Sculpting the Landscape: Brie Ruais on Using Clay as a Metaphor for Land’s Violent History
By Loney Abrams
SEPT. 28, 2017. Artspace
When talking about an artwork, we often say “the artist’s hand” to reference the visible manifestation of the maker’s gestural craftmanship. But when talking about the sculpted works of Brie Ruais, “the artist’s body” might be more apt. Starting with a hunk of clay roughly the same weight as her own (130 pounds), Ruais uses her entire body to manipulate the clay. The resulting form is the physical evidence of a highly physical scuffle between artist and material.
With an ‘ecofeminist’ approach that conflates the domination over nature with the oppression of women, people of color, children, and the poor, Ruais sees clay (a material mined from the earth) as inherently tied to the landscape, and furthermore, equally capable of expressing a history of trauma and violence on it’s surface. In Phaidon’s newest edition of their influential ‘Vitamin’ series, Vitamin C: Clay and Ceramic in Contemporary Art, Louisa Elderton describes one of Ruais’s works as “characterized by its will to break free, away from the grid, constraint and order, ready to reconnect with the earth in the ground.”
In your work, clay is the material but your body really acts as the tool. The final product is the evidence of a performative or physical event that took place. When I see your work I think of action painting—or maybe, “action sculpting,” in your case. Do you see your work as having a relationship to Abstract Expressionism?
Definitely. I think Abstract Expressionism was about letting go of control and seeing how the subconscious is creatively expressed. I set up parameters for myself that create a system for me to work within so that I’m more creatively freed up to go about the task. Whatever form is the result then becomes the piece. And sometimes it works formally and sometimes it doesn’t; I scrap a lot of pieces as a result.