We covered the work of Brooklyn-based sculptor Brie Ruais earlier this year. Justin Crowe wrote about her process that involves kicking, pulling, stretching and grabbing the clay. In doing so she creates a record of her emotions. Her documentary procedure goes further. To date, she’s the only sculptor we know whose work comes with a recipe. Consider this one for her piece Stationary Forward Spread:
Above image: Brie Ruais in her Sunset Park Studio. Photograph by Scott Rudd.
Start with a pile of 130 pounds of clay.
Plant your knees in the pile of clay.
Push the clay forward and away from your knees.
Spread the clay as far as you can reach without lifting your knees from the floor.
No need to spread it left, right, or behind. Just think about moving it forward, tracing the motions of forward movement.
Stop before wearing through to the floor.
Stop when you cannot spread it further.
Stand up and, with a knife, cut the clay into small divisions, like detail shots of a larger image.
Fire. Glaze. Seal.
Hang on the wall like a map or a rug.
Ruais recently gave an interview with ArtSpace. Among the most intriguing things to our eye were her thoughts about language and narrative within her work. Below are those questions from that interview. You can read the full piece here.
Articles and essays about your work love lists of verbs: you knead, push, transform, ram, impose, bully, abuse, and stomp your clay, among many other supposed actions. What verbs do you think about when working with clay?
The work actually starts with language. I think a lot about the things that we say about our existence and how we talk about being in the world. I want my work to be about reaching out or spreading out or pushing ahead—those are challenges that I face in my lived experience. I take that language and physically translate it with the work. A lot of the pieces are named as such: Spreading Out, Pushing Ahead, et cetera.
The first large-scale ceramic piece that I made was called The Big Push. That was while I was in grad school, and that was how things were feeling. It was a big push to find your vision, to find your voice, to make work that’s significant to other people and can be felt and speak to a shared experience. That’s where the scores to my work start, with this kind of language.
I’m making a piece called Spreading Out From Center now, where I start with my body weight in clay and then get on top of that mound of clay and spread it out radially around me. The reach of my body and the impressions of me moving around it—and my knee impressions, which remain in the center—are the physical embodiment of that idea of spreading out.
It’s interesting that you call these sets of written instructions for your works “scores.” There are a lot of entry points to talking about this idea: the history of conceptual art, Sol LeWitt and company, programming languages, magic, and obviously music and choreography. What I’m really curious about, though, is how the potential for failure is literally written into the work—you can fail to follow the instructions, or, once followed, the piece can fail to hold up either physically or aesthetically. How do you think about failure in your work?
I don’t really think about it in terms of failure. For me, the instructions are a way of creating a situation where I’m freed up from making decisions, because they’ve been made beforehand. I’m allowed to put whatever energy is coming out of the experience of performing this task directly into the piece.
Sometimes, I’m not happy with it formally. It’s weird to have to make those decisions, because if it was a purely conceptual work of art then it wouldn’t matter what it looked like—it would just be about performing a certain kind of task. There are ways that my pieces can fail, though, in terms of not correctly capturing the energy.
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