Rust in Twelve American Cities
by Tim Gaze, August 2020
Cities are inorganic structures plonked onto the landscape, much as an
old car is sunk into the sea to form an artificial reef. All materials decay.
Iron is an important material used widely by humans. Iron decays into
iron oxide, commonly known as rust. Nico’s photos of rust could be
taken to be portraits of the inorganic components of the city.
Rust forms colonies, reminiscent of John Conway’s Life computer
simulation, in which adjacent cells become infected and alive. Once
rust has a foothold, it spreads contiguously. Rust also resembles scabs,
the signs of human skin healing. Unlike scabs, which signal the rebirth
of the skin underneath, rust is the permanent conversion of metal into
oxide. Wounded humans regenerate, but the city flakes away.
Each of the twelve cities in this book has three components. The first
component is a portrait of metal infected with rust. In the second
component, each colony of rust is surrounded with the phrase “never
sleeps”, demarcating the most intensely rusted area as a plastic
surgeon marks a feature on the human skin. These shapes resemble the
forms of mould or moss. The colours of each instance of the phrase
blend into the rusty colouration, blurring the distinction between
background and foreground. The third component is the same text on a
black background. In this case, the text clearly sits in the foreground.
The effect of these three components is to show you an example of
metal which is partly converted into rust, point out the epicentres of
rust, and present them as ideal forms, in which text is used as a kind of
drawing of the outline. Rust is speaking to us, demonstrating its extent
in each city.
A city needs constant intervention by humans to prevent this natural
state of rust from destroying every part of it. Rust, the city that never