Sham Ruins A User's Guide
In the middle of the eigtheenth century, a new fad found its way into the gardens of England's well-to-do: building fake Gothic ruins. Newly constructed castle towers and walls looked like they were already falling apart, even on the first day of their creation. Made of stone, plaster, or even canvas, these "sham ruins" are often considered an embarrassing blip in English architectural history. However, Sham Ruins: A User's Guide expands the specific example of the sham ruin into a general principle to examine the way purposely broken objects can be used to both uncover old truths and invent new ones. Along with architecture, work by Ivan Vladislavić, Tom Stoppard, Alain Mabanckou, Aleksei Fedorchenko, Michael Haneke, and Sturtevant is used to develop this thesis, as well as artifacts such as pre-torn jeans, fake histories, and broken screen apps. Using these examples, one of the key questions the book raises is: what is it that sham ruins ruin? In other words, if real ruins are ruins of what they actually are, then sham ruins should be considered ruins of what they are not. Thus sham ruins are about imposing new meaning where such meaning does not and should not exist. They also can show how things we think are functioning well are actually already broken. Sham ruins do this, and much more, by being lies, ruses, and embarrassments. This is what gives them the power with which we can think about objects in new, unintended ways.
Chapter 1: Not Just Ruins
Chapter 2: The Potential of the Past
Chapter 3: Total Replication
Chapter 4: Ruins on Fire
"Contrary to the ruin that like a time capsule transmits a documentation of the present in the knowable past to a future that’s unknown and unknowing, sham obsolescence according to Willems, like precognition for PK Dick, invests the past and not the future with
uncontrollability and otherness. The time to come – what’s new, what’s other – can come out of a faux past. The sham tear in your jeans is not nothing – and it’s neither allegory nor missing link. It is, Willems writes, a strategy for using objects in new and inventive ways. No surprise that Willems’s conspirators in this practical critique are artists and filmmakers."
-Laurence Rickles, California Institute of the Arts, author of Critique of Fantasy
"Why are we so fascinated with fakes, and especially with fakes that acknowledge their own fakeness? This fascination didn't begin with today's Elvis impersonators or knockoffs of Gucci bags. In this book, Brian Willems traces the cult of forged historical artifacts back to the 18th century, but he also shows how these weird objects reflect cultural anxieties that still perturb us today, in our current age of big data and big finance."
- Steven Shaviro, DeRoy Professor of English, Wayne State University