Night Gallery is pleased to present Spiraling Open and Closed Like an Aperture, an exhibition of new ceramic sculptures and photographs which document ephemeral, site-specific works by Brie Ruais. This is the artist’s second solo exhibition at Night Gallery. To mark the occasion she has written about the works to be exhibited:
My work pulls the viewer in relation to the Earth. It is a conduit for emotional and physical connection, a channel for listening, healing, rejoicing, grieving, nurturing, and transforming. My work began ten years ago in an endurance- and process-based approach where I worked with the equivalent of my body weight in clay and my body functioned as the only tool. The pieces are abstract, results of a language of movement I’ve developed through intuition and metaphor. Over the years the work has evolved in meaning through various relationships: my physical relationship to the material, my relationship to my environment, the clay’s relationship to the earth, and the work’s relationship to mapping.
This current body of work began its development four years ago with a solitary road trip through America’s deserts. Crisscrossing Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico, I was looking for a home for my work beyond the confines of the white cube, a place where the work could be in dialogue with the Earth. I found that home in the Great Basin Desert of Nevada and have spent time each year working there ever since. In forming a relationship to the Great Basin, I have experienced how the commitment and investment in a specific place has allowed my work to evolve in ways I couldn't have anticipated. I am now making ephemeral raw clay pieces in extraordinarily remote desert locations and using a drone-mounted camera to document the work. These desert experiences feed into the ceramic sculptures made in my Brooklyn studio, where new movements are informed by the body’s memory.
The ceramic sculptures in this exhibition are a continuation of my endurance-based project. Here, my own weight in clay is shaped in relation to the landscape, in some cases incorporating found materials from these sites. Expanding, Circling, Protecting, 127lbs includes a ring of found stones around the central ceramic component, creating two overlapping entities. These stones traveled from a New Mexican mountaintop called the Pedernal, an abandoned mica mine near the town of Ojo Caliente, and a lava field near The Trinity Site where the first nuclear bomb was tested. Torn into twelve sections, this work is a clock that cannot keep time, whose mechanisms are shifting and unclear. It is the memory of a crater in the ground and the countdown to an explosion in the sky: human utterances recorded by deep time and deep futures.
Elsewhere in the exhibition two long horizontal gestures flank the folds of Currently Halted Tide (130 lbs versus 180 lbs), mimicking the expanse of the desert horizon line within the gallery space. This piece was shaped by the action of compression. Two people spread out their body weight in clay (me, 130 lbs.; another, 170 lbs.) on the floor at opposite ends of the room. Facing each other, we pushed our material towards each other, each form nesting into the other as it gathered and compressed. I cultivated this gesture of compression in response to the urban space surrounding me, on an island pressed between land and sea, where the human relationship to space and nature is determined by the real estate market. This experience of compression could only be countered by the memory of the expansive Great Basin desert where one’s sightline rests easily on the distant and uninterrupted horizon. The human figure here is so singular and so small, it disperses easily into the landscape of sagebrush shrubs, rendered nearly invisible in relation to its vastness. These two forms (perhaps human, perhaps geological) are transformed by forces that act upon them.
These sculptures are in dialogue with a series of aerial photographs which frame ephemeral clay works within the desert landscape. The works are made in response to paths, or desire lines, that zig zag over the land. These paths tell the stories of animals, people, and water, revealing motivating factors like access to resources and colonization. If these traces of movement tell the stories of desire, my work responds with a love letter, with compassion and vulnerability. They are left to weather and disintegrate over time, sometimes photographed one year later when all that is left is a hazy red patch of clay, desiccated by the sun. The process and aftermath is photographed and filmed from above, revealing a bird’s eye perspective of the pieces’ relationship to the terrain.
These photographs reveal the ways in which a body is in relation to its surroundings. The ceramic sculptures in the show, meanwhile, are in relation to the viewer’s own body, offering movements that hold, expand, open up, protect, and envelop. The photos contextualize the ceramic sculptures in a new way, opening the works (and the viewer) back up to the physical world from which they came.
Brie Ruais (b.1982) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has been exhibited at public institutions including the Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; The Anderson Collection at Stanford University, Stanford, CA; Craft Contemporary, Los Angeles, CA, Musée d’art de Joliette, Quebec, Canada; Katzen Center at American University, Washington, DC; and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. She has mounted solo exhibitions at Albertz Benda Gallery, New York, NY; Cooper Cole, Toronto, Canada; and Nicole Klagsbrun, New York, NY. Ruais’ work is in the collections of the Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; Pennsylvania Academy of Art, Philadelphia, PA; Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, Arkansas; Matamoros Art In Embassies Collection, Mexico; the Pizzuti Collection, OH; and the BurgerCollection Hong Kong. She is featured in Vitamin C: New Perspectives in Contemporary Art, Clay and Ceramics, by Phaidon (2017). Next year will mark her first institutional solo presentation, curated by Frauke V. Josenhans, at the Moody Center for the Arts at Rice University in Houston, Texas.