photographs by nico oved
School of Image Arts
Ryerson University, Toronto
Exploration is not just an activity, but a value enshrined by the western world. It is a distinct trait of individualism but it also speaks to our collective narcissistic obsession with our history and identity. In an era of increased worldwide interconnectivity, exploration and discovery allow us to claim something, no matter how small, for ourselves.
Architecture is not just the design of buildings, but a reflection of human activity and collective self-perception. The spaces we create for ourselves are often utilitarian in function, but in form have the power to dramatically affect our states of mind. To turn a corner and enter an impressive space is an experience that instantly and radically alters a person’s mood.
Haikyo is the Japanese word for abandoned building. But more than that, it has come to represent a whole culture of casual exploration of abandoned sites. Huge online communities have formed in Japan as well as North America and Europe where people post photos of their recent explorations and share information about local sites.
Seiro means serenity in Japanese. However, the word has a distinctly active “sunny” connotation. This combination accurately reflects the immense calm coupled with awe that rushes over me when I step foot into a new space during one of my haikyo explorations. All my decisions in photographing these spaces are driven by my desire to replicate that experience and that serenity for the viewer – print scale, film format, depth-of-field, natural light, space-emphasizing frame. I attempt to allow the viewer to step into these spaces, breathe in the dust-filled air and look around.
Despite being popularly perceived as aloof and inaccessible, I believe that architecture is actually a set of cultural signs that are innately readable by most people. We all have an instinctive understanding of architectural cultural vernacular and can roughly guess a building’s era of construction, intended use, etc. Like many photographers, I attempt to use these signs to communicate to the viewer something about our world. In specific, my photographs of ruin and decay discuss the idea of transition. All the photographs depict spaces in transition. Foliage overgrows a building illustrating the forces of entropy. A façade of smashed windows and graffiti depicts a space reclaimed by marginalized youth. A streetcar barn already partially cleared out and clean, waits to be converted into artist’s live-work spaces.
In exploring these spaces, we’re trying to learn something about the people who once occupied these buildings through the analysis of what they left behind. The atmosphere one encounters upon entering a large, abandoned institution is strangely akin to that of an ancient tomb or pyramid: there is a simultaneous attraction and repulsion. Curiosity struggles with fear and sense of self-preservation - deciding whether to turn back or continue on.
This dichotomy is mirrored in the mixed emotions one has towards abandoned buildings, especially ones that are legacies of our industrial past. And this is crux. The association of abandonment with industrial spaces is not accidental. As a reflection of human activity, abandoned industrial architecture illustrates the changing nature of the western economy. Free trade and globalization have pushed industry to China and the developing world, while the west has converted to a service-based information economy. Gone with the industry is any one country’s ability to be mostly self-sufficient. Gained is everyone’s increased interconnectivity with the far corners of the globe. Like these ruins, we have a simultaneous attraction to and repulsion from globalization. As artists, we must navigate this territory very carefully.
“Technical progress inevitably escalates negative aspects inherent in it. For instance, the invention of the aeroplane is also the invention of the plane crash. In the same vein, you could say that architecture is nothing but the art of making ruins”
– Paul Virillo