Jonathan Jones “Hashima island and the lure of the apocalypse” http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jul/05/hashima-island-google-street-view
What draws Bond and Google to this terrible place? It is, surely, the lure of the apocalypse. The taste for ruins is the dark unconscious of architectural history. This taste first appeared in the 18th century, when decaying old medieval buildings started to be seen not as scars on the landscape but places of melancholy wonder, haunted by a seductive past. By 1810 when Caspar David Friedrich painted The Abbey in the Oak Forest*2, a blackened ruin could stand for all that was good and noble in a bleak unrelenting world.
There's a fundamental difference between gothic ruins and modern ruination. Hashima is never going to look mysterious and romantic. Instead it is a premonition of catastrophe. This landscape of the modern picturesque is a fantasy of disaster. With every skyscraper we build, we add another dream of falling glass and twisted steel to the collective imagination. Blockbuster films imagine cities in ruins, protests turn real streets into theatres of mayhem, terrorism exploits these darkest fantasies. We live in the most sophisticated cities and suburbs the world has ever known but imagination feasts on the spectacle of those same comfortable places invaded by zombies or trashed by aliens*3.
This is why Hashima island is the ideal picturesque escape of our time. Here the apocalypse has happened. It is a modern dreamscape made real. What does it say about our time that people want to look at it? In Ian McEwan's novel Sweet Tooth, set in the wretched 1970s, a character writes a novel about the end of the capitalist industrial world. Such fictions, points out McEwan, proliferated in 70s Britain, as society seemed about to fall apart. Apocalyptic fantasy*4 says a lot about the time that creates it. In 2013, the progress and prosperity that seemed assured just a few years ago has given way to anger and fear. When you are anxious, one source of release is to imagine the very worst. That is why we like to gaze on Hashima island's peaceful deathly nothingness.
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*1:John Hall “'The most desolate city on earth': Google Street View captures eerie images of Japan’s abandoned Battleship Island” http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/the-most-desolate-city-on-earth-google-street-view-captures-eerie-images-of-japans-abandoned-battleship-island-8683412.html
*4:See Phil Hoad “Post-apocalypse cinema: abandoned Earths and disturbing doppelgangers” http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/filmblog/2013/jun/12/after-earth-post-apocalypse-cinema