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Ashes to ashes

Samuel Small saw fear in a handful of dust

Photo: Ezreena Yahya

Photo: Ezreena Yahya

The decrepit captures the imagination. Whether in the form of the crumbling brick walls of restaurants under the GPO on Martin Place, or CarriageWorks’ rusted rail sheds, the decrepit aesthetic is in boom.

Tin Sheds Gallery’s Dirt, Dust and Ruins exhibition, one part of Emergen/city, an exhibition series exploring changing forms and attitudes to the urban environment, describes the imprints and impressions of the contemporary city and places them in their regional and historical contexts.

Exhibiting international works by Jorge Otero-Pailos (USA) and Daniela Ortiz and Xosé Quiroga (Spain), as well as local contributions from Tina Havelock Stevens and Elvis Richardson, this is an exhibition that explores the role of ruins in the contemporary city and in the lives of those who inhabit them.

Otego-Pailos’ The Ethics of Dust: Cathago Nova, 2011, a series of nine latex casts of dust from a mine in Cathago Nova, Spain, draws on the history of a region that once fuelled the wealth of the Roman Empire and has over the centuries been reduced to political and economic impotence. The casting of the dust is an act of preservation for a body of history and memory otherwise forgotten; a preservation of a history of decay.

Ortiz and Quiroga’s photographic documentation of the 1st of May Mining Camp describes the miners’ housing by contrast with that of the company executives: the buildings are decrepit, the environment so poisoned by over four hundred years of uninterrupted mining that it has been proposed that the entire mining town be moved.

The artists offer a condemning social commentary on the domination of the Peruvian mining industry in this small community living in appalling conditions among the long-defiled ruins of the natural world.

Havelock Stevens and Richardson’s Detroit Drummer video installation explores the collapse of Detroit, once the pinnacle of the American automobile industry.

The city’s journey into destitution, and conversely its contemporary demographic shift towards scrap yard workers’ and artists’ collectives looking for for a bohemian lifestyle in cheap accommodation, is described through the counter-placement of ruined car factories, foundries, and shopfronts with the ‘white drummer’, symbols of the new urban class.

As a whole Dirt, Dust and Ruins is a highly effective exploration of the urban environment’s impermanence and how history and memory, ‘time-stains’ in the words of the curators, affect the place of the ruin in society.

The exhibition is open until May 31.

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