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."