Ruin Arrangements 

Image: Anouk Mercier, Stacked VII, 2021, Ink on Paper, 28 x 38cm. Photo: Max McClure

Commissioned text to accompany a forthcoming exhibition of Anouk Mercier’s Ruin Arrangements drawings. The writing takes the form of a series of numbered fragments, reflecting the structure of the drawings themselves.


...These fragments are meticulously assembled: counter-balanced, propped, buttressed in neat arrangements. Rocks and pebbles of just the right size are wedged between decorative fragments, or balanced in small towers like the tip of a cairn on a hilltop. The sense of process, of building these drawn asymmetric structures bit by bit, is tangible. Like a child playing with building blocks, the aim is to achieve balance. Mercier’s monuments­ appear just about stable; but collapse is always possible.


In the 18th century, aristocratic young men across Europe commissioned follies for the landscaped gardens of their stately homes, inspired by the Greek and Roman temples, bridges and statues they had seen on their Grand Tours. These objects signalled wealth, education and taste, and the desire that the British Empire be associated with that of ancient Rome via its grand antiquities.

The Romantic craze – a ‘ruin lust’ – for the aesthetics of picturesque decay and decline led some landowners to construct artificial ruins or partially destroy existing buildings for decadent and dramatic effect. Others shipped ancient stone from abroad to be remade as crumbling objects of imperial fantasy: columns stripped from Leptis Magna in Libya (a site plundered in the previous century by Louis XIV for use in his palaces at Versailles and Paris) were reassembled beside Virginia Water, a man-made lake in the royal grounds of Great Windsor Park in Surrey.


The piles of Roman rubble in Ruin Arrangements evoke more recent histories too. The looting and destruction of Palmyra, razed with explosives and bulldozers; a war against cultural heritage as well as people. And that ruin which haunted the beginning of the 21st century: the jagged, smoking remains of New York’s World Trade Center on 9/11. In a photograph taken two days after the attacks, triangular steel shards jut into a blue sky, above the surviving arched entrance of one of the Twin Towers: a contemporary version of an architecture – and its ruins – found across continents and centuries...