John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
A photographer built a city from bread and let it mold for half a year. These are the apocalyptic results.
A few years ago, Johanna Mårtensson read an article about what our cities would look like once the human race went extinct. The question lodged in her head, and she found herself guessing at all kinds of interesting futures for decrepit metropolises. Here's what she decided would happen (slightly edited for clarity):
Within 500 years all buildings would be half-fallen or fallen, perfect homes for animals and plants. The forest would soon grow in cities. Afterhand, buildings as well as pollutions would be taken care of by bacteria and micro-organisms. A UFO that came here in a couple of hundred thousand years would not see many signs that a gang of primates once thought that they were the lords of the planet.
As a theater-set designer with future aspirations of making her own science-fiction film, Mårtensson wanted to see this process of decay in action. So the Stockholm-based artist gathered a bunch of perishable material – in this case, slabs of bread – and set about erecting an edible city in her studio. She then photographed it once a day for six months, capturing the mortification of the staff of life into a slouching, bizarrely colored mass of decay.
If Mårtensson's model is correct (and it's probably not exactly on target, given the rarity of bread walls in the construction business), once we're gone cities will be ruled by mold. The god of this particular metropolis thinks that's not necessarily a bad thing – rather than a "coming apocalypse," she says, it's the "creation of a new process." This foul process interested the art world enough that Mårtensson was able to show it at two Stockholm galleries and at Los Angeles' 1650 Gallery. It recently resurfaced as a contender in the Italian A'Design Award & Competition, where it won a platinum award in the category of "Arts, Crafts and Ready-Made Design."
Don't expect Mårtensson to recreate this project anytime soon. "The hardest bit of the realization of the piece," she says, "was the smell." (If you enjoy this odd burg, maybe you'll want to check out these chewing-gum cities or the Jell-O San Francisco.)