Jane and Louise Wilson’s Dark Tourism

"Jane and Louise Wilson" opens this week at 303 Gallery in New York.


The celebrated British artist duo Jane and Louise Wilson have long been drawn to spectacular falls from power. Twin sisters who work in tandem, the Wilsons have filmed and photographed the old Stasi headquarters of East Berlin, abandoned military outposts of the Third Reich, and an epic failure of modernist urban planning near where they grew up in Newcastle, England. “There are people who fetishize those sorts of places,” explained Louise, the wirier, more forthright of the pair, when we met yesterday at New York’s 303 Gallery, where the sisters had just finished installing their new exhibition. “It’s a kind of ‘dark tourism’ industry.” It may have been their childhood—they grew up in the Atomic Age—when these somewhat morbid artistic fascinations first took hold. “We were very intrigued by the Cold War as children,” Louise recalled. “It created such an atmosphere of fear at the time.”

For this show, the Wilsons documented—in photographs, in situ installations, and sculpture—two sites that once harnessed the source of that great unease: the ruins of Orford Ness, an infamous H-bomb test facility on Britain’s remote Suffolk coast, and the extinct Ukrainian city of Pripyat, originally built for workers at the Chernobyl nuclear plant before its disastrous meltdown in 1986. Of course, these history lessons frontload the work with pathos, but it’s the Wilsons’ eye for detail—personal, social, architectural—that creates the spooky sense that, once upon a time, people lived and worked in these places with great optimism for the future. “But as you can see,” Jane said as we looked at the photographs of a deserted, crumbling Orford Ness, “eventually it will all collapse.”

“Jane and Louise Wilson” is on view June 25 – August 2, 2013, at New York’s 303 Gallery, 507 W. 24th Street.