BiographyRuth van Beek (born 1977) is an artist. Her work has been shown worldwide in various solo and group exhibitions. Recently, her work was part of exhibitions in London (Flowers Gallery, 2015), Antwerp (Gallery51, 2015) and San Francisco (Fraenkel Gallery, 2014).
RVB Books in Paris has published her books The Hibernators (2011) and The Arrangement (2013). Her most recent book, The Levitators (2016), was launched at the New York Art Book Fair and the Unseen Fair in Amsterdam. The Arrangement was on the 2014 shortlist for the Aperture Book Award.
Her work is regularly published in magazines, such as Time Magazine, The New York Times, Capricious, Foam Magazine, Fantom Magazine, Kunstbeeld, L’Officiel, IMA Magazin (Japan), It’s Nice That and The British Journal of Photography.
In collaboration with Centerfold Editions, she’s working on an ongoing series of artist publications called The Manual, of which three have come out so far.
For more information on Ruth van Beek and/or her work please contact gallery director Jasper Bode via email at email@example.com or by phone +31 6 1651 0221.
About the workRuth van Beek’s work originates in her ever-growing archive. The images, mainly from old photo books, are her tools, source material and context. Van Beek physically intervenes within the pictures. By folding, cutting, or adding pieces of painted paper, she rearranges and manipulates the image until her interventions reveal the universe that lay within them. Merely by suggestion, van Beek triggers the imagination, and therefore the discomfort, of the viewer: passive human hands are animated, objects turn into characters, and abstract shapes come to life. The original image may have been taken out of context, but the familiar imagery – the formal photography of an instruction book, a clearly displayed object, or a staged action – remains recognizable, and thus speaks to our collective memory. Contrasting elements engage in conversation in van Beek’s work: the dead past coming to life; the literal and the abstract; displaying and concealing expressively; both the limitation and the endless possibility of an archive. Hereby, van Beek joins a new generation of artists that, by finding restriction in closed archives, offer a counterweight to the limitless availability of information. The constant organization of the world around her even gets a literal representation in van Beek’s work: the rearranging hands of instruction books appear and reappear, like a self-portrait of the artist as a creator.
Penelopy Umbrico, review The ArrangementPenelopy Umbrico, for Aperture bookreview, on The Arrangement:
Opening The Arrangement is like entering a room in which odd clinical procedures are taking place. The book's cover is like plasticized tablecloth from which the history and mess of it's making can be easily wiped away, as though the book has prepared itself for the procedures and implementations that are going on inside it.
Within, instructional images from 1950s-era how-to books on caring for indoor plants and arranging flowers become defiantly unbalanced hybrid objects that undergo extraordinary metamorphosis from one page to the next.
Pushing and pulling across the pages, they sometimes rest for a moment, transforming from crude to delicate, or submitting to being handled by deliberate, anonymous hands. They suffer pinches, poking and plucking until they explode into almost obscenely corpulent new forms incapable of sitting properly in the neat rectangle of the pages prepared for them.
Is this a willing arrangement? Do the plants and flowers concede? Is there a contractual arrangement being made--exchanges taking place by way of instruction--to achieve such form? What is any arrangement if not a manifistation of control over the things arranged?
Van Beek has stated that the content of the images isn't actually that important. But I disagree. It's the collosions of what meaning in her recontextualisations that are key to what makes her collages so poignant andunexpected. The colors, gestures, textures, and surfaces we see in the images all point to the methodological ideologies of modernism. This is a modernism that erases the mess of historical complexity.
It is obsessed with simplicity, organization, and productivity. It's the ara of the self-help/how-to book, Dick and Jane, Coles Notes ( Later CliffsNotes ), the cubicle, the white cube, mechanical airconditioning.....perhaps fitting responses to the atomic bomb and two world wars. The succes of these ideologies hinged upon their ability to affect change, facilitate productivity, and rid the world of disorganization, discomfort, and ugliness.
The indoor plant, by it's very nature, is a modern conception. It's the embodiment of aestethic control--an organic form molded to a modular, mass-produced, industrial container ( the pot ), made widespread throught industrial horticulture, and only viable thanks to modern heating and air conditionaing.
The fact that these how-to plant books are no longer "useful" evokes a kind of sadness in connection to their particular instructional agendas.
In van Beek's hands, the book ( or room ) becomes the cubicle within the modular system of instruction, organization, and work. One gets the sense that these defiantly unbalanced forms are wrestling with their own modernist ideologies. As if in reaction to the repressiveness of modernity, they seem to be celebrating their own odd fetishistic eroticisme. These plants have turned inward; They shamefully hide the horror they have experienced ( the experiment of modernisme, Or van Beek's?), while proudly asserting their own place in the world. Defying the constraints of modularity, thes new forms are reluctant champions, at once expressing a social anxiety about not fitting in and boldly stating their resistance to do so.
Why i swallowed my scissorsa text by Marc Valli for Foam Magazine issue nr 26 Happy
Ruth Van Beek or the Poetics of Paper Weights
Ruth Van Beek’s collages play a particularly clever and intricate game of hide and seek with the truth of an image. 'The result is a picture of something that never existed,' she explains on her website. Ruth Van Beek was born in 1977 and graduated from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in 2002, and I believe her work belongs to a new tradition of collage art. The clash of worlds, of technology and human nature, that sparked the great surrealist tradition has now been internalised into a new, more controlled and intimate form. No more rockets or planes, no more vacuum-cleaners, no more explosions (except flat explosions of colour). We are dealing here with a clash of inner realities, or the clash between inner and outer realms.
We have swallowed the scissors. They're now inside each and every one of us, cutting reality up and reassembling it. To us, collage has become as natural as breathing. Let me explain this through an example. What happens to us when we visit a museum? As we wander through the galleries the pictures drift by, some of their details lingering in our minds, growing, superimposing themselves onto others, gathering in corners, de- and then re-contextualising themselves, slipping into other pictures, into memories, narratives, movies, who knows… We head down to the cafe and open a newspaper or a magazine, the images from the museum getting mixed in with those we're leafing through, so that by the time we've left the museum (having stopped by the shop to browse through yet more images and maybe even buy a few postcards) the experience has transformed itself in our minds into a completely new entity, something akin to a collage, or a number of collages. The same process continues as we head home past advertising posters, or sit down at our computers, or simply turn the television on. Our brains are constantly cutting and reassembling, trying to make sense of a visually saturated and conceptually fragmented reality.
Cultural Climate Change
Ruth Van Beek's work studies these traces of experience and sensorial data as a geologist would study a fault line, carefully measuring it, noticing particulars, tracking causes and effects, questioning developments in a landscape we would otherwise take for granted, linking peaceful ridges to violent earthquakes. The results are then carefully laid out, not as one would normally display a piece of contemporary art (an object with a lot of white around) but in groups, as configurations, in the way archaeologists or palaeontologists would lay out their findings (for example, inside a glass-topped display case.)
We are living through a period of great 'cultural global warming' in which an excess of information in our atmosphere is condemning all manner of experience to early, almost instantaneous extinction. This is where the work of artists such as Ruth Van Beek comes into play: rescuing experience, sensation, perception, possibly even feeling, out of the rubble of contemporary experience, out of its moraines of information.
Ruth Van Beek is no ordinary image-maker. She has a particularly skilful way of moulding the space of the white page. The result makes me think of 2-dimensional sculptures. Her visual language is simpler, subtler and, I am tempted to say, more abstract than that of most collage artists. It is gifted with a confounding directness. It is relevant to note that her work has a 'naturalness' that is, I think, quite unique among the work of collage artists. She handles reproduced reality more delicately than most, and I picture her wearing white gloves as she touches old photographs. The artist has not just swallowed the scissors, but the camera as well. In her work the camera (preferably an amateur camera) clicks like a heart in the breast of an imaginary rabbit.
In fact the artist doesn't limit herself to creating new meanings out of old images. With every new work she creates a new physical and tactile reality. Her pieces thrive with life, unique, mutant forms, each with its own paper DNA, each with its own folds and cuts and textures, each as beautiful as a chance encounter between the ghosts of Darwin and Derrida on an African savannah."
interview by Lucas Blalock, 2011LB: I feel in your work a kind of insistence on the subject of the photographs that is often absent from collage / bricolage work. For me, the psychic drama of the work is in trying to reconstitute the object (as in the one above [will be the one attached]) where in most collage the attention is in constructing a picture plane. Is this an attitude that is important to you in making the pieces?
R: Yes, for me it is not so much the technique of collage that interests me, but its the ability to transform existing photographs into the images of my imagination. By cutting and folding, the work not only represents an object, but also becomes an object itself.
LB: There seems to be some consistency to the content of the photographs you use. Rocks, animals, and furniture come to mind. Do you see this content as particularly important?
R: When I collect these pictures I think a lot about the way the subjects are photographed. This is more important than the subject itself, since I can easily change or cover up the original subject of the photograph. So in this way the content doesn't really matter.
But then again, I intentionally go for these kinda nondescript, "useful" photographs. It is not as if it is just any image that I can get my hands on. Most of them come from books published to teach people about how to make things: how to decorate your house, how to take care of your plants, how to recognize gemstones, all about hobbies, cats or rabbits and so on. How to do things the right way. So the content of the single image does't matter to me, but the origins of the photo are important.
LB: For me there is a kind of intimacy in your obscuring. As if by removing or folding together the "faces" of these objects we are left to explore the pictures for other clues. This leads to a kind of weighing and measuring in an attempt to come into terms with the image. Or in other words, it is as if by obscuring the face you have come to reveal the body. Tthis sense of physicality is really pervasive. Does this relate to your idea of an object? And do you see this objectness (the one w/in the photograph) as dependent on the second objectness of the physical thing itself?
R: I like your comparison to the face and the body. I actually try to animate the objects. The work is much about actions related to the object: obscuring, collecting, transforming, but also the guessing or longing brought out by these interventions. They come alive once separated from their original function. When I cover up the object, it is to make the viewer curious about what is behind, but I also give the viewer a clear shape in return. The original object is never to be seen, only to guessed at. This makes the viewer long for what he can't see, which in these works becomes an impossibility.
LB: It is a strategy that is really successful in the work! When I have seen your work in the past I feel like the obscured content in the photographs has often been similar -- leading to feelings of a group or collection, also a museum display. The works in the SEASON exhibition feel more disparate, which makes you focus on them more as a group of pictorial interventions. Is this something you were thinking about?
R: I guess like the collections I have brought together in the past, the images I selected for the SEASON exhibition also try to tell a story. Either case begs a reconstruction of something by its traces. In this case, I do not only hide and transform furniture and objects, but the people in a number of the pictures also become hidden in their homes. The exhibition is actually in a house. I wanted to play with this.
review solo exhibition Okay Mountain, VS, 2010Ruth Van Beek
Okay Mountain, Austin
Through October 16, 2010
by Wendy Vogel
What’s with the rock coozy? I asked myself in front of Le monde sans soleil (2009), the black-and-white series of Inkjet prints tacked to the walls of Okay Mountain’s back room. The most straightforward work in Ruth van Beek’s exhibition The Great Blue Mountain Range (the Dutch artist’s first in the United States), the series contains images from the Spaarnestad photographic archive that are enigmatic, seemingly flatfooted, strung together in an amusing visual sentence. The image of a black, smoothly glazed stone tucked snugly into a knit case (a pet rock’s sleeping bag?), third from left, found itself among four images of disembodied human hands clutching various minerals, a picture turned on its side of two boys atop a boulder, a cluster of diamonds twinkling against a solid black background, a crumpled crossword puzzle and three lace handkerchiefs worked subtly into improvised sculptural gestures. The formal rhythm between the oblong prints echoed the subtle equivalence between body, earth and gesture contained therein: images of a search for empirical knowledge played against each other with a decidedly female trickster’s hand.
Images of rocks are present throughout The Great Blue Mountain Range. Megaliths ordinarily are mute, but as Robert Smithson remarked in “The Artist as Site-Seer,” his unfinished 1966-67 essay, these “prime objects” could contain not only precious resources and records of geologic time, but J.G. Ballard’s “noise of history” encoded by a mysterious language. Van Beek’s stones, rather than holding the symbolic keys to a prehistoric language, operate visually as playful surrogates of objecthood and occlusion itself.
Le monde sans soleil functions as a visual key to the rest of the exhibition. Two more small clusters of photographs, a brief two-channel digital slide projection, and vitrines of photo/objects round out the show. The vitrines, containing what might be considered photographic specimens culled from a swath of geologic time, contain snapshots of pets truncated into rock-like forms from vertical folds, domestic hobbyists and blown-up Internet printouts of crystal shapes collaged onto foamcore backing. Two re-photographed collages, untitled (orange) and untitled (yellow) (both 2009) depict simple interventions by the artist to existing images. Van Beek inscribes her authorship by gluing watercolors of rock-like shapes to found photographs, covering (in orange) what appears to be a cake stand and (in yellow) a sculpture atop a pedestal. In so doing, she strips the original meaning from both a domestic and an artistic trophy-stand, reclaiming pride of place through her blocky additions. Such collagist gestures become more complex and deft in her manipulation of tourist book pages and hand-sized apocalyptic scenes into stone-shaped origami, photographs of which are shown on the opposite wall.
Van Beek’s treatment of the photographic archive as a space for play and sculptural refashioning (particularly of such feminized, hand-sized objects as leisure tourist books and—in the vitrines—baby pictures and images by nature enthusiasts) hearkens back to the history of female collagists such as Hannah Höch and Martha Rosler. Yet instead of a deconstruction revealing the terror of the beauty industry or war, her images show an easy affinity for the techniques of scrapbooking and handicrafts and, in turn, a stubborn alliance with a material world and its possibilities for smart and critical permutations. Her interventions, subtle and low-tech, become (re-)photographs that enter the cycle of exchange and distribution of her archive. There, they allow her stone shapes’ muteness to speak once more, not the language of history, but a more personal, perhaps anthromorphic slang, like what you might imagine a pet rock whispering from its sleeping bag.
Wendy Vogel is Editor of ...might be good.