<em>Cuban School (Community 5th of October)</em> 2010. © the artist. Courtesy Thomas Dane Gallery, London and Simon Preston Gallery, New York

These buried ruins, now in dust forgot. 
Guest Blog by Zainab Djavanroodi 

These buried ruins, now in dust forgot,
These heaps of stone the only remnants seen –
“The Old Foundations” still they call the spot,
Which plainly tells inquiry what has been

John Clare, The Ruins of Pickforth

The Romantic ruin, decline, decay and specters of the past and shadows of the future weave together the works of James Benning, Cyprien Gaillard and John Gerrard in Middlesbrough.

James Benning’s distinct durational approach to film sees the American independent filmmaker connect two industrial zones in the United States and Germany at Platform A Gallery. The multi-screen installation links time and place. The films show a 14 second shot of a man leaving a factory in Milwaukee stretched to 31 minutes, and trains collecting slag and pig iron in Duisburg, linking the destruction of one place with the industrial output of the other. Past and future are both present in the slowed down film reminding the viewer of Eadweard Muybridge’s images of animal locomotion, using film to capture the movement of a man walking away from the factory. The measured progression allows time to contemplate the factory landscape of Duisburg.

At mima, Cyprien Gaillard non-narrative ruminations on moral decline, vandalism and decay are presented in a collage of short films about the city of Cancún in Cities of Gold and Mirrors and Real Remnant of Fictive Wars V. The portrait of Cancún shows the place now as a site for partying American college students and gang members dancing on the ruins of Mayan culture with the new city visible in the background, documenting the long decline of the city. In Real Remnants a white cloud slowly vandalizing the fauna, captured in a continuous panning shot behind the balustrade of a French Chateau. John Gerrard presents computer-generated real time portraits of actual places in Cuba; two pre-fabricated school buildings from the 1960s, a time associated with utopian ideals of mass housing for everyone. Now the buildings, though still functional, are in a state of decay, struggling to exist and function once resources are exhausted.

The Romantic notion of the ruin, both the actual ruins and the ruin of self, plays a strong hand in these works. Examining the work in such a way gives the subjects a sense of restoration back to living form and function. Gaillard’s and Gerrard’s visual poems to the ruin give the sites a voice, as does Benning’s linking of two distinct places one of which was involved in the ruining of the other. Whether good or bad, the works refurbish these places with a contemporary voice.  All three presentations are slow and considered expositions of landscapes, buildings and sites loaded with history and meaning.

Zainab Djavanroodi