Archive of Destruction is a story-telling platform that brings together narratives around destruction and public art. It is made up of suspect categories, barely believable tales, and life-affirming strangeness. Spanning a hundred years and many continents, it tells cumulative stories of vulnerability, interference, rage, fear, boredom and love.
Here you will find artworks that have been destroyed by institutions, local government, the general public, and the elements, as wells as works that have been destroyed by artists themselves, or have the concept of destruction embedded within them.
The aim is to create an exploratory, open-ended repository that reveals the multiple ways that public art can become a catalyst for conversations about political, social and environmental issues, as well as a vehicle for expressions of wit, humour and tenderness.
Embedded within the archive are two implicit challenges: the concept of destruction as an inherently negative act, and the idea of an artwork as a static thing – something that retains its original form and is, in the main, ‘finished’. Instead, the focus is on the cathartic, transformative and expansive potential of acts of destruction. Through a dialogue with an unruly, unknowable, live audience, public artworks are in a continual process of ‘becoming’, capable of developing surprising, sometimes disturbing, often beautiful narratives that upend the original intention of the artist and forge new relations to the world.
This project has been put together by independent curator and writer Jes Fernie. Launched in 2021, it is an ongoing research project that has no aspiration to be scientific or exhaustive. The selection is the result of conversations, journeys, and research carried out by Jes over a ten year period. Like most archives it is subjective, flawed, and a reflection of a particular time and place.
A few things to note:
‘Destruction’ in the archive is a loosely used term; it includes breaking, burning, decomposing, selling, ignoring, humiliating, blasting, stealing, shooting, hiding, ransacking, staining, smashing, crushing, suffocating, reconstructing, beheading, removing, ripping, burying, kissing. There are multiple ways to destroy something; obliteration very rarely enters the fray.
The archive focuses on the work of modern and contemporary artists. Monuments and statues are only included when an artist engages with them in a way that is interesting or exploratory.
If you’re looking for a shortened version of many of the stories in the archive, read Jes’ text, which also includes personal anecdotes about the process of building the archive. But really, the best way to experience this site is to explore the artworks and accompanying texts. The theme filters in the menu play with the different ways that works have been destroyed; it is designed to spark unexpected connections, collisions and reference points across time, geographies and cultures.
The Essay section is made up of commissioned texts by artists, curators, academics and writers. They constitute a wide-ranging, exploratory series of responses to the archive, as well as an investigation into the subject of destruction. They include experimental texts, conversations, and essays that consider our relation to memory, personal history and colonialism. New artworks and commissioned texts will be added to the site over the coming years.
Please get in touch if you’d like to suggest works for the archive, if you spot any errors, or if you have any idea for a text you’d like to contribute.
Flat Time House
Archive of Destruction is a partnership project with Flat Time House (FTHo) in London. FTHo was the studio home of John Latham (1921–2006), recognised as one of the most significant and influential British post-war artists. Jes Fernie carried out a curatorial residency at the house in 2019, researching Latham’s interest in destruction, and developing the parameters of the Archive of Destruction. Conversations with Director Gareth Bell-Jones have continued, and a loose partnership has been established. Talks and events are hosted by FTHo, and the first Archive of Destruction Reader was launched at the house in 2022.
Jes would like to thank the following people for their support, interest, and contribution to the archive:
Claire Louise Staunton
Hans van Houwelingen
Nephertiti Oboshie Schandorf
Every effort has been made to trace and acknowledge copyright of images on this site. We apologise for any infringement where copyright has proved untraceable. Please get in touch if you would like to provide information or request the removal of an image.