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Friday, May 6, 2011

Irresistible Decay

In 1997, The Getty Center held an exhibition entitled "Irresistible Decay: Ruins Reclaimed." Along with the exhibit, an accompanying volume was published, with a few essays about ruins. The exhibit was divided into three parts, with the second part titled "Recycling, Reconstruction and Preservation." Michael Roth writes that
"Some commentators have perceived it as necessary, for example, that an ancient building be separated in some way from daily use so that its pastness could be more dramatically made manifest. Seen from this vantage, it becomes important that the ruin appear as an anachronism: as a message from the past more than as an active site of life in the present."
However, Roth goes on to explain the manifest contradiction in reusing a ruin while at the same time trying to preserve it as a thing of the past.

Later in the essay, Roth mentions an interesting case study: a semi-fallen gateway in Baalbek, Lebanon. In a 1799 painting, the keystone is in the process of falling, but by 1870 the British had propped it up with a brick column, "preserving the keystone by making it impossible for nature to continue its work, in effect, stalling time." Finally, the Germans returned the keystone to its original location. This, Roth writes, is an example of what John Ruskin meant when he claimed that restoration equals destruction.

A second essay by Charles Merewether discusses some more points about ruins, including the way in which Daniel Libeskind and Lebbeus Woods use ruins in their work. The book's third essay, "Archives in Ruins: The Collections of the Getty Research Institute" by Claire Lyons, explains how ruins are used as historical sources. This touches on our work, and how we hope to preserve ruins as historical witnesses.

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