Painting ruins

Zhou Jun
Hanging Red, Nanjing, 2009

These photographs are part of Zhou Jun‘s “The Red and the Black” series, with which the artist comments on China’s urban renewal projects during the last decades. For this series, Zhou Jun (Nanjing, 1965) has digitally altered  turned the omnipresent green wrapping of construction sites into a bright red of many associations in China: the color of marriage (before the Western, white-clad fad took on), of good fortune, and most recently, of Communism.

Zhou Jun
The Red and the Black – 04

Taking the clue from the artist himself, who expects the color to “elicit different responses in people from different countries or cultures – at times, it can even have opposite meanings for people” (1), I believe this large red cloths and streamers certainly point to the banners and signs of the Communist State (with its fascination to cover streets and buildings with slogans, just one example),  but at the same time I cannot help thinking on blood (specially in relation with the family of the first photograph, which takes me to Zhang Xiaogang “Bloodline” series).

In any case, what I’d like to post on today is the relationship of Zhou Jun’s project with another project, this time made by a group of anonymous artist in Detroit. As it is well known, Detroit has become a Mecca for ruin-seekers, providing the best example of what has been lately called ‘ruin porn‘. (In an excellent article, Brian Finoki describes ‘ruin porn as “a war on memory, dislocating the political dynamics of ruin in favor of momentary sensations and lurid plots. The state of ruin is seen as exactly that: a condition rather than a continually unfolding process”).

Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre
United Artists Theater, Detroit

So, in the middle of the polemics for Detroit’s decay, a group called DDD (Detroit. Demolition. Disneyland), and later on, Object Orange, decided to act against it. Their words: “These buildings aren’t scenery. Don’t look through or around them. Take action. Pick up a roller. Pick up a brush. Apply orange.”

Why orange? Is there a particular symbolism, as in Zhou Jun’s photographs? Or are we to make sense of it by ourselves? There seems to be different interpretations. Wikipedia mentions it is because its similarity to traffic cones and safety orange worn by hunters. What it is sure it that they chose a color named ‘Tiggeriffic Orange’, a common color in the catalogue of shops like Home Depot.

(More Orange photos here and here)

Both projects turn a light on the phenomenon of decay, at different stages of its process and for different eyes.

To follow some threads:

1 Artist statement, Red Gate Gallery

Feature on Object Orange at The Detroiter

Images of decay/ruins in Detroit by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, at The Guardian

An interesting paper on ruins, ruin gazers and differences between nostalgia and melancholia, by George Steinmetz, Visual Studies, Vol. 23, No. 3, December 2008):


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