Rick Santorum appears on Piers Morgan Tonight

But has he done himself any favours?

In anticipation of last night's South Carolina primary, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum appeared on Piers Morgan Tonight to talk policy, principles and family.

Santorum rightly predicted that he wouldn't win South Carolina - he finished third behind Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. However, he said he still hopes for a one on one with Mitt Romney and despite Romney and Gingrich's bigger budgets confidently stated that it's "game on" in Florida.

In terms of tactics Santorum said: "I'm a slow and steady kind of guy" and underlined the contrasts between himself and fellow conservative Newt Gingrich. When Morgan asked him "who would you rather be up against, the nice Newt Gingrich or the new nasty Newt?" a fired up Santorum told him: "That's the issue - you don't know what you're going to get with Newt." He admitted: "I'm not the guy you're going to be wowed with, but I'm steady and I'll fight for my convictions." "Steady Eddie" Santorum set himself apart from his fellow Republicans; branding himself as the antithesis to temperamental Newt, flip flopper Mitt Romney and "barking" (Morgan's word) Ron Paul.

He is also in stark contrast to former Republican hopefuls Herman Cain and Rick Perry who were famous for their embarrassing gaffes. Who can forget Cain's confusion over Libya and Perry forgetting which agencies he'd eliminate if he were president? Unquestionably Santorum is a smart man, not hiding behind a Reagan-esque grin or using southern charm to mask the fact that he's not in the know about all the issues - he's a man who knows his stuff.

But the real fight, Santorum stressed, is against Barack Obama - a man with whom Santorum was less than impressed when he worked with him in the Senate. "I didn't like the way he conducted himself," Santorum said. Unsurprisingly, then, Santorum's attitude and approach is at odds with the current president. While he may not ooze charisma and charm, the American people may welcome this and see him as the antidote to Obama's all style no substance leadership for which he has been criticised.

Santorum shone when he spoke about foreign policy, an area where fellow wannabe nominee Ron Paul drastically falls short. Morgan pushed him on Iraq asking him whether he, too, would have invaded and after a few attempts at evading the question Santorum admitted that he would have made the same decision. After 9/11 Santorum said his biggest concern was Iran, not Iraq - and it still is. "I would bomb Iran if I had to - no question," he said.

On Libya, Santorum said: "I wouldn't have gone into Libya - I would never put U.S. troops on the ground unless our national security was threatened." He criticised Obama's "indecisiveness," despite Morgan's observation that no US lives were lost and Gaddafi was successfully killed.

Less than inspiring, however, were Santorum's views on issues such as abortion and gay marriage due to his inability to separate his religion from his policies. "Life begins at conception" and abortion should be banned in every case - even rape and incest, Santorum stressed unequivocally. Morgan, who is famous for asking the tough questions, asked him how he would feel if his daughter was raped and "begged to have an abortion", to which Santorum replied: "I would council her to do the right thing" because "life is gift, no matter how horribly it is created." It's clear that for Santorum, his political principles win every time.

Santorum's wife, Karen, also joined the interview, saying that the biggest misconception about her husband is that "he's not nice." Santorum has certainly disproved that misconception during the interview, coming across as a likeable guy with none of the self-aggrandizing attitude of Mitt Romney or the volatility of Newt Gingrich. Santorum is a man of his convictions, although his consuming religious beliefs may alienate many moderates. Morgan even described Karen Santorum as her husband's "secret weapon" - a striking comparison to Michelle Obama in 2007.

Ultimately, it's unlikely that Santorum will win the Republican nomination, let alone the presidential election. He is restricted by his strict, misogynistic religious social agenda but while many may not agree with his policies, he remains a dark horse in the Republican race.

Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Danila Tkachenko
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Ruin porn: the art world’s awkward obsession with abandoned Soviet architecture

Deserted fairgrounds, disused factories and forgotten military bases may look cool, but are we fetishising the remnants of such a cruel history?

Armenia, where one side of my family is from, was one of the first members of the USSR, annexed by Russia in 1922. A few years ago, when I visited this little country that perches precariously in the south of the Caucasus, I was struck most by its Soviet architecture.

Although its landscape is a hotchpotch of medieval Orthodox churches, a smattering of Persian-era domes, and brutalist concrete, it was the latter that particularly stuck out. From unfelled statues of Stalin to giant tower blocks spelling out the letters “CCCP” from a bird’s-eye view (well, half spelt-out – construction stopped partway through, with the fall of the Soviet Union), I’ve never forgotten it.

Perhaps it was so compelling because such stark physical symbols make recent history all the more tangible. A history still profoundly affecting the country of my ancestors (and all post-Soviet and communist states). But also, it just looked really cool.


Mixed air corps, Mongolia. Photo: Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Eric Losito

It’s a bit passé now to mock the hipster obsession with reclaimed industrial detritus, exposed pipes and bare concrete. An aesthetic – that of a post-industrial wasteland, but a chic one – which has gripped western cities for years, and crept worldwide.

But it could be this tendency to find disused stuff visually intriguing, and a morbid fascination with cruel regimes, which has led to the art world’s obsession with abandoned Soviet architecture. A whole wave of artists and photographers have been poking around the eastern bloc’s architectural graveyard in recent years.

Late last year, we saw the hugely popular disused Soviet bus stop series by photographer Christopher Herwig, echoing photographer Sergey Novikov’s equally absorbing collection of abandoned Soviet cinemas from 2013.

Following Russian filmmaker and photographer Maria Morina’s “Atomic Cities” project four years ago, London-based artist Nadav Kander explored the “aesthetics of destruction” in his exhibition, Dust, in 2014, snapping “radioactive ruins” of secret cities on the border between Kazakhstan and Russia. The same year, Moscow photographers Sasha Mademuaselle and Sergey Kostromin travelled to the disputed region of Abkhazia, capturing fragments of its deserted infrastructure.


Fighter aviation regiment, Mongolia. Photo: Eric Losito
 

And photojournalist Anton Petrus’ now iconic pictures of Chernobyl’s abandoned amusement park have long been an internet favourite, as have numerous haunting images of Pripyet – the city famous for lying deserted following the nuclear disaster.

Jamie Rann, a lecturer in Russian at Oxford University, has written that the quality and technical accomplishment of most of this photography make the style more “ruin erotica” than “ruin porn” (the tag being used by some critics), but argues: “The enormous online popularity of this genre . . . combined with their voyeuristic, almost exploitative feel, certainly has something porny about it.”

The latest exploration of Soviet society’s skeletons can be found at the Power & Architecture season at London’s Calvert 22 Foundation. In an exhibition called Dead Space and Ruins, we see abandoned military bases and formerly mighty monuments, forgotten space ports freezing in the tundra, the ghost of an entire unused, unfinished city in Armenia lying derelict.



The unfinished "ghost city" built in Armenia to house earthquake survivors (water added by artist). Photo: Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Vahram Aghasyan

The works are beautiful, but do they feed in to this zeitgeisty lust for Soviet ruins?

One of its curators, Will Strong, laments this trend. “I was keen that this didn’t become like a kind of ‘ruin lust’, ‘ruin porn’ thing; this slightly buzzwordy term that there is at the moment, this kind of fetishisation of dead space,” he tells me.

“This history is incredibly loaded, and it did not end in 1991. To sort of fetishise it in the very bourgeois western way of, ‘oh yeah, look at all this wonderful Soviet architecture, isn’t it fantastic?’ Obviously a lot of people who lived in that time hated it . . . a lot of people were very miserable under these regimes, so it’s important not to forget that.”


Gym at the Independent Radar Centre of Early Detection, Latvia. Photo: Eric Losito

He adds: “It’s more a point of reflection on how buildings were designed, what their legacy is, what their narrative is, and who the people are who live with that story. This show looks at the aftermaths of when utopia hasn’t been delivered.”

This view is echoed by the Moscow artist, Danila Tkachenko, whose work is featured in the exhibition. “It is rather a metaphor for the future, not the past,” he says. “It represents an image of a possible future. When there is a visualisation of this issue [utopia], it evokes a response in people; they see this utopia in their lives . . . There is disappointment in all utopias.”


The world's largest diesel submarine, in Russia's Samara region. Photo: Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Danila Tkachenko

His Restricted Areas series explores great behemoths of European communism left to lie forgotten in the tundra of remote regions in and around Russia and Kazakhstan: the world’s largest diesel submarine, like a beached whale in the snow; a giant satellite, thatched with antennae, built to communicate with Soviet bases on other planets some day; the deserted flying saucer-like communist headquarters in a region of Bulgaria. The structures hover in blank, white space, making the photos appear black-and-white.


Deserted observatory, Kazakhstan's Almaty region. Photo: Danila Tkachenko
 

Anton Ginzburg is an artist who grew up in St Petersburg in the Eighties as the Soviet Union was disintegrating. He believes studies like his film, Turo, of disused modernist constructions in the post-Soviet bloc, appeal to people’s connection to history. After all, picking through the architectural carcasses of former societies isn’t exactly a new thing:

“Russian culture is still haunted by its Communist past, and constructivist architecture is a decaying shell for its ghosts. It is an active reminder of the recent history,” he reflects. “Perhaps [its appeal] is a mixture of memento mori, with its thrill of beauty and destruction, along with a Romantic tradition of contemplation of Greek and Roman ruins.”

(Anton Ginzburg Turo teaser from Visionaireworld on Vimeo.)

The Power & Architecture season is on at the Calvert 22 Foundation, London, from 10 June-9 October 2016. Entry is free.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.