02 September 2018

Disappeared (Part 4)

Home life was no longer what it used to be. I was hunkering down in an apartment that felt like the architectural analog of a flannel shirt three sizes too large for the body. Roomy but stifling. The echoes of existence reverberated too heavily for it to be a true sanctuary. That would have to be found outside the walls that seemed to move closer in the night.

I remember an acetylene cylinder on its side. A few cast iron stanchion-like objects, on concrete pedestals, besmeared with the grime of decades. Surely they were part of a larger and more complex array of machineries, most of which were long gone. These stanchions shone in the sunlight that poured through the ruined roof high overhead, pearlescent in the manner of anthracite. The name of the manufacturer who made them plainly visible in the casting. To be the maker of things for those who made other things once seemed to be a laudable pursuit hereabouts, but you would not guess that from the surroundings of rubble and debris.

In this part of the complex, the high roof and the broad open space took on the solemn joy of a nave. A procession of columns along a broad axis leading up to an altar of fractured concrete blocks overlaid with roofing that had fallen due to a long-ago fire. Trenches parted the floor, the channels partially filled with debris and dirt. In places one could see that there appeared to be a basement below the machine area, something I later confirmed when I came upon a corroded and collapsing stair leading down into blackness. A few steps on the way down and I lost the urge to go any further. Silence and decay could not be overcome even when I did have a flashlight.

If this place was a post-apocalyptic church, then graffiti was its frescoes. It ranged from nearly illegible scribbling to full-fledged murals executed with raw power if lacking a bit in finesse. Many hours were dying and photographing the artwork in different lights, varied weathers. It amused me in my attempts to make art out of ostensible art. Sort of like sampling music, but with pictures. Meta-art. It was also in this space that I discovered what was perhaps the most edifying and delightful street art I have ever seen. And it was right there on four of the columns.

“HAPPY.” “SAD.” “ANGRY.” "INSPIRED.” Four words, one each to four columns, applied in white with the unmistakable roundness of spray can paint. The execution not particularly brilliant artistically, but charming in its simplicity and earnestness. Given the aggressive or hostile nature of much of the scrawls on the walls, those four words possessed abundant charm which pushed back against the melancholia of the rubble. Those four columns became a bit of an axis mundi in my life as an explorer. It was rare visit on future visits that I did not return to the columns, to this sanctuary that seemed of this world and outside of it.

Perhaps it is odd to think of industrial ruin as a refuge, a bulwark against a world bent on having its way with me. The oddity of it suited my life well. It offered a place of quiet, of study. Within its walls I could think and photograph to my heart's content. When things were shitty outside in the drab routine of the working world, the ruins offered a respite where the mind could retreat from itself.

This is not to say that people and the world never found a way to intrude on my sabbaticals. This was never more evident than on the day in which I found myself staring down the barrel of a pistol.

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"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...