(And Some Curious Thin Tetracentennial Men, as well as Some Stone Dwarfs)
John Howe writes: The other day, on a business trip (I love saying “business trip”, it makes this cockeyed profession of drawing pictures sound somehow actually respectable) to the Alsace, we took a couple of hours to wander around Colmar before heading home.
Much of what has been built in the 20th century, since we’ve been creating new building materials which are not cut down in forests, cut from quarries, smelted from ore or the product of judicious alchemy – plaster, stucco, brick, ceramic, glass) is a form of denial of time. It takes on little attractiveness with age, simply decrepitude. I doubt there can be a modern equivalent of the Deutsche Romantik movement with what the industrial era has to offer as ephemera. Modern ruins don’t trigger romanticism, it’s hard to imagine Caspar David Friedrich painting abandoned abutments, deserted overpasses and vacant lots with the same unshakeable optimism and unbridled nostalgia.
Now, this is most definitely NOT a criticism of industrial development (inevitable), not a nostalgic rant for things gone by (puerile), but simply a regret for a connection which is lost (paradoxically, in a society obsessed with “connectivity”). Removing a piece of nature and fashioning it into an element of human expression does not negate the material itself, which of course will continue what it has been doing before – gently eroding under wind and rain and frost.
That’s why I was literally stopped in my tracks in Colmar the other day. By a bannister colonnade of the steps of the Koifhus, or Ancienne Douane, doubtlessly many-times-replaced in a warm ochre sandstone. I was transfixed by the transformation of a row of ordinary balusters* into something by Giacometti. (Giacometti Descending a Staircase, even.) Reinforced concrete won’t do that for you.
It seems clear enough to me that modern architecture, for all its advantages and undeniable capacity to house us comfortably, puts us once again slightly out of joint with time. A reinforcement of mortality by an estrangement of sorts from things that age the way nature ages simply leaves us with fewer references and a narrower context. Modern urban decrepitude contains little connectedness with nature, despite brave weeds and scrubby persistent grass in vacant lots. Good post-apocalyptic film sets or big dollars for developers, but no emotional involvement other than mayhap a fleeting case of the blues.. [More]