The Serene Ruins of Lori Nix


Brooklyn-based artist Lori Nix builds and photographs highly detailed dioramas that speculate as to the serenity of a post-human landscape.

Trees twist upwards in the shell of a library; huge tropical palms spread in an abandoned mall; beehives thrive amidst the columns of a museum.

Assisted by her partner Kathleen Gerber, she fills each model with the trinkets and relics of a civilisation that has evidently come so far in its understanding of the world – but for whatever mysterious reasons has now vacated its most symbolically significant spaces. A closer look reveals a wealth of minute detail from maps and books to weeds and vermin.


Decidedly unsentimental, Nix destroys each diorama once it’s been photographed and pilfered for any re-usable pieces. Yet there seems nothing cynical or spiteful about her scenes (or the thought behind her practice), just a sense of resignation that events have reached a logical end. Her 2015 exhibition, unambiguously titled The Power of Nature, collected images from her decade-long series The City with the cumulative effect of imagining an inevitable reclamation of the human world by the natural.


Inspired by disaster movies, Nix has certainly dabbled in the macabre. Her earlier works depicted what seemed like more isolated – and somehow more shocking – dramas or accidents. Referencing the erratic climate of her youth in Kansas, her early models include scenes of a low-flying plane, drifting perilously close to a water-tower, and a sinking car having punctured a sheet of ice.

But works like her Church (2005), an early entry in The City series, suggested her moving to a grander and more elegiac mode of confronting disaster and decay. A church interior heaped with the broken signs of roadside motels and casinos resembles a vast store room or archive in which the relics of our consumer age are hoarded.

The near-future disaster film invoked by such scenes is less like The Day After Tomorrow and more like Alfonso Cuarón’s modern sci-fi classic Children of Men (2006). In this film’s world, one struck by mass infertility, public places have fallen into dereliction as the ageing population struggles with the knowledge that they are the very last generation. Danny Huston’s art collector has amassed what he can from an instinct to preserve, but to what avail ultimately? There will be no children to appreciate the treasures of the past.

Children of Men - Empty School (2)

The tragedy is not necessarily that humanity is destined to die out, but that this brings out the very worst in everyone left alive. The wonder of human endeavour is lost amongst looting and violence; the innocence of a child’s inquisitiveness will never be known again. The film’s interiors of a long-derelict school, much like those built and photographed by Nix, provoke with a poignant stillness and confront the assumption that everything we’ve built will last forever. Ω


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