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Aleph Recomends: Splendor in Ruins, or Why We Can’t Look Away From Disaster


The series Buona Fortuna by Jorge Mañes Rubio shows a beautiful, must-see perspective of what is left after a natural disaster.


Spanish artist Jorge Mañes Rubio traveled to southern Italy to document the ruins of various chapels that were partially destroyed by the Irpinia earthquake in 1980. Nobody had showed much interest in those ruins perhaps because splendor in a state of decay is one of the hardest things to digest. One of the first things one feels is a huge sensation of hollowness.

Buona Fortuna (“good luck”), as the series is ironically titled, shows what was left standing on the mountains of the Cilento National Park, and which was forgotten for more than 30 years. Rubio turned his trip through the rubble into a necessary perspective, and the most difficult of all: being able to look at catastrophe without wanting to impulsively repair it.

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The destroyed sacred sites are almost impossible to assimilate, and perhaps because of that the inhabitants of the national park fled without looking back. Buona Fortuna recovers that which nobody wanted to see again, but the admirable thing about the series is precisely that it does so without wanting to change the reality of the disaster. And that is its beauty. We see the sinking and the collapse caused by the earthquake, the listing of the altars to one side, the columns that no longer support anything but remain standing, suggesting something lost. There is something “natural” in all of that, at least more natural than an intact and splendid cathedral; the destruction by nature is so different from that that is wreaked by humankind. The cracks and fractures are some of the ways of the planet.

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Mañes Rubio explains that his intention was not to rebuild or restore those sites. He is not seeking government or private sponsorship with his series to bring the past back into the present, but rather seeking a reconnection with the past that was destroyed in one strike and remains petrified there. Buona Fortuna is an opportunity to once again imagine the identity of those mountains, and it is precisely the conflict between decadence and beauty that makes these places true works of art.

After having exhibited his photographs in the Initial Gallery in Vancouver in April 2015, Rubio is planning the second phase of the project in collaboration with local artisans. They will create a series of pieces and installations to replace the objects and icons stolen with new, fictional symbols. After 35 years, one of the chapels, with all the charm of its ruins, will once again open its doors.

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