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Ruins in reverse_SGL.jpg

Ruins in reverse, 2018. Photo-etching on paper.

Included in the book: Azimuth: The Ecology of an Ear by Patrick Farmer

Longlisted for the Lumen Prize 2019

Patrick Farmer’s (2019) ‘Azimuth, the Ecology of the Ear’ is a creative textual and visual piece that analyses and sketches the different parts of the ear as sonic sites making references to cosmology, quantum theory and physiology. The text puts aside the human, to trace back the genealogy of each different part of the ear throughout multiple geological periods and organisms. In response to this deep time perspective of the arrangement of the human ear, the photoetching renders an imaginary cosmos of the ear as a big-bang event. The ear is reconstructed into an impossible non-anthropocentric landscape; in a similar manner to the surrealist use of early print and photographic processes, which exploited the decontextualization of the image that photogram-based techniques afford by means of the unusual assembling of familiar objects. The Surrealists draw attention to the power of the Unconscious.

The title of the image: ‘Ruins in reverse’ is a term coined by Land artist Robert Smithson (1967). In the fragile frames of buildings being erected in his hometown, Passaic, Smithson saw ruins in reverse: unfinished, precarious, and rusty modern structures.

"That zero panorama seemed to contain ruins in reverse, that is-all the new construction that would eventually be built. This is the opposite of the "romantic ruin" because the buildings don't fall into ruin after they are built rather rise into ruin before they are built.”  (Smithson, 1967, p. 52)


For Smithson they offered a glimpse on parallel futures which we shall never see, as they challenged notions of historical progress and linear time. Smithson’s non-romantic and inhuman ruin refers to a perspective of the world as a mass of matter ordered by entropic processes in which linear time is merely a category of human perception as spatial and metric duration. This perspective on material evolution beyond the human connects to Farmer´s deep exploration of the ear as a site. Here the photo-etching process operates as a more-than-human excavation, echoing geological processes, bringing forth the image in unique ways every time the matrix is mediated. As such, the ear can be assembled and reassembled, this ear alludes to a material contingency beyond human existence.


Smithson, R. (1967) ‘The Monuments of Passaic’, Artforum, December 1967, p.52-57

Farmer, P. (ed) (2019) Azimuth: the Ecology of an Ear. Oxford: Sonic Art Research Unit

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