In a small, largely abandoned village along the coast in Belgium, the walls are covered in graffiti. What began as an effort by the few remaining locals to turn the town of Doel from a neglected company town into an artists’ colony has become something else entirely. The town now receives several thousand tourists annually, gawking at the bizarre setting. But they also take in many more vandals who are eager to exploit the obvious lack of regulations and absence of police.
More immediate political implications aside, the town is haunting and beautiful, in that aesthetic that the internet has termed “abandoned porn.” It is a fascination with the theoretical absence of ourselves, a transformation of the apocalypse into a manageable fetish. We leer at images of derelict cathedrals, hospitals, factories or amusement parks, imagining the world emptied of people-- although somehow, we, the viewers, have survived.
The town of Doel is more than likely tired of being used as a metaphor, but the temptation is difficult to resist. The overgrown lots, the buildings invaded by vines and water and animals, are an indication of what happens when nature again turns wild, relieved of human control. The graffiti is the same, regardless of where it appears: expressing the wild edges of our humanity, the pressing insistence of our less-domesticated past and the hope that somehow we make it through the threat of our often imagined, but always feared, future.