Ruins and Fabrications


How is the photograph a place of ruin, and a form of fabrication? In Ruins and Fabrications, the artists Annu Palakunnathu Matthew and Gauri Gill reframe the uses of the documentary and archival photograph. In its archaeological sense, a ruin is a site of excavation, a place relegated to a different time. Yet these same ruins shape the landscape of our present: we build over, layer upon, and live amongst ruins. Like the documentary photograph, a ruin is a material object that appears to capture the passage of time, only to tell us more about our present moment.

A ruin is also a source of fabrication. We constantly speculate on the authenticity of ruins, as if these fragments contain a singular, original story. The archival family photograph is one such fragment, and represents for many of us a story of mythic origin. But such photographs are also a place from which we can imagine narratives of belonging. In this sense fabrication is not simply falsity – it is a means of creating new ways of seeing the photographic image as an archive of ourselves. 

In A Story of Ruins, the art historian Wu Hung deliberates on the representation of architectural ruins in twentieth-century photography and film and writes, "What these works capture is a suspended temporality that brings past, present and future into a complex interplay" (172). Such a "suspended temporality" emerges across Matthew's and Gill's art in unexpected ways. From the film rolls that are kept and edited instead of being discarded by Gill, to Matthew's digital animations, these works transform the relation between documentation and representation, between archive and memory.