Ring of Desire

On Brie Ruais’s Nearly Torn Away

As technology expands its relentless infiltration into our everyday lives, experience itself becomes increasingly linked to some form of technological interface. The way we see the world, the world of language and of things, and how these things are seen and absorbed, is rapidly changing. First-hand experience of an event or an object is rapidly becoming replaced by the second-hand experience of viewing via monitors. Flat, weightless, sensually deprived projections on a screen that have the removed presence of a spectre or apparition. Broken souls with no mass or volume representing a complete removal or relegation of the body.

With these thoughts running through my mind on a drizzly Saturday, it was refreshing to come across a work titled Nearly Torn Away (2013) by American sculptor Brie Ruais at Toronto’s Cooper Cole. The work, a large rough circular ring composed of glazed ceramic, is explicitly about the body and emphatic about its connection to it. Clay is perhaps one of those artist materials that most effectively reflects the interface of body and action, recording and preserving directly the physical impressions made upon it. These interactions could not be more explicit in this work. The artist begins with a block of clay (measured to match her own personal weight) and frames her ensuing activity with a directive or set of instructions, a basic formal strategy that informs the physical, performative aspect of the work. “Push clay in two directions from a central starting point” or “push it out from the centre as far as it will go.” The end result is a physical manifestation of the aforementioned prescribed actions, traces and impressions of direct human contact.

From across the gallery, the piece resembles a rusted metal ring, a blown-up version of something you might find embedded in an asphalt road, repeatedly run over and subjected to years of elemental abuse. As you approach, however, the impressions and details of touch become more and more apparent. Beyond primitive, the work exudes a sort of basic primordial exuberance, reveling in its own simplicity and directness. It touches on all those things contemporary life seems to be in the practice of shedding. In its simplicity and directness, Nearly Torn Away represents a desire for an increased awareness of our own physical selves and a desire to represent this awareness in a tangible, non-reproducible object, which, to be understood, must be seen in person or not seen at all.