible that artist who will come up with how to handle this cargo. Carry it more is impossible how and throw it because you begin imagining a humanitarian catastrophe. This is where artistic intervention is needed.

   Ruins have always existed: it is impossible to establish exactly the historical moment when there were no ruins, and it is difficult to imagine the time when they will disappear. The .past. and .future. are only words that can describe a person’s life or to grab the time. Each artist has early, middle and late periods of creativity, in which the artist was formed, created in full force and completed his career. This late period is the most interesting: the late Titian in “Saint Sebastian” is so blind that he does not fall into the paint and shapes or he foresees new painterly opportunities, sending a message to us in the future? Late El Greco suffers from astigmatism or contemplates some kind of super material energy? Today late Richter works with a bold swipe, without a residue, flattening the paint on the canvas. We will soon see the late Damian Hearst and Jeff Koons: what will be the outcome of their creative message?

    Tit Lucretius Kar described the passage of time in the form of a ring that is worn on the finger and which over the years becomes thinner and thinner — until at some moment it disappears. The real future starts with the end, with a global catastrophe. This new beginning in the human history and mythology has been described many times. Exile from Paradise, the Flood with Noah’s Ark and sending of pigeon, Sodom and Gomorrah. Carved on marble in the middle of the III century B.C. Paros chronicle opens a new history of the reign of Deucalion with his wife named Pyrrhus after their survivor from the flood. The survivors had to produce a new humanity, and this was done very unusual: the gods ordered them to throw behind their backs the stones from which mortal people were born.

   To imagine future disasters and to create the way of salvation it’s a favorite thing of writer and artist we all know from telegram-channel Art Fragment. Art has always been driven by fantasy, which gave rise to the most incredible images that are becoming a part of our history. Actually, it consists of the fantasy. It is technically easy to realize the future; the main thing is to invent it now. This is what a busy unknown artist is doing now, most likely still a child.

   FUTURE RUINS – deals with aesthetics of ruins as the crucial element in the history of Western civilisation. It refers to the presence of the past and, at the same time, contains the potential for the future. A ruin is never neutral: contended over by nature and culture, suspended between destruction and reconstruction, it is immersed in the flow of time and is a suggestion of eternity. It comes from the past, it confers richness of significance to the present and adds awareness of the future. “When we contemplate ruins, we contemplate our own future”, stated Christopher Woodward. What has led the building upward is human will; what gives it its present appearance is the brute, downward dragging, corroding, crumbling power of nature. According to Simmel, natural destruction is the violation of balance between creative power of human spirit and the nature previously pacified by the spirit. Nature transforms the work of art back into the state of material, as it had previously served as material for art. This revenge of the nature determines the melancholic character of ruins in the culture.

   While images of ruins are deeply humanistic, “a person as a ruin… lacks the metaphysical calmness inherent to material ruin”. We get to know the future of our body and dangers to our society through contemplation of ruins. Human society preserves ruins in order to keep the spiritual power of its predecessors. And destroys “the bad ruins” in order to forget their delusions and fatal mistakes. Full range of examples of such a behavior from modern history to Communist and Fascist periods can be traced back up to ancient history where “Carthago delenda est”. This exhibition deals with correlations between human beings and decaying buildings. Between men and stones in various mythological, historic and philosophic contexts.

   For apart from the ruin, there are several crucial stones in the history of humanity. Greeks venerated Omphalos, marking the center of the world. Deucalion and Pyrrha, husband and wife from Greek mythology, the only two survivors of the worldwide flood according to Greek mythology, recreate humanity by throwing stones over their shoulders: new people are born from stones. Muslims venerate Kaaba, The Black Stone that is said to fall down from the skies in the time after Adam and Eve were expulsed from Paradise. In Torah, Jacob the Patriarch puts a stone under his headbefore sleeping and sees a dream where the whole structure of the universe opens to him (“Jacob’s Ladder”). He makes a pedestal out of the stone afterwards, watering with oil and proclaiming it to be House of God (Genesis 28, 18). In New Testament, Jesus tells apostle Peter: “You are a stone (Πετρος). And on this stone (πετρα) I will raise up my church; and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it” (Matth 16, 18).

   Art history produces lots of additional pictorial interpretations. David beats Goliath with a stone from the sling. In Hermitage picture by Jacob van Oost one can clearly see how the stone sticks out from the forehead of the defeated giant. Meanwhile a fairy charlatan removes “stones of stupidity” from the foreheads of village dolts. The dead Christ is placed in a stone coffin in the canvas by Garofalo. He rebels from the stone coffin in the picture of Veronese. An Angel is sitting on a fallen stone from the empty tomb of Jesus while, on the third day, The Three Marys come to visit it, as on the famous composition of Carracci. St. Paul preaches among the ruins. St. Jerome beats himself with a stone in the chest. St. Stephen is stoned by an unfair community. The human skull rests in a stone niche in the painting by Bartholomeus Bruyn. The dreamer is located on the ruins of the Oybin monastery in the canvas of Caspar David Friedrich. 18th century ruin painters (Hubert Robert, Jean Wael, Piranesi, Smuglevicz, Jean Houel) carefully draw the ancient remnants. The stone Galathea comes down from the pedestal to fall into her sculptor’s embrace. All these Hermitage paintings tell various aspects of the story of interactions between men and stones.

  The stone was a key building material for a prehistoric man (cf. megalithic sanctuaries, dolmens, menhirs as well as axes etc). Stone Age sculptures and reliefs are the oldest images created by men. With the onset of history, the stone structures perpetuate the memory of a man in cave tombs, mausoleums, amd temples. Сonstructions are getting old and dilapidated through the course of time, like humans do. Ruins are giving birth to a new life, in human imagination. The ruins of Temple of Solomon nourish new religious, philosophical and artistic currents. Jesus, the Salvator Mundi, is born on the ruins of the palace of King David. Pagan deities fall down from their pedestals at the sight of the Savior of the World in Christian iconography of the “Flight into Egypt”, according to the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew.

   In order to reflect the historical development of the theme, the exhibition will feature art objects in a wide chronological range, from ancient stones and illustrations of old traditions of destruction and divine wrath. Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah with the stoned Lot’s wife, fire of Troy, floods, up to huge catastrophes and traces of the latest devastating actions by the vandals. It will include spectacularly damaged (by time and barbarians) examples of ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman art. The time that seems to co-create art works in its own way will be considered as an active player.

    The exhibition will deal with historical understanding of the former power of the ancients, as in the idea of “Instauratio Romae”, and theory and praxis at Della Magnificenza e d’Architettura de’ Romani by Piranesi. The theme of fictional ruins (ex. La Ruine du Louvre by Hubert Robert) will also be taken into consideration. Last but not the least is the subject of the evidence of destructive impact of modern wars on the monuments (ex. collapse of Twin Towers of WTC, Palmyra).

Frequent references to literature will offer a deeper opportunity to explore the facets of these themes. There are, for instance, historic parallels between building and body, or between building and plant. The ruin refers to the passage of time in human life: in his Tristes Tropiques, Claude L.vi-Strauss carefully describes a hypothetical architecture affected by time, chosen as an image of his intellectual evolution. The suggestion came to him from reading another formative book, Chateaubriand’s Travels in Italy: “Dragging my memories into its flow, time, rather than wearing them out and burying them, has with their fragments built the solid foundations that provide me with a more stable balance and clearer contours to my vision. One order has been replaced by another. Between these two pillars that indicate the distance between my gaze and its object, the years that corrode them have begun to amass fragments. The edges shrink, whole flanks collapse; times and places come to blows, overlap, or overturn, like sediments shifted by the trembling of a crumbling surface. An ancient, insignificant detail emerges like a climax, while entire layers of my recent past are erased without trace”.

    A special attention will be paid to modern studies of conservation and restoration initiated by Ruskin’s Stones of Venice. Venice continues its dialogue with the presence of ruins and fragments of different origin incorporated in its walls. These are elements of a renewed vitality are embedded in the very fabric of its buildings and include antique and Byzantine reliefs, stones fragments from all over the Mediterranean, building materials from the abandonment of Torcello. Crucial Venice buildings are being renewed perpetually: Teatro della Fenice, Doge’s Palace, Rialto Bridge, bell tower of St. Mark’s, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni and others.

   Venice was always a center of antiquarian studies and trade of leading importance. It was here that the first book in which the image of a ruin can be found as an object worthy of aesthetic enjoyment was printed: Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499).

    It is no coincidence that Piranesi, one of the few truly essential figures for an understanding of the “poetics of ruins”, used to call himself “Venetian architect”. According to Mario Praz, cultural roots of this “architectural anatomist” were “a reflection of the North European stance with regard to ruins”: a point of view struck by the “shock of recognition”. A similar shock seemed to have guided modern architect Richard Rogers who selected the image of guinigi Tower in Lucca crowned by an oak tree as crucial for his creativity. Palazzo Fortuny where the exhibition will take place is a perfect example of such a “cultural ruin”.

  Classical ruins have been present in European culture since Middle Ages. Through the Renaissance the interest for the remains of the past would continue with Neoclassicism and Romanticism. But if in Winckelmann’s oeuvre the mutilation of a classical find was a cause for regret of the lost unicity (cf. his Apollo Belvedere), Schlegel “prefigures the Romantic sensibility that prefers the fragmentary character”. Neo-Gothic paintings by Friedrich are the best examples of such a new sensible order. In the last Leopardi, la Ginestra thrives on the desolation produced by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD, and becomes an opportunity to reflect on the human condition in the vastness of the cosmos, at the mercy of the overwhelming power of Nature: a condemnation of the universalistic and spiritualistic pretensions of the “proud and foolish age”.

    The ambivalence of the ruin is a topos of modernity, and the mass of ruins contemplated by the angel in Benjamin’s story, inexorably dragged to the future, can serve as emblem. According to Benjamin, the historian is he who has the task of “doing justice” to such losses by erecting around them a “slender but solid structure – a philosophical structure – to capture the most contemporary aspects of the past in its net”. As Benjamin stated, his method of work was “a literary montage. I have nothing to say. Only something to show. I will not remove anything precious and I will not appropriate any ingenious expression. Rags and rubbish, therefore, but not in order to make an inventory of them, but to do them justice in the only way possible: by using them”.

    In the work of another great German writer of the twentieth century, W.G. Sebald, rubble and ruins play a central role: literature becomes a continuous wandering (real or figurative) among old photographs, forgotten books, abandoned buildings, stories of the defeated... until the drafting of an essay (on the bombing of the German cities at the end of World War II: Luftkrieg und literature), aiming to be an investigation for On the Natural History of Destruction. Here Sebald seems to overturn Simmel’s image of the fragments of buildings swallowed up by vegetation as a figure of defeat. Indeed, the plant life sprouting from the rubble is a veritable announcement of the renewal of social life. “In Cologne (...), towards the end of the war, the expanse of rubble had already undergone a partial metamorphosis precisely because of the greenery that grew lush and, like “peaceful country paths hemmed in by two banks,” the roads crossed the landscape once more (…). In Hamburg, in the autumn of 1943, a few months after the great fire, a number of trees underwent a second flowering, especially the chestnuts and lilac bushes. How much would it have taken (...) for the mountains of ruins in the whole country to be covered with forests? What did take root and flourish, however, and with exceptional speed, was the other natural phenomenon: social life”.

    Ruin Lust was the title chosen for a recent exhibition held in London at the Tate Modern (2014). Perhaps, however, the need for aesthetic elaboration of a crumbling building can be interpreted a little less morbidly, as a sign of pietas, a questioning of the life these buildings had, or in some cases even, an attempt to re-appropriate their historical, sometimes tragic past: a reconciliation with the past in fact develops “through our ability to tell, and to tell differently..., rendering the victims the tribute of a pacified word.”

  These ideas can be considered in connection to many other cities suffered from was destructions including Venice or Palmyra, or St. Petersburg — Petrograd — Leningrad — St. Petersburg, the called “Venice of the North” and “Palmyra of the North”. Hermitage museum collections refer to both Venice and Palmyra by the famous Fortuny Vase and late 19th century Syrian collection.

    The exhibition will be planned as an opening towards the future, with ruin being considered far from a mere image of defeat and catastrophe: the experience of contemplation of ruins may even be a source of new awareness for man who, in the face of ruin, brings to play memory on the one hand, and on the other planning. According to the anthropologist Marc Aug. (in times like ours, we are producers of rubble rather than ruin due to the acceleration of time and the technical potential for destruction attained), the task of art is to look for a possible new horizon of meaning. “The sight of ruins makes us fleetingly sense the existence of a time that is not the one spoken of in history books or that restorations seek to bring back to life. It is a pure, non-datable time, absent from this world of images, simulacra and reconstructions, from our violent world whose rubble has no time to become ruin. A time lost that art sometimes succeeds in regaining”.

    Palazzo Fortuny is one of the largest and most famous palaces of Venice, built in the Gothic style in the Campo San Benedetto in late 15th century. It used to belong to the prosperous Pesaro family in late medieval times. In 19th century, the building passed into the possession of the famous painter Mariano Fortuny (1871—1949) who turned it into his studio of painting, photography, stage and textile design. After his death, in 1956, the palazzo was donated to the municipality of Venice that turned it into museum called Palazzo Fortuny. The museum retained the working environment of Mariano Fortuny with paintings, tapestries, as well as old wall decorations and a collection of antiquities that used to inspire the artist. Late medieval structures coincide here with the spirit of restoration of the mid-19th century.