beirut

A Bad Idea Seems Good Again

Alison Ruttan, A Bad Idea Seems Good Again (installation detail), 2015, ceramic on wood and steel platforms, dimensions variable, installed at the Chicago Cultural Center in Chicago, IL

Alison Ruttan, A Bad Idea Seems Good Again (installation detail), 2015, ceramic on wood and steel tables, dimensions variable, installed at the Chicago Cultural Center in Chicago, IL

The space seemed heterogeneous, like a strange and stark hybrid between a museum and a corporate project room. However, instead of facing prospective architectural models that will go into a future industrial park, we were confronted with miniature bombed-out buildings displayed like anthropological specimens. This was a sterile environment with plenty of space for us to approach and examine. Many of the buildings now existed as sinkholes, craters, and pancaked structures rendered useless and nearly without form. They were replicated, frozen in time, and set atop wood and steel tables that appeared to have been manufactured exclusively for this display. A few rectangular recesses in the wooden tabletops held some of the worst examples: only piles of debris flattened to the foundation, slightly beneath the surface. No longer symbols of daily life, the buildings were brought to the brink of obliteration through conflict. They have become debased, rendered in tatters. Like geological formations, mountains, hills and plateaus near valleys, they looked as if they have been created through the destructive process of time and events larger than a human scale.

Alison Ruttan, A Bad Idea Seems Good Again (installation detail), 2015

Alison Ruttan, A Bad Idea Seems Good Again (installation detail), 2015

Each building stood about a foot or so tall, cast out of what appeared to be porcelain slip, cracked and warped, glazed to an off-white matt surface that occasionally crawled, selectively stained with a murky color. The ceramic materials gave the buildings a precious handmade feel, like fragile artifacts to be handled carefully. But they were already broken. Unlike real buildings, these were soft and skin-like, with hazy color transitions throughout like burns or stains in an ethereal ghostly surface. It was hard to think of them as ceramic replicas. The imperfections generated during the ceramic process blended seamlessly with the destruction depicted.

Alison Ruttan, A Bad Idea Seems Good Again (installation detail), 2015

Alison Ruttan, A Bad Idea Seems Good Again (installation detail), 2015

We initially viewed these structures from above, then leaned in to view closer. It’s the viewpoint of airplanes, helicopters, and satellites. From that viewpoint it is impossible to see the victims, to be the victims. Novel and spectacular like toy houses or trompe l’oeil, these remnants of war invited us to play with them from afar, like a bomber plane or God. It was clear that these were not generic examples but buildings replicated from a real place, with distinct details in the architecture – modernist-era and relatively short high-rises that one would find in small cities almost anywhere …except the US. The disembodied buildings, without a city, without the people that may have dwelled in them, were instead symbols or remnants. They were not frightening as towering and monumental ruins, but frightening as model collectibles. Even in the gallery, our role was established: as warplanner, bomber pilot, warhawk, humanitarian, disinterested newswatcher, or architect looking at a speculative model. In their role as representation, they fixed us as viewers. These paradoxical models stood as promotional displays intended to convince the client that this was a good idea.