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Cartographies of Ruin

STRUAN HAMILTON: Saatchi and Saatchi, Parnell, Auckland: April 11th 2013

Struan Hamilton’s Cartographies of Ruin
A new landscape of ruin and refuse and industrial filth was created, in a speeded-up parody of the geological process. Carts dumped load after load of broken machines, rotting paper, slag, organic offal and chymical detritus into the fenced-off rubbish tips of Griss Twist. The rejected matter settled and shifted and fell into place, affecting some shape, mimicking nature. … Paint and plaster bubbled, desquamating grotesquely, as the massive houses became homes for more and more of [the] swelling population. Window’s broke, were fixed roughly, broke again. … Petty Coil fell willing prey to the city’s ineluctable capacity for spontaneous architecture. Walls and floors and ceilings were called into question, amended. New and inventive uses were found for deserted constructions.
China Miéville, Perdido Street Station

In Evan Calder Williams’ book on salvage punk, Combined and Uneven Apocalypse, he describes what he calls “the work of construction in the age of wreckage.” Williams further defines salvagepunk as “the post-apocalyptic vision of a broken and dead world, strewn with both the dream residues and real junk of the world that was, and shot through with the hard work of salvaging, repurposing, détourning, and scrapping. Acts of salvagepunk strive against and away from the ruins on which they cannot help but be built and through which they rummage.”
In the darkly fretted, complex spaces and textural thickets of Struan’s metal plate etchings the traditions of British drawing and printmaking, which relished the linear and textured complexities of factory smokestacks, railway lines, bare trees in winter, construction-site scaffolds, derricks and dockside cranes in grimy shipyards, gnarly whorled wharf timbers, ladders, corded masts, stitched sails, and nautical halyards—are all present as pictorial memory traces. And this graphic romanticism of skeletal structure and patinated surface is reborn in Struan’s work through a dark amalgam with the corrosive nastiness of post-industrial grime and decay. There is a heavy metal clamour and dirty glamour; a post-cubist steampunk brutalism that runs through the improvisational webs, nets and techno-tangles of Struan’s acid-etched, scraped, polished, pressed and printed cartographies of ruin.
Discussing his early art school work, Struan talks about drawing a lot of bare trees, being fascinated by their ‘decay and bleakness;’ of backgrounding figures or objects against jutting, rusty metal surfaces. He still sees the urban fabric as “all angular, sharp, decaying even; as buildings go up they look like they are falling apart.” Struan regards the etching plate itself as a site on which he pursues parallel processes of making and destroying: “I love the feeling of working on metal, there is a kind of decay in the very act of making the etching plate, the needle lifting away the top ground and the corrosive acid eating the plate...scraping, burnishing, it's a very physical medium.”

Allan Smith, Elam School of Fine Arts