There’s a house in ruins in a swamp. Palm trees sway as rain taps against their leaves, roots climb over the crumbling walls: the residents of this house long ago left it to rot into the water. But we’re not in the jungle, this is Old Street. In fact, it’s Victoria Miro’s back garden, which Alex Hartley has filled with the dilapidated remains of a little modernist house abandoned to time.
Looming over Hartley’s collapsed house is one of Old Street’s endless, faceless new builds. The ruin acts as a prediction, a peek into what could eventually happen to those apartment blocks – they are the ruins to come, they are what we’re creating. Or maybe it’s a symbol of the past, what we’ve left behind and abandoned in the name of growth and regeneration.
Inside the gallery, ghostly grey-and-white images hint at jungles engulfing modernist buildings. Photographs of jungles are attached to smashed lumps of concrete and wrought-iron gates, making you feel like you’re inside one of those crumbling buildings, peering out as nature slowly swallows you up.
The thing that makes Hartley’s images and installations hit you in the chest is the promise of a story, a mystery to be uncovered. Why are these ruins ruined? Who did the abandoning? It’s creepy, minimal and unsettling: the ghosts of lives lived.