Ghost Towns, Or, the Memories that Haunt Us
Ghost Towns, Or, the Memories that Haunt Us is a group exhibition presented at the Nancy Dryfoos Gallery at Kean University.
Spanning a wide range of both concepts and techniques, the show features ten artists from across the globe, all exploring the idea of the soul-stirring memories that make ghost towns so haunting.
The pieces speak to each other in whispers, amplifying the connection between the eerie impressions of abandoned towns and the echoes of past turmoil. From war and natural disaster to the complete draining of resources, the show comes together to address the self-destructive nature of mankind.
What is it about abandonment and ruin that intrigues us so? What drives the attraction to things left behind and long forgotten? And how does that play into our fascination with the dead? It’s an ineffable energy that lingers throughout emptiness.
Wandering through abandoned communities, we catch glimpses of humanity chiseled into the environment like layers of sedimentary rock. There, we see dreams given up on, risks taken or not taken, and successes and failures, all drifting around us. We’re reminded of the temporary nature of our time on earth, and there is an underlying sense of gratitude. We stand and breathe, with morbid curiosity, where countless souls have stood and fallen.
Bodie, California, a gold rush ghost town, still hangs a sign: Nothing Endures but Change. It’s a quote by Heraclitus of Ephesus, a Greek philosopher known for his doctrine of change being central to the universe. This constant entropy is at the very roots of creation; chaos always emerges to combat order. As it was succinctly put by Robert Frost:
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Bodie, at those times, was a lawless place, a dangerous town full of degeneration. There’s a famous quote by a little girl whose family was moving there to find wealth. Terrified by the stories of evil and sin, she ended her evening prayer with “Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie,” perfectly encapsulating the spirit of the Wild West and of free Americana.
The ghost towns of the West have been paralleled to the molted skin of a snake. Though hollow and lifeless, they carry memories of the past in a state of arrested decay.Though European ghost towns differ from the ones in America, they carry the same ghostly spirit. Either abandoned due to natural disasters such as Craco in Italy, or forever petrified in time like the infamous Pompeii, our fascination with the lost persists.
The Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine caused the total evacuation of the nearby city of Pripyat, leaving it desolate and radioactive. The meltdown occurred during a safety test in which power regulators were intentionally disabled. Since then, popular culture has been entranced by the horrors of the event, and many films have been made on the subject.
In Poland, some of the most interesting ghost towns there are those abandoned by the Red Army in the early 90s. Stripped of color and personality, industrialized buildings sit empty, reflecting the grim character of life under the Soviet Union.
And in Centralia, Pennsylvania, a coal mine fire has been burning under the town for nearly fifty years, leaving it broken and in ashes. However, a handful of people still choose to live there, holding onto the rich history of it in their memories. In addition, the Deserted Village in New Jersey tells a captivating story of a community that time and time again was revived and abandoned. Local residents all have their stories to tell, and those fascinated by the eerie nature of the town often read about the woods surrounding the town and its Satanic, cultish roots.
Joanna M. Wezyk
Curated by Joanna M. Wezyk