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