Ron Paul is done, almost

The idea of liberty with a capital "L" is animating young Americans in a way not seen since Obama's

Ron Paul isn't really quitting the race for the Republican Party's presidential nomination, but he isn't really campaigning for it anymore either.

That's the kind of hairsplitting you have to do when you run out of campaign cash but you have enormous support among young libertarians seeking political alternatives to partisanship-as-usual. So much, in fact, that the Ron Paul Revolution could end up barrelling on to the party's national convention in August even without its popular septuagenarian namesake.

Then again, maybe this isn't hairsplitting at all. Maybe Paul's announcement this week that he won't be campaigning in states that haven't held primaries yet is yet another kind of decoy. We've seen this before and it was scary!

While everyone else last month turned his attention to the general election after Mitt Romney's closest rivals dropped out, news broke that Paulites (or Paulbots, depending on one's point of view) were securing state and national delegates in caucus states. This terrified mainstream Republicans, who fear most the appearance of a unified front at the convention that's kind of squishy in the unified department.

Indeed, before making his partially-quitting-partially-not announcement on Monday, Paulites in Oklahoma heckled Romney surrogate and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. They failed to place delegates but not before a Paul backer reported being struck in the back of the head by a Romney backer. Paulites had been shouting complaints that the convention wasn't following the convention's rules. And in Arizona, they booed Romney's son, Josh, off the stage during that state's convention. Paulites had reportedly said that his dad was just "a white Obama."

This is the sort of chaos the Republican Party hopes to avoid at the convention and that's probably why Paul spokesman Jesse Benton urged supporters to show decorum and respect in Tampa. Benton even said Romney is probably going to the nominee. "We recognize that Gov. Romney has what is very likely to be an insurmountable delegate lead," he said. He also said Paul is unlikely to endorse Romney and that Paulites would continue to bird-dog delegates in the run-up to the national convention.

So if Paul isn't campaigning (as much) and if he concedes that Romney is the party's de facto nominee, what are all the Paulites shouting so much about? And why are they bothering to stack up delegates. The math suggests there's no way he can win. The math also suggests Paulites are a relatively small contingent. Loud but small. Even if Paul were to force a floor vote at the convention, it would be soundly crushed. If Romney wins in November, Paul would be 84 by the time he had a chance to run for president again. What is the revolution's practical value?

Maybe I'm asking the wrong question (as are many others scratching their heads over the Ron Paul Question). Maybe there is no practical value. Not yet anyway. Ron Paul is, after all, more idea than man. That idea is liberty with an capital "L" (which is Paulian code for hardcore state's rights libertarianism.) And that idea is animating young Americans in ways not seen since Barack Obama's historic election.

I've said before that maybe Paul hopes to force a floor vote to create a backlash that would push him into a third-party position to take on Romney and the president. But that seems almost too myopic for a visionary like Paul. He's not running for president as much as he is running for the way he believes the US should be. Americans love winners but they love losers, too, when their loss is really a lost cause.
 

Ron Paul supporters at the University of Maryland. March 2012. Photograph: Getty Images

John Stoehr teaches writing at Yale. His essays and journalism have appeared in The American Prospect, Reuters Opinion, the Guardian, and Dissent, among other publications. He is a political blogger for The Washington Spectator and a frequent contributor to Al Jazeera English.

 

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.