Textured Background by Ros Paton Crush by Ros Paton

of conveying a sense of peacefulness in that opposing forces are working serenely together in the embodiment of the justice of destruction, the reintegration of human design into nature that counteracts human interventions and makes them right.4 It follows then (as Simmel suggests) that ruins are tragic but not necessarily sad since “all that is human ‘is taken from earth and to earth shall return’”; this return to the earth is part of the natural order, “the realization of a tendency inherent in the deepest layer of existence of the destroyed”.5

Perhaps our attraction to ruins is because of the affinity we feel for them as symbols of our temporary existence. Following the theories of the influential Victorian-era artist, critic and writer, John Ruskin, their inclusion in portrayals of the landscape could add a little poignancy to our framing of “natural scenery”, and by doing so enhance the inherent beauty of the unbuilt environment.6 Whether the notion of feeling comforted, reassured, or even uplifted by the sight of a picturesque ruined building or rusty piece of farm machinery surrendering itself to nature is something that stems from an intellectual or sensual response, our options for experiencing such ruins in the contemporary world have been limited.

At the same time, with the pace of technological innovation and the changing face of industrialisation and urbanisation over the last fifty years,

there has not been much time for nature to return human endeavour to the earth. The modern city constantly changes and transforms itself and is in a state of flux. The agents of change are development and demolition, which seem to have replaced the natural elements of growth and decay; in the city there is not the time in most cases for nature to reassert itself, and the luxury of decay is rarely afforded.

I have seen images of the towns around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant that were abandoned after the reactor disaster of 1986. Although radioactive, photographers have entered and documented the return of the built environment to a state of nature. I find the images very unusual, perhaps because of the unique situation. The towns were abandoned while they were fully functioning, and seem to have skipped that process of demolition or that layer of “decay” peculiar to a populated urban environment that includes vandalism, graffiti, disrepair and loss of purpose.7


Demolition is the almost inevitable fate of the built environment around us, and the process of demolition is part of the definition of our contemporary landscape. I was initially drawn to demolition as subject matter for my artwork through personal experience. My references were the Newcastle earthquake, the demolition of three of my Brisbane studios, and major road