The price of love? £25,700 a year, according to Theresa May

Those who marry non-EU nationals will need to earn £25,700 a year if they want their partners to join them in Britain. Is it fair that only the well-off can marry who they want?

There comes a time in any government's life where you reach a level of unpopularity such that you may as well dust off all of the half-arsed, mean-spirited policies you've ever dreamed up, and just throw them all out there. The point where your opponents are so tired and hoarse from trying to decry all your laughably objectionable new rules that they simply collapse into a defeated heap, while you roll your latest nasty ideas tank onto their collective lawn.

Yesterday we got to read about Theresa May's charming new ruse, the one about effectively stopping British citizens from marrying their foreign partners and living here, unless they have a good enough job. Ordinarily this might seem a little harsh, but I suppose if you can get away with selling off chunks of the NHS, you can get away with this.

I should probably declare a partial interest here; several years ago I was engaged to be married to someone who lived in Croatia. A foreigner! The relationship broke down in the end, but for a long time we intended to live together, and to do that we would have had to get married, as was the style at the time. I think it was at around this point when I started to get especially angry at whatever immigration clampdown the press was clamouring for. There was something about knowing that, one day, the person I intended to marry would become part of a statistic splashed across the front page of the Express to show quite how close our collective handcart was coming to Hell, that made me feel a little upset. Funny, that.

In the end, the relationship didn't work out, but on reflection I think it was probably better for said breakdown to be the result of my own enormous and continual failings as a human being, rather than because the Home Secretary has declared me too poor to be embarking on such romantic folly.

I understand that there's an imperative for governments to be seen to be Doing Something about immigration, but they seem to be forever finding increasingly ham-fisted and downright mean ways of doing it. Whatever the intention behind the policy, the end result of it is that it sets a minimum income requirement on marriage and makes it difficult for poorer couples to get married. This from a government who like the idea of marriage so much they would marry it, if that were at all possible.

Presumably the person in government whose job it is to screen potential policies for signs of unswerving evil has been made redundant, or is simply so overworked by this point that they can only read bits of each policy through the gaps in their fingers as they cradle their head in their hands, sobbing. If I were that person, I might gently suggest to the Tories that, if they want to look less like the wealthy, privileged 'arrogant posh boys' of common legend, they might want to think twice about floating a policy idea that effectively restricts love to people earning over £25,700 a year. Then again, if I were that person I'd probably be earning over £25,700 a year and in a position to stop caring about people poorer than me.

But hey, that's the free market, right? If you can't afford to fall in love with a foreigner, why not simply exercise your economic freedom and swap them for a more affordable partner, one who lives in the same country as you? Perhaps someone who knows the words to several Beautiful South songs, thinks the Eurovision is a massive fix, and has curiously forthright opinions about the 'correct' term to use for a small sandwich roll. It's really just simple economics! These are tough times which we've inherited from thirteen years of the previous government and difficult choices have to be made.

Perhaps if you'd just worked a little harder or got into a grammar school, you might have been able to marry that foreigner! Apply yourselves!

Here come the brides: well, not if Theresa May has her way. Photo: Getty Images

Jonathan Headington tweets: @ropestoinfinity

Calvert 22/Courtesy of the artist, Danila Tkachenko
Show Hide image

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.