Looking around there is an undeniable fascination with ruins, as  actual remains or as follies, as physical environments or as parts of fictional worlds, they occupy  a central position in our imagination, examples include recent exhibitions such as ‘Ruin Lust’ at Tate Britain (4 March – 18 May 2014), the conference ‘Big Ruins: The Aesthetics and Politics of Supersized Decay’ (University of Manchester, May 2014) and Julia Hell and Andreas Schönle’s edited essay collection Ruins of Modernity (Durham and London 2010).

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’.

2016-17 | the Afterlife of Ruin/s

2015-16 | Materiality and Memories of Ruin/s

2014-15 | Materiality of Ruin/s

  • Selected media on the theme of Ruin/s 

    Paul Kerley, Great Fire: The Grid System for London That Never Happened, The Guardian, 3 February 2016

    Something Nostalgic organised by Something Real

    The admiration of recent ruins stretches as far back as Piranesi’s romantic etchings. After reading about these Mexican artists on their back-to-the-future foray and listening to this podcast we’re convinced that our sense of nostalgia has formed an even shorter historic memory. Industrial glories fall into ruin faster than ever before and these two films offer playful reflections of hope for changing urban characters.


    Sculpts a dreamlike collage of a grand city teetering on the brink of dissolution. As Detroit’s houses are demolished by the thousands, automobile-company wages plummet, institutions crumble, and tourists gawk at the “charming decay,” the film’s vibrant, gutsy characters glow and erupt like flames from the ashes.

    UK: iTunes / Netflix


    Both a love song and a eulogy to the city of Liverpool. A haunting response to memory, reflection and the experience of losing a sense of place as the skyline changes and time takes it toll.

    UK: iTunes /BFI Player

    Modern Ruins: the ghost factories of Greece

    Abandoned factories all over Greece once made everything from marble to nuts and cooking oil – and since they shut up shop, most of them have been looted, which only adds to the scenes of desolation. Yannis Behrakis from Reuters took a 1,550 mile road trip to show the remnants of the country’s industrial past.

    Readings on the selected theme of Ruin/s: 

    On Ruins and Ruination‘, Performance Research, 20: 3 (2015).

    Special issue edited by Carl Lavery and Richard Gough.

    Gaston R. Gordillo, Rubble The After Life of Destruction. Duke University Press, 2014.

    Ann Laura Stoler, ed, Imperial Debris On Ruins and Ruination. Duke University Press, 2013.