Thursday, May 1, 2008

Fake Ruins or Follies

Fake ruins, which can also be known as "follies" are buildings or parts of buildings that are constructed as ornamentation. The thought of building a structure purposefully in a state of ruin is intriguing. By taking the function out of the architecture it becomes more closely aligned with sculpture or even installation/land art. It also makes interesting comments on history, wealth, and the function of truth in art. Intentional impracticality is especially provocative in the current climate of economic uncertainty. I mean what could be more frivolous than building a giant castle that functions as a prop in your landscaping? Well, This could be more frivolous, but the concept of a folly is fascinating beyond the seeming absurdity. On a trip to Germany in 1999, I saw the estate called "Sans Souci" in Potsdam, where a fake ruin was placed in the distance to enhance the viewers experience on the grounds:

Sans Souci fake ruins, photo by Maureen Gallagher

I was reading about this particular folly in a review of Daniel Eisenberg's movie "Persistence". I have not seen the movie, but the review is very well written and brings up interesting insights into the film and the post-war German landscape. Jeffery Skoller writes, "Early in the film, we see images of Greek ruins on the grounds of the Sans Souci Castle on the outskirts of Berlin. These were built as ruins by Fredrick the Great in the eighteenth century, as his own personal History Machine, perhaps to contemplate his own place in time through the evocation of the signs of an imagined past. As a fake ruin, the monument becomes, in the film, a metaphor for the way in which objects are imbued with meaning and then used as fulcrums to understand relations between moments of time."

If we can't believe our ruins to be true than in a greater sense, we question the truth or realness of everything- including history and especially art. Art critic Clemet Greenburg said of Barnet Newman, "the truth of art lies for him, as for any genuinely ambitious artist, somewhat beyond what he knows he can do." In this sense, fake ruins could be an admission that presenting real truth may be beyond what one can create. I suppose there are a few ways of viewing this:
  • "Reality can destroy the dream; why shouldn't the dream destroy reality?”-George Moore
  • "Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth"-Pablo Picasso
Pardon my philosophical meanderings. Maybe it is a matter of interpretation - that some of us see the dream trumping reality and some see the lie and what tells us about truth...

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