In a used bookstore in Mexico City I came across The Pleasure of Ruins, a book with beautiful black and white photographs of ancient ruins accompanied by an essay by Rose McClaren. At first I was disappointed in Rose’s essay—in it she talks about ruins in a romantic voice, following the tradition of many writers and travelers who gazed upon past from the steps of crumbled temples.
But when I began to research Rose, I was stuck by the fact that she wrote about ruins from her home in London on the heels of WW2 when London itself was a ruin. I find it fascinating that Rose looked past not only the ruin of London, but past the urban ruins of the entire European continent in order to muse about the crumbling architecture of ancient history.
What is interesting about Rose is what she does not mention, mainly the fact that her ancient ruins became what they are through the same process of conflict and destruction that she had just lived through. How is it possible not to mention Dresden while waxing romantic about Persepolis? Is Rose’s silence unique? What don’t we see when we focus on only the physical ruins of history? What landscape of the past lies hidden when we only see the romanticism of crumbled cities?
Untitled Ruins No.1, 2014, collages made from Rose McClaren’s book The Pleasure of Ruins, dimensions variable.