Looking around, there is an undeniable fascination with ruins, as actual remains or as follies, as physical environments or as parts of fictional worlds.

For some ruins epitomise the ‘endtimes’ (Slavoj Žižek) in which we supposedly live, for others they speak predominantly of the past. They allow us to see the historical dimension in both culture and nature and have an apocalyptic as well as a utopian potential. It seems to me that ruins hold despair and hope in a curious balance: they speak of disaster and destruction as much as of endurance and rebirth, especially as nature, i.e. new life, takes over the crumbling remains. Ruin/s in all their various guises allow us to question fraud dichotomies and all to rigid distinctions between nature and culture, aesthetics and politics, memory and history.

Our contemporary fascination with ruin/s can be traced back to the eighteenth century and we will ask how it relates to other historical periods and how it is  distinct from these earlier cases of ‘ruinophilia’. What makes ruin/s so appealing and at the same time so uncanny? Why do we preserve them? Why do we build them? And why do we seek them out, even when they are inhospitable and foreboding?

Silke Arnold-de Simine will be curating our explorations of ‘ruin/s’ in the first year of our three years cycle. She is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies and the – at times – labyrinthine ways her research on cultural memory and museums, Gothic literature/film and the Uncanny has taken have somehow always led her back to the topic of ‘ruins’.

Image credit: Jonathan Kemp, Ryan Jordan and Martin Howse, from the Crystal World Open Laboratory Exhibition (2012)