Curator Ben Crothers Explores the “Future Ruins” of Our World

Photo: Stanya Kahn, It’s Cool, I’m Good (2010). Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York.

When we look to the past we see what remains (if anything at all), and we describe these artifacts as “ruins.” It is a bleak, nihilistic word for the inevitable passage of time, for the rise and fall that encompasses the life span of civilization. Perhaps this speaks to the conditions under which we live today with not just civilization—but the earth itself—hanging in the balance.

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We may wonder: what will become of us, not just our bodies but the cultures to which we dedicate ourselves? Ben Crothers, Curator and Collections Manager at the Naughton Gallery at Queen’s University, Belfast, addresses this in a new exhibition, Future Ruins, currently on view now through October 2, 2016. International in scope, the exhibition brings together artists from around the world to address issues of impermanence, instability, and the ever-changing cityscape in sculpture, drawing, photography, video, and installation. Crothers speaks with Crave about his vision of the future in our present times.

Adam Murray / Theo Simpson, from Return to order (2016). Courtesy of the artists.

Please speak about the inspiration for Future Ruins. What brought you to consider this theme for an exhibition?

Ben Crothers: Much of the inspiration for the exhibition came through reading The Death and Life of American Cities by Jane Jacobs and Mike Davis’s City of Quartz, both of which further fuelled my interest in urban architecture and city planning, particularly in the United States.  Within my general curatorial research I continually came across artists who were making work specifically linked to their urban surroundings, and I felt that there was potential to develop this into an exhibition.

Furthermore, being based within a university, I am keen for the exhibition program at the Naughton Gallery to appeal to students across a wide range of faculties, in this case the School of Natural and Built Environment.  In a university with no Fine Art or Art History departments, I am eager to demonstrate how the gallery can remain relevant, interesting and accessible to students researching in widely varied subject areas.

Liam Crichton, Echo Chamber research sketch (2016). Courtesy of the artist.

How did you select the artists for the show?

The exhibition came together quite organically once I’d decided upon the theme, mixing together artists who I’d collaborated with previously and those who I had been keen to work with for quite some time.

I am particularly delighted to be able to exhibit Stanya Kahn’s It’s Cool, I’m Good in Northern Ireland for the first time, having first seen the work a couple of years ago at Electronic Arts Intermix on a research trip to New York.  It is a remarkable, humorous, and engaging video work that I feel works particularly well within the context of the exhibition.  Caitlin Berrigan’s work is also linked to the research I’ve been developing in New York over the past couple of years, and her work was recommended to me by my good friend and curator Rachel Steinberg, director of Bushwick-based gallery SOHO20.

Caitlin Berrigan, from Unfinished State (2016). Courtesy of the artist.

Theo Simpson is an artist who I worked with previously on an exhibition I curated in Rome titled GLUMBA SKZX (Ex Elettrofonica, January 2015), but I was keen to work with him in a larger capacity.  Through conversation with Theo, it came to light that he was developing a project with Adam Murray (co-founder of Preston is My Paris, a project which began in July 2009 as a photocopied zine with the intention of encouraging the exploration of the English city of Preston as a subject for creative practice) that seemed a perfect fit for the exhibition, and I am thrilled that the first presentation of this work has been in Future Ruins.

Whilst international in its scope, I also wanted the project to relate to Belfast, seen through the work of Liam Crichton, and this component of his ongoing Echo Chamber counter-monument project is based around the statues and monuments situated in the grounds of Belfast City Hall.  Crichton’s sound installation for the show is particularly interesting as one component of it will be installed in different architectural settings across the university campus throughout the run of the exhibition.

And finally, much of my curatorial research is a based around comics, and I wanted comics to have a presence within the exhibition.  Chris Ware’s Building Stories seemed particularly fitting, chronicling the lives of the residents of a Chicago brownstone, while Aidan Koch’s Field Studies is a beautiful project by one of the most exciting artists currently blurring the lines between fine art and comic books.

Chris Ware, from Building Stories (2012). Courtesy of the artist and Pantheon Books.

I’m particularly struck by the title, Future Ruins, as it has a romantic touch. How would you describe where we are today, in terms of the evolution of urban life? I was just doing some research about urban population growth over the past two centuries, and how radically it has grown in response to industrialization. It seems urban populations are continuing to rise. With this in mind, what are some of the lessons from the past that we can consider when building for the future?

Urban life, as it has always done, continues to change rapidly, caused by rising populations and the continual destruction and rebuilding of structures.  It seems that the cityscapes of most major cities are constantly changing—something is always being built as other parts of the city are torn down, and some areas experience regeneration while others are left to fall into further ruin. There is constant movement and activity, and there is a feeling that despite the brick and steel used in their construction, none of this is permanent. The exhibition title draws attention to even the most vibrant city’s potential to one day become a ruin, and I’m particularly interested in the way in which contemporary cityscapes can be linked to the cycle of the human body – something which grows and matures, varies in size, scale and structure, which can be damaged, fixed and artificially transformed, and which ultimately decays.

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.