The loveliness of desolation

I love serendipity.  I often get to feeling overwhelmed due to the sheer number of emails that show up in my inbox on a daily basis, but every so often I find out about something that completely rocks my world and makes it all worthwhile.  Today, that thing is the work of Lori Nix.

Specifically, I am entranced by her series “The City,”  which presents painstakingly created images of a world without people; a world where nature is taking over and decay is undoing the work of the human will.  The images are lovely and amazingly detailed which gives them an aura of reality, like the tiny, dusty sprinkler head in Violin Repair Shop which evokes a connection to the rest of a larger building, or the fire extinguisher and floating paperwork left in the ruin of a flooded control center in Control Room.  The vision is apocalyptic, but amazingly gentle.  The disaster which removed the people from these scenes isn’t even hinted at.  Instead these images, so many of them concerned with the task of curating a vision of the past for a contemporary audience (as with the galleries or the library) or with the effort to maintain the present (from the smashed profusion of a greenhouse whose contents have escaped the control of their gardener to the ruined hulk of a shopping mall being reclaimed by greenery) articulate the fragility of that fleeting present.

The possibility of disaster seems to linger in all of her work, even when it isn’t explicitly connected with the image.  In some cases, the disaster looms over the image either as a potential threat, as with the near-distant glow of a forest fire approaching an otherwise peaceful river scene, or as a clear and imminent danger such as in the impending crash of a jetliner caught in the moments before it hits the ground.  In other works, the disaster seems to be actively in process, implied by what may be missing in an image or indicated clearly by the depiction of an ongoing crisis, or one only just past.  In these cases, the reading of disaster is sometimes dependent on context: the suggestion of a title, perhaps, or the evocation of an archetypal situation like a tire blowout or an engine breakdown in the midst of a dangerous setting (and in some cases the images evoke others for me, connecting points in a network of depictions of danger and disaster in other parts of pop culture, like the dusty car in this image which immediately recalled the image produced for the cover of the Jericho dvd case.).

In other cases, the disaster seems in the past, the damage done.  A body floats face down in an otherwise idyllic pond, birds litter the roofs and ground of a suburban cul-de-sac, a car sits alone at the side of a road with a steep drop-off, its door left open, or a foundered ship rests among an amazing range of debris beneath the quiet surface of a shoreline near a city.

A pervasive sense of dread lingers through some of these images, but most lack any but the merest hint of malice, and the delicacy of their presentation keeps them from being morbid.  The desolation and damage is depicted with a grace and gentleness which makes the images truly beautiful.

By the way, it hasn’t escaped my notice that Kansas seems to be the center of disaster in this country.  Even if you don’t venture out into the ‘real world’ of politics and contemporary social relations, you still have Kansas as ground zero for the imagination of disaster.  Everything from the tornado that smashes across the plains and whisks Dorothy away to the more contemporary damage wrought by nuclear missiles has hit the country, and hit Kansas as a stand in for the country.  So the question stands, what the heck is it about Kansas?

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