Artist Nick Cobb wrote on the subject of ruins in 2012 for the eBook ‘Bleak House and other Places’
Type in the key words ‘fascination’ and ‘ruin’ into Google and some useful articles come up to elucidate the hold that architectural decay has had, for centuries on us. In Pleasure of Ruins Rose Macaulay studies this obsession. Her inspiration was the fact that her flat and belongings were destroyed in the blitz of 1941. Her subsequent novels give voice to this trauma. In The World My Wilderness the main protagonist, Barbary, explores and seeks refuge in the post -war ruins of London. By doing so she finds that this environment takes on the feeling of ‘home’ and, finally, a reconciliation with her troubled past.
In Arcimboldi Studios photographic series Bleak House a similar interest is recreated. He calls upon childhood memories of 1950’s Greenwich and adventures found in blitzed-out buildings. The nostalgia of childhood and what was ‘home’ has come calling to the mid-life artist but what does one do about it?
“As I climbed through the broken window I noticed that tree roots had finally broken through the outer wall and young green shoots were growing up inside the room. A perfect stillness filled the building as the suns rays drove the shadows from the corner of the room. We knew this place as Bleak House”.
And so Arcimboldi constructs elaborate miniature dioramas of ruinous interiors and photographs them.
His most recent series Headz creates a scene of lush grass and other plant vegetation growing over what must have been an interior room of somebodies home. Curiously the roof still appears to cover this place and the gnarly old oak tree could predate the very building of the house. Things get odder still. Whoose home was this? Two chairs [husband and wife?] still sturdy, but covered with moss and soft meadow grass invite one in, perhaps for a cup of tea. But on the table there is spread out, not a teaset but a tableau [within this tableau] of a protective mother standing with her two children gazing, one imagines with wonder, at the scene before them.
Light pours in, illuminated by a fine mist, but it’s not that of a miasma. This light reveals detail everywhere. Nature’s reclaiming and flowers are out. The focal point could be the window light but we cannot see through it. Even when in some of the images [ nine so far] it is not blinding it is too filthy. One realises too that there must be other chinks of light flooding in – again carefully illuminating selected areas. But also there are shadows, often surrounding the scene, concealing things that our imagination must then fill in – just as we do with our general interest in ruins, we enjoy filling these gaps.
The enjoyment and feeling of warmth these images convey, as opposed to dank decay, must lie in our memory of the inocence of childhood games and toys that these model parts evoke. The scales are those of about 1:10 doll’s houses and 1:87 train sets so giant adults are implied [even our 1:1 scale must be included] or tiny ‘Borrowers’. As these works are made to seen seen as two-dimensional photographs rather than the original models we also have to think of their place in ‘staged’ photography. The Cotttingley Fairies remind us of the magical power that photography had, and has over us. With the ubiquitous availability of images now there is clearly a need to edit to find the most valuable. These pictures seem worth looking at more than once.
Nicholas Cobb 2012