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Always on our way to ruin


I was going to tell you about how we installed an air conditioner in my new studio so we could prime and paint in a blistering Fourth-of-July-weekend heat wave, but I'd rather share my fascination with decay. In particular, the posting of a new batch of haunting and exquisite "feral house" portraits by the protean Jim Griffioen of Sweet Juniper.

This guy loves his hometown of Detroit with a passion, and writes movingly of its tough and resilient spirit. (He also walks the walk, literally; he's raising his family there.)

His riff on house-as-ruin is worth sharing: 

 I like the idea of the feral as something "beautifully broken"...Building a house, more than any other act of architecture, is what separates us from beasts; even those wild creatures that build crude habitations are never completely sheltered from the elements. Our ancestors, they say, lived in caves, returning at night to those symbolic wombs in the earth. A house has meaning that goes deeper than most of us regularly consider. There is undoubtedly something unsettling about seeing nature invade a home built to keep it out.


What is a house, really? Isn't it simply raw materials brought together to shelter us from the elements, from the wind and the rain and the bugs? And because they bear those burdens for us, a house is in perpetual decline. Without maintenance, every house is always on its way to ruin. Every homeowner that's ever paid a roofer knows this...

A house is supposed to last longer than us; to see so many returning to earth is a grim reminder that our bodies share the same fate. These houses also represent that liminal state between humans and nature; maybe we aren't as far apart as we think. Maybe we were the first domesticated animals---God's pets---and like these houses we still have it in us to go wild.

And maybe I find these feral houses so compelling because the Crazy Stable came so close to becoming one. There's the old girl in 1986, getting close to board-up territory. (Yeah, so we don't look that different outside, but there are plenty of domesticated zones within.)


The paint bucket is calling; time to subdue the wilds, a task that never ends.

(Note: Some of Jim's house photos are available as prints here.)

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