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JH

Ambiguously Carpeting Objects with a Forest of Signs

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Installation view of Ruth Watson's Kosmos exhibition at Sumer. Ruth Watson, Kosmos, 2016-24, souvenirs, aluminium globe on wooden base, 73 x 65 x 65 cm Ruth Watson, House Altar for the G20 Group of Nations, 2024, souvenirs, house altar, vintage hall table, 159 x 50.5 x 41.5 cm Detail of House Altar for the G20 Group of Nations, 2024 Ruth Watson, Schmuckkastchen, 2023-24, souvenirs, vintage reliquary box, 28 x 37 x 28 cm Detail of Schmuckkastchen, 2023-24 Installation view of Ruth Watson's Kosmos exhibition at Sumer. Ruth Watson, Keychains and Stormstorms (For Grant Lingard), 2021-24, souvenirs, wooden ladder, books, 260 x 62 x 38 cm Detail of Keychains and Stormstorms (For Grant Lingard), 2021-24 Ruth Watson, The Implacability of Things, 2023=24, souvenirs, vintage side table. 94 x 92 x 45 cm Detail of The Implacability of Things, 2023-24. Installation view of Ruth Watson's Kosmos exhibition at Sumer. Ruth Watson, Echo, 2024, souvenirs, vintage mirror,, 94 x 97 x 15.5 cm Detail of Echo, 2024 Ruth Watson, Cuff, 2024, souvenirs, vintage metal cuff bracelet, 10 x 10 x 7 cm; stand: 38 x 10 x 10 cm Ruth Watson, The Greatest Thing in the World, 2024, souvenirs, book in case, 18 x 12 x 6 cm Ruth Watson, Flashback, 2022-24, souvenirs, aluminium bay, museum support,  93 x 21 x 18 cm Detail of Flashback

Watson's blend of cocky confidence and nervous oscillating anxiety (an articulate tremulous wavering) is what makes this oddly courageous exhibition immensely fascinating. It is a jittery celebration of sensuality that is new for her, and with its enthusiasm for inclusivity, a richly extravagant concoction that will win her many admirers. It is so visually complex and dense that each repeated discovery-filled visit is like the very first time all over again.

Tamaki Makaurau Auckland

 

Ruth Watson

 

Kosmos 


23 May - 22 June 2024

In this new labour-intensive exhibition Ruth Watson combines her two long standing interests in globes representing the planet earth and corny tourist souvenirs alluding to the ubiquitous commercialisation of travel.

An aluminium globe is one support for a dense multitude of glued-on tourist mementoes positioned on their appropriate countries (such as Kosmos), but there are also many others: a side table, a wooden ladder, an aluminium baseball bat, a vintage mirror with a protruding shelf, a vintage reliquary box, a metal bracelet, a hardcover book, and a portable house altar positioned on a long-legged hall table.

Each one of these eight supports has its own strategies for attempting to generate meaning via a plethora of code-carrying souvenirs-relevant for those who believe that’s what art should be about, rather than say only caressing the senses or being infatuated with glittering surface.

Sometimes the strategy of exploring meaning can be through restriction or limitation of symbol (such as House Altar for the G20 Group of Nations). Other times it is through the precise positioning of each souvenir that has been acquired through travel or purchased online.

These (once hoarded, now made public) very diverse gewgaws include key rings, Russian Matryoshka dolls, mini-Eiffel towers, ornamental thimbles, broaches, buttons, small cars, toy buses, statuettes, toothpick holders, tiny plaques, pagodas, skyscrapers, bronze animals, religious figures, tribal carvings, obelisks, little crowns, decorated ceramic skulls, teenie flags, mirrors, miniature buildings, commemorations, memorials, paperweights, snow globes, coins, medallions, ash-trays, mugs, clogs, boats, birds, mammals, drums, crystals, shells, rocks, numbers, letters, cutlery, bells, menorah candelabra, totem-poles and decals—all in some way linked to a specific city or country. Bibelots intended in their production to regenerate memories of an enjoyable visit.

The extraordinary density of Watson’s tactile and prickly memento-coating brings to mind the collages of Peter Madden, and as with his surfaces, the turbulent sea of imagery (packed with wild juxtapositions) is overwhelming with its random mix of very different scales, design styles and subject matters. However, with the two flat horizontal supports of The Implacability of Things table and the Echo mirror, the Sumer visitor gets an aerial view of an architecturally laid-out city as if peeking out of an aeroplane window—so the sense there is less symbolic and more ‘realistic’.

Watson is well known for her interest in spherical sculptures depicting the planet earth—and her spiky embellished example here is centrally positioned—but for my money the most intriguing item is the encrusted ladder leaning on a wall, propped up by a stack of ancient battered books. Although its title Keychains and Snowstorms (For Grant Lingard) references the tragic death of an artschool friend, its wider meaning (as a ceiling-directed Jacob’s Ladder) hints at religious and fiscal issues (‘Stairway’ to Heaven) found in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Capitalism.

Indeed on the religious side, there is a sense that the whole exhibition has an ecclesiastical or liturgical ambience, as if satirising Catholicism through excessive ornamentation, like you might find in a caustic Fellini or Buñuel movie.

Of course, despite her use of an altar, Watson is pondering something else entirely, contemplating her ambivalence towards global tourism and her own love of travel and knick-knack collecting—with its attendant carbon footprint etc. Works like Flashback, with its baseball bat riposte, speak of dumbness that is self-aware, accompanied by a nod to colonial privilege; alluding to possible impending violence and undercurrents of ferocious Third World anger.

Watson’s blend of cocky confidence and nervous oscillating anxiety (an articulate tremulous wavering) is what makes this oddly courageous exhibition immensely fascinating. It is a jittery celebration of sensuality that is new for her, and with its enthusiasm for inclusivity, a richly extravagant concoction that will win her many admirers. It is so visually complex and dense that each repeated discovery-filled visit is like the very first time all over again.

John Hurrell

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