exploring art and writing

A Little Book Review: Ruin Lust by Brian Dillon.

In Art, Books, Exhibition, Fine Arts on March 5, 2014 at 5:49 pm
Ruin Lust by Brian Dillon, 2014. Published by Tate to accompany the exhibition Ruin Lust at Tate Britain, 4th March - 18th May 2014.

Ruin Lust by Brian Dillon. Digital Image © Tate, London 2014. Published by Tate to accompany the exhibition Ruin Lust at Tate Britain, 4th March – 18th May 2014.

It’s very lazy of me to talk about a book when that book is about an exhibition. However, the exhibition’s in London and I am far away from there, with hardly a penny to my name. So I spent what pennies I do have on this charming little book.

It’s beautiful. It fits into a (large) pocket. It takes about half an hour to read from cover to cover. Perfect!

I was actually working when I discovered Ruin Lust. It appeared when I lifted another book out of a box that had just been delivered to the shop. Obviously, I had to stop working immediately and see what ‘ruin lust’ actually is.

Ruin lust – or ruinenlust – is a term coined by novelist Rose Macaulay in 1953 and refers to our ongoing fascination with remains, whether architectural, mechanical or otherwise, in both rural and urban settings. The author, Brian Dillon, explains that ruins “allow us to set ourselves loose in time, to hover among past, present and future” (p6). Perhaps this is why I get in such a sombre mood when I walk through the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey: there’s the tumult of the past to consider, beauty to admire, and the corrosive passage of time to acknowledge.

I’d have been happy to read this book if it was three times its actual length. Saying that, it’s a succinct introduction to an intriguing and visually alluring subject. But don’t take my word for it – go and see the exhibition at Tate Britain.

A superfluous afterthought:
My only real bug with Ruin Lust – this is where it gets petty – is Dillon’s reference to the Zone as “a derelict territory whose name derives from Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker” (p41). Stalker is based on the Strugatsky brothers’ novel Roadside Picnic, published in 1971. Although the screenplay was adapted by the brothers, I think it’s a bit cheeky to claim that the Zone originates from the film. I only say this because I’m sad that such a good book gets neglected so often!

  1. Unlikely to get to Tate Britain for similar reasons, so thanks for review. I love Stalker more for the beautiful cinematography than the Zone.

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