When viewed through the prism of time — past, present and future — Sterling Ruby’s assemblages can be read in multiple ways. In a nostalgic sense, they are informed by the artist’s biography: wood is an evocative material associated with his childhood home in rural Pennsylvania, which lies near the heart of Amish country. Traditional skills, such as stitching, quilt-making and woodworking, were central to Ruby’s upbringing and still play an important role in his practice. Wood has particular resonance: Ruby spent a great deal of his youth surrounded by lumber, chopping firewood and learning carpentry skills. The influence of the artist’s mother, who was Dutch, can also be detected: she is synonymous with the aforementioned barn, which played an integral role in Ruby’s experience of growing up in an agrarian setting. On another level, the works also reference a long art-historical tradition that stretches from Picasso’s early wooden assemblages of 1912 to works by Arp, Schwitters and Tatlin or, in the American tradition, Rauschenberg, Johns and Nevelson. Ruby’s steadfast commitment to the recycling and reprocessing of materials, on the other hand, can be seen as a logical response to contemporary concerns around waste and reuse; a self-sufficient, uncompromising and endlessly regenerative approach to making art. Finally, the window motif invokes the question of what lies beyond? Or are we looking inwards? As openings to other worlds, sources of light, structures that mediate between interior and exterior realms, and as metaphors for escape, hope, change and the unknown, the window is an eloquent symbol that has spoken to the imagination since time immemorial.
Courtesy the Artist and Xavier Hufkens, Brussels