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Book Review: The City


Book Review The City By Lori Nix Reviewed by David Ondrik The City is artist Lori Nix's first monograph. Limited to 1,200 copies and published by Decode Books, it's 76 pages with 37 reproductions of Nix's photographs made since 2005. The cover image, Library, is stunning and tells you everything you need to know about the rest of the images contained within. The titular library is in the midst of prolonged decay; three trees, possibly aspens, are growing up from the ground, fed natural light and presumably water, through a gaping hole in the roof of the structure.
The City. Photographs by Lori Nix.
Decode Books, 2013.
 
The City
Reviewed by David Ondrik

The City
Photographs by Lori Nix.
Decode Books, 2013. Hardbound. 76 pp., 37 color illustrations, 13-3/4x10-3/4".


The City is artist Lori Nix's first monograph. Limited to 1,200 copies and published by Decode Books, it's 76 pages with 37 reproductions of Nix's photographs made since 2005. The cover image, Library, is stunning and tells you everything you need to know about the rest of the images contained within. The titular library is in the midst of prolonged decay; three trees, possibly aspens, are growing up from the ground, fed natural light and presumably water, through a gaping hole in the roof of the structure. The decay of the library itself is in various stages: some of the art on the wall isn't holding up too well, and the walls themselves are discoloring. Dust covers everything, and library chairs are scattered as if they were hastily abandoned before the unknown cataclysm that precipitated the abandonment, and thus decay, of the place.

But overall, given the time it would take for the central tree to grow so tall, the room is holding up remarkably well. In fact, the mood of the image is more whimsical than depressing. The visual realization of a grove of aspens sprouted in the concrete floor of an abandoned library is completely charming. As a viewer, I'm almost glad that the humans left so that something so magical could take place.

The City, by Lori Nix. Published by Decode Books, 2013.
The City, by Lori Nix. Published by Decode Books, 2013.

Of course, the entire thing is a fabrication. The photograph is not of a long lost book depository, but a model hand-built by Nix and her partner Kathleen Gerber for the express purpose of being photographed. Together the pair create complicated dioramas of the interiors of abandoned buildings. Devoid of their human caretakers, the images are akin to an artist's interpretation of Scientific American's An Earth Without People. They are so labor intensive that Nix only produces five models/photographs each year. This obsessive attention to detail and veracity makes each photograph a believable depiction of an incredibly compelling fictional space. There are a mind-boggling number of books in both Library and Circulation Desk, creepy miniature organs preserved in Anatomy Classroom, and a Museum of Art overrun by Africanized honeybees. Moss covers the floor in Map Room and the Space Center is inexorably turning into a botanical garden. Electricity still powers the fluorescent lights in Laundromat at Night, but a small rat is the only living inhabitant of the otherwise wrecked store.

The City, by Lori Nix. Published by Decode Books, 2013.
The City, by Lori Nix. Published by Decode Books, 2013.

It's these surreal touches that make Nix's work so charming. A documentarian would have to wait an eternity for the crows of Majestic to arrive, or for the raccoon exploring Clock Tower. And while some of her photographs have similar subject matter to Brian Ulrich's dead retail or Robert Polidori's Chernobyl images, by working with fictions, Nix infuses a playfulness that is missing in real world decay. I don't think of this work as a cautionary tale about a looming global disaster, a heavy-handed cri de coeur to change our wicked ways. It is more of a meditation on the fall of a civilization, a visual acknowledgement that George Harrison had it right: all things must pass. But don't miss the chance to pick up The City and experience the beauty of this calculated disintegration.—DAVID ONDRIK

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DAVID ONDRIK is an artist, high school art teacher, and writer who grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico and now lives in Portland, Oregon. http://www.artisdead.net

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