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Ruth van Beek, or a theatre of archival images

Ruth van Beek, or a theatre of archival images

Until May 3, the NContemporary Gallery in Milan features the multitalented Ruth van Beek. The exhibition, entitled How To Do the Flowers, Act II—Rehearsal I,” is designed as an extension of the artist’s oeuvre. It offers a survey of this somewhat Dadaist body of work that straddles photography, painting, and collage.
Rehearsal 1, 2014 © Ruth van Beek and The Ravestijn Gallery

Archival images as raw material

Photographs, old books, advertisements—the photographic archive is Ruth van Beek’s source material. As she has explained on numerous occasions, her approach consists in perusing vintage images (books, manuals, etc.), taking them out of their context, and assembling them in a new setting, most often against a colored background. Dealing with forms, colors, and materials, her work appears to transcend photography and collage and take a cue from sculpture. Van Beek’s compositions create depth, opening up a new dimension. Sometimes called surrealist, her productions are above all abstractions constructed around notions of space and time.

Rehearsal 1, 2014, vue d’exposition © Ruth van Beek and The Ravestijn Gallery

A theater of recovered images

As she works in the archives, the artist looks above all for “the animate and the inanimate, reality and fiction, the past and the now.” Her approach is driven by the desire to capture the hidden essence of well-known but forgotten images in order to give them a second, abstract and poetic, life. In an interview devoted to It’s Nice That in 2018, she compares her work process to a mise-en-scène: the colored backdrop is like the stage and the shapes are the actors. As she puts it again in an interview given to Self Publish, Be Happy: “I am interested in the way the human mind can read images on a subconscious level. How the meaning of images changes when they are combined with other images.”

The desire to breathe new life into images has led to individual works as well as books (thus coming the full circle). The exhibition, built in resonance with van Beek’s publication How To Do the Flowers, forges a dialog between the two mutually reinforcing formats in order to better take advantage of the idea of re-entry into circulation.

Rehearsal 1, 2014 © Ruth van Beek and The Ravestijn Gallery

Ruth van Beek’s work nudges us toward reflection on our own capacity to sort, manage, and finally to sublimate the flux of images we absorb on a daily basis. As Marc Valli aptly puts it in issue 26 of the Foam Magazine: “We are living through a period of ‘cultural global warming’ in which an excess of information in our atmosphere is condemning all manner of experience to early, almost instantaneous extinction; which 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.”

Rehearsal 1, 2014, vue d’exposition © Ruth van Beek and The Ravestijn Gallery

By Sophie Puig

Ruth van Beek, How to do the flowers Act II – Rehersal I 

From March 27 to May 3, 2019

NContemporary Milan, Via Lulli 5, 20131 Milan

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