caption: © Ruth van Beek, The Situation Room (Two figures), 2018.

When I regard van Beek‘s collages I immediately know they were made by a woman. There’s a feminine sensibility at play, an heritage of affective labour that is put to work. This idea of a visual heritage is not a reference to a nostalgic feeling about memorabilia, but a reference to the collective unconscious. I understand I can’t avoid the circumstances of the materials used in these collages – for some generations they can seem foreigner and dated – but the sort of play they evoke is timeless. 

About Ruth van Beek’s work (from her website):

Ruth 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.

It’s extremely challenging to talk about these images, for in them I recognize my own way of doing things, so my critical eye gets sleepy. The heritage of affective labor previously mentioned has to due with a kind of work that was usually done by women: a labor of great patience and precision. It’s also the sort of work usually related to the simplest things in life, namely: engaging with nature, looking after oneself and others (often small children), taking care of one’s house, collecting from nature (either to eat or to play), etc.  Women, with this cultural background, are usually aware of the importance of all remains. I don’t think this necessarily reflects living in certain economical or geographical conditions; rather it reflects what one does with the time on our hands.

Historically, women are also responsible for a tradition of sewing and embroidery that usually passes from one generation to the next and the doings of such work is precisely what I immediately recognize in these collages. I guess they evoke a sort of wonder that is only present when we find the time for it. Wonder is an organic process; it cannot arise in stressful circumstances. It reflects a body at play, enjoying the overall process its hands are evolved with. I’d say van Beek needs to wonder like others need to eat. I empathize with that feeling a lot. It’s not like wanting to rest or take a break; but a profound necessity to disconnect and enter the realm of wonder, where all remains make sense. 

caption: images from The Arrangement (Format 25x34cm; Soft cover, Buckram linnen jacket; 48 pages; 28 collages & 13 archive photographs). @ RVB Books.

Talking about her recent book How to do the Flowers (September 2018), Brad Feuerhelm names the anachronisms involved-the patina of color, the purposeful push towards the post-card garish disorientation of palette (though beautiful in their total form) and the play-doh (esque) brush with sub-conscious childlike (purposefully) to which he adds that her transparency is less about her, but her willingness to involve the viewer in the same sense of wonder.

caption: images from How to do the Flowers (15,5×21 cm; 508p, ills colour / b&w; paperback. Published by APE, co-published with Dashwood Books.

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