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Issue No. 16 - Chaos

"Beyond Ruin Porn" at Front Room Gallery

 

Image above: "84 Huts" /  Courtesy of Front Room Gallery'

Front Room Gallery presented “Beyond Ruin Porn,” a group exhibition of photography with works by: Amanda Alic, Phillip Buehler, Sasha Bezzubov & Jessica Sucher, Sean Hemmerle, Stephen Mallon and Paul Raphaelson. “Beyond Ruin Porn” does have the charred, burned-up buildings, massive steel wreckage, falling in ceilings and huge chunks of flaking paint that we all want to see. It’s also chock-full of social relevance, historical and art historical reference, and larger philosophical and cultural questions.

“Ruin porn” is a derogatory term often used to describe a genre of photographs featuring abandoned houses and factories. This verbal slight implies that there is no intrinsic value to these sorts of photos, but much like “food porn” or “real estate porn” we still love it and look at it anyway (although it might make us feel dirty). While all of the photographs in this exhibition feature ruined, abandoned buildings (or ships and airplanes) they are not ruin porn—they are much, much more.

Undoubtedly there is a sense of Schadenfreude in looking at the crumbling ruins of a once great building. And while the broken furniture can easily seen as visual shorthand for the lost ghosts of the past, ruin porn is indisputably a valid offshoot of landscape photography. We might snicker at the words “ruin porn”, but there isn’t a popular proper title to describe the socially, politically, and artistically valuable photography taken in this genre in the past few decades. This exhibition is a continuation of the tradition of looking at ruins in art, and not something that can be dismissed with a snide knee-jerk reaction. The photographers in this exhibition have been in far too many major publications and recipients of too many awards to mention here.

Amanda Alic’s series “Off Season” portrays abandoned play areas, racetracks, mini-golf courses and resorts. All are immediately strange. Referencing the romanticization of ruins, these images convey exquisite yet eerie locations imbued with memories of pleasure and activity. They reflect the desperate drive to satisfy ourselves by filling our lives with external stimulus.

Alic.snowMan_NJImage above: Amanda Alic, "Fantasyland" / Courtesy of Front Room Gallery 

Phillip Buehler has been photographing abandoned places around the world since he rowed to the (then abandoned) Ellis Island in 1974. Many, like Greystone Park Hospital, have since been demolished; some, like Ellis Island and the High Line, have been restored, and some, like the S.S. United States and the New York State Pavilion, are now in jeopardy. Photographs from the (now demolished) Greystone Park Hospital are featured in this exhibition and in the book “Wardy Forty” which he wrote in 2013 about the last days of Woody Guthrie.

Buehler.examination_roomImage above: Phil Buehler, "Doctor's Office; Examination Room / Courtesy of Front Room Gallery 

Many of Sasha Bezzubov’s thoughtful series have featured ruins: “Things Fall Apart,” a series of photographs of destruction caused by natural disasters in India, the US, Indonesia and Thailand; “Facts on the Ground” (in collaboration with Jessica Sucher) which documents recent ruins throughout Israel and Palestine. For this exhibition Sasha Bezzubov and Jessica Sucher are showing 3 photos taken in India at the Ashram where the Beatles stayed and wrote many famous songs.

BezzubovImage above: "Satsang Hall" / Courtesy of Front Room Gallery

In Sean Hemmerle's poignant photographic series “Rust Belt” (shown at Front Room in 2013) which features theaters, banks, factories, and abandoned houses, the architecture is metaphoric of societal issues that have evolved over decades. Hemmerle has chosen to juxtapose a photograph from this series with photos that he has taken in Beirut and Iraq.

hemmerle.beirutspiral

Image above: Sean Hemmerle, "Beirut Spiral, Beirut, Lebanon" / Courtesy of Front Room Gallery

Stephen Mallon’s series “American Reclamation” contains ruined vehicles, subway cars, Navy destroyers, that are becoming a part of the recycling  process. Mallon’s interest in industrial recycling has led him onto tugboats, helicopters, and even sinking ships that are being “reefed”. He will exhibit 2 photos from “The Reefing of the USS Radford” and one that was taken of the control panel of the famous flight 1549, the “Miracle on the Hudson”.

mallon.radford2Image above: Stephen Mallon "Pilot House", from "The Reefing of the USS Radford" / Courtesy of the Front Room Gallery

Paul Raphaelson’s photographs of the Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn document a topic of continuing controversy. It was once the biggest sugar refinery in the world. Originally a complex, now just one historically landmarked building still stands on the Brooklyn waterfront. On it’s way to becoming high-rise condos it might well be the best symbol of the climate in Brooklyn today.

Raphaelson.3Image above: Paul Raphaelson "Domino Sugar Refinery" 27.5" x 40". Courtesy of Front Room Gallery

Annemarie Heinrich at Nailya Alexander Gallery

Penelope Umbrico at Bruce Silverstein