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Learning from Decay

Essays on the Aesthetics of Architectural Dereliction and Its Consumption

Max Ryynänen and Zoltan Somhegyi

Architectural decay as well as the reasons, effects, appearance and representation of ruination have always been important sources of understanding the state of our culture. The essays in this co-written book offer broad perspectives on the potential of ruins, on the use and appropriation of derelict architecture and on the aesthetics and also touristification of places by analysing a variety of phenomena in the range from classical to fake ruins, from historic city centres to hot dog stands, from debris to theme parks. The survey travels from Tallin through Venice and Istanbul to Beirut, discussing among others actual spaces, allegorical monuments and nostalgic aestheticisations of the past in high and popular culture, thus showing numerous inspiring opportunities of learning from decay.

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Glory Through Decay: Aesthetics Around Monuments and Their Ruination


Abstract: Monuments and memorials are primarily created to commemorate important figures or notable events. However, both in classical and contemporary art we can find works that apart from the primary functions of paying homage also investigate the very phenomenon of our intentions and modes of remembering, as well as the prospects of possibilities while doing so. These questions are in the focus of this chapter, especially with regard to a curious 18th-century series of paintings, the analyses of which will also help us in understanding further layers of significance of a contemporary piece too.

Keywords: monuments, memorials, remembering, allegorical tombs, David Shrigley, Owen McSwiny, Venice

Ketchup, milk, aspirin and Nutella. Just a few items from an average shopping list that any of us write on a regular basis. It becomes surprising though when we see the same items preserved and immortalised in one of the most noble forms possible: perpetuated on an impressive and several metres high granite block.

Such a particular monument waited the passers-by on the Doris C. Freedman Plaza in New York City’s Central Park throughout autumn and winter of 2016–2017: the British artist David Shrigley’s work titled Memorial that was eternalising a grocery shopping list.1 The large-size solid granite slab listed the casual elements needed for our everyday life with elegant and classical capital letters row by row. The work plays in a polite and witty way with the elaborated concept of public monuments. Obviously there is...

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