American ruins are increasingly visible today, from images of urban decay to movies and novels (The Book of Eli, The Road) depicting post-apocalyptic “ruinscapes” of abandoned towns, derelict factories, crumbling monuments, and deserted shopping malls variously populated by zombies, vampires, and survivalists. Ruins typically signify “disaster,” “failure,” “defeat,” and “the past.” Why, then, in a nation that has repeatedly defined itself in terms of promise, progress, and success -the American Dream- are visions of ruin, real and imagined, so prevalent today?
This exhibition was developed in conjunction with the course “American Ruins,” taught at the University of Notre Dame in Fall 2013. The course examined the history and meaning of American ruins and related contemporary fascination with ruins (what some call “ruin porn”) to current attitudes about modernity, technology, citizenship, consumerism, the rule of law, and the environment. Course materials included novels, films, and photographs; coursework included field trips to Gary and Detroit and this exhibition, which draws on photographs in the Snite Museum of Art at the University of Notre Dame.
It is divided into four themes: industrial ruins, domestic ruins, ruins in the American West, and the ruin photographs of Camilo José Vergara, who attended the University of Notre Dame as an undergraduate and early in his career developed a body of work depicting the industrial ruins of Northern Indiana, including the remains of the Studebaker factory in South Bend.