Watch this Space: New work by Anders Ruhwald
By Edmund de Waal
There is a famous image of a Chinese jar. It is from the Sung Dynasty, glazed in the dark iron-rich glaze that the Japanese named called tenmoku and decorated with a swirling foliate design that stretches from the foot of the pot to its termination.This jar was used as an example by the British writer and potter Bernard Leach as an example of the correct dynamic of the ceramic object. All the visual forces flowed, ebbed and were checked by the vigorous interplay of volume and line: this was a vessel where form and function were held in correct tension. There was no lassitude, no letting down of the side, no mucking around at the back: it was a proper pot. It held itself properly.
This cannot be said if the sculpture of Anders Ruhwald. He is very definitely letting the side down. His objects are not grounded at all: their relationships with the ground are mediated through a complex system of metal struts or steel rods. These additional feet are either exigent- or seriously multiple in the case of the myriad rods of It’s OK#2 . The struts are similar to the handlebars of bicycles: they ask where the object is off to next. The trusts are also like the frames, with their ends neatly capped with rubber-caps, that allow the elderly support when walking: they ask how self-sufficient any object can be. For these sculptures are objects that do not rest without help. And yet they are not damaged or incapable, objects of pity or distress. They are leaning and they are tilted, but they occupy their curious spaces with a maverick self-consciousness. The more time you spend with them the more you ask which part is holding up which. Are the perverse ceramic elements the subject or the object? Are these Alien -like volumes holding up two bits of bent powdered-coated metal tube with rubber-caps on their ends?
Being above the ground is an interesting place to be for sculpture. Anthony Caro’s iconic Early One Morning of 1962 with its discrete elements held above the ground completed his profound disjunction from Henry Moore’s placing of objects on the plinth or earth. I feel that Ruhwald is presaging just such a major shift. He is unsettling the groundedness of objects, and in doing so he is coming into the territory of Freud’s great essay, Das Unheimliche (1919), on the unheimlich or ‘uncanny’. The heimlich we know to be cosy, and safe: its converse is the place where objecthood is uncertain and uneasy. In his 1927 work Being and Time , Heidegger, describes as unheimlich , the condition of a being that is not-at-home; or the moment when “anxiety brings (dasein) back from its absorption in the world…Everyday familiarity collapses”. The uncanny is not just the strange, but also that which reminds the individual that they are a strange entity in a strange world. It is that which causes the entity to fall back into their essential being-in but separateness from the world.
What Ruhwald has done is to make a sort of domestic bad dream. In earlier pieces Ruhwald has made a shelf that is starting to melt. In Social Piece of Furniture sociability is tested by the extremity of the object: are we supposed to gather round this metre and a half tall thing? With some of the pieces there is the malign feeling that this is not sculpture to contemplate, but sculpture that is watching you: it is unheimlich in the extreme. This is most clear in Form and Function# 1 and Form and Function#2 where the strange Perspex lens that fills the end of the ceramic volume acts like a searchlight on us. And it is this sense of being cut loose from the primacy of our controlled viewing position that connects his work to that of the early Ken Price. In his first exhibitions in LA at the Ferus Gallery Price created a world of new objects that were, as the great critic John Coplans put it in 1964, ‘a strange interplay between the joyful and the ominous. His color is physically brilliant, almost gaudy: these colors are set off against an imagery which would seem to be least congenial to it- it is dark, murky, very elementary and primordial- the last in the world that would think to use this coloration with.’ Coplans is pointing out the essential synapse of energy in Price is between colour and imagery: happy acid-Kool colours and objects that were (as Judd had said of Oldenburg) ‘a little disagreeable’. Behind Ruhwald is Ken Price but Ruhwald, with his colours of the acidic, the industrial, his menace and uncanniness, is making this tension between attraction and repulsion his own. He is making his own territory with a passion and intelligence which is formidable.
Anders Ruhwald has called this exhibition Form and Function. In these three words we hear Ruskin and Morris (distantly), Gropius (nearer), Vackrare Vardagsvara (too close). A more emotionally loaded title would be hard to create, for here function is not so much abandoned as stretched to its poetic limits and form is up in the air. Watch this space.
Edmund de Waal (OBE) is a artist and a writer. His large scale installations has been show at venues including the V&A (UK), Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (A) and Gagosian Gallery, Beverley Hills, CA (USA). His writing has been been wide published and includes the family memoir "The Hare with the Amber Eyes" as well as several volumes on ceramics including "20th Century Ceramics".