library - writings

The Berni Gallery, Jersey Arts Centre

From Childhood’s Hour I Have Not Been
27 April–16 May 2015

It is hard to discern a theme in this exhibition of Mark Le Ruez’s photographs and drawings. What is certain is that all of the works included in the installation have been produced in either Jersey or Germany between 1998 and the present. The opening of the Jersey exhibition marks one year, to the day, since a former installation of work titled In Sunset We Fall into Furious Attitudes at Kurt Kurt gallery, the birthplace of writer Kurt Tucholsky in Moabit, Berlin. The relationship between these localities provides the first point of reference in reading this series of images which largely eschews topographic or documentary pictorial conventions to which audiences are accustomed.

Mark Le Ruez as an Islander born in Jersey cites the conditions of this geographic origin as an influence on his sense of identity and artistic practice; a condition of isolation that is at times welcome and unwelcome and equally forced or self-imposed. Le Ruez relocated to Berlin in 2008 a location which is from the insular perspective at least, undoubtedly continental yet since arriving Le Ruez has recognised the condition of the city as a former political island. Further the spectre of islandness has revealed itself through the emergence of the three watercourses: the Spree, the Weshafen Canal and the Berlin-Spandau Navigation Canal that map the city district of Moabit where Le Ruez now lives.

As an artist Le Ruez’s concern is not, however, with inhabiting or documenting islands as physical geographies. His works use the often mutable state of the edges or borders that define such entities - light, architecture, tide, rock, earth, skin – as metaphors for transition and alterity. The roots of this approach can be found in photographs such as "Untitled #9 (Bathing Pool)" 1998. The calmness of this image is betrayed by the mass, density and force of the ocean which engulfs a structure which will, yet soon be revealed by the receding tide. To the right of the photograph a wave surges but does not break and the horizon, perfectly aligned with the top of the structure augurs complete submersion. As it's number confirms this work is part of a series exploring the cycles of tide and leisure around this Victorian lido which is joined by "Untitled #8 (Bathing Pool)" 2003. The other members of the series are however withheld from this presentation.

While Le Ruez denies us grand scenography with his installation, an almost obsessive treatment of the pigmented inkjet print is offered in its place. Over several years Le Ruez has mastered this method for producing his own prints and has referred to this act in terms of the paper as a ‘body that drinks and envelops the image.’ As such his photographs may equally be viewed as works on paper, a condition which aptly links to questions about what photographs can or should be. Even so the photographic exactitude of certain images such as "Untitled #1 (Rehberge)" 2012 – Present is clear. So much so that the play of light and leaf in this image delivers an illusory quality of movement that calls to mind William Henry Fox Talbot’s words for the medium as ‘a little bit of magic realised’ or perhaps the demon in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem Alone from which the exhibition title is drawn.

Elsewhere Le Ruez presents drawings whose titles speak of duality, intimacy, threat and desire. The series of drawings Fiction Populated by Clouds of Fact produced ‘automatically’ while riding the Berlin underground without recourse to the effect of pencil on paper render a destination or journey’s end uncertain. Of this we are assured.        

—Gareth Syvret

Kurt Kurt, Berlin

In Sunset We Fall into Furious Attitudes

30 April–25 May 2014

Mark Le Ruez’s first solo exhibition in Berlin begins with a gentle nod to Kurt Tucholsky, who was born in this house nearly 125 years ago. In “The Soul Is the Weariest Part of the Body,” the writer’s ethereal countenance appears to be vanishing beneath the print’s surface: a memento mori, yet simultaneously a testament to the intensity of individual expression.

A marriage of such seemingly opposing themes undergirds the exhibition, pairing constraint with growth, separateness with self-assertion, serenity with rage, the latter echoed by the exhibition’s title, drawn from William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

Although Le Ruez’s photographs of plant life on the island of Jersey and in Berlin may initially suggest stasis, or even equilibrium, the contrasting themes emerge on closer scrutiny. Indeed, “The Valley” only seems placid until a white form in the lifeless foliage piques the curiosity of the onlooker. What kind of disturbance took place here? Were “furious attitudes” at play? In “Looking West from Les Monts #1,” the soil, the plants, and the sky form rows that seem to coexist peacefully. Yet further inspection reveals an age-old tension: the natural growth is delimited by a path, suppressed for agricultural use, confined in space. Still, the vegetation persists, driving through the earth’s surface from below—a subtle reminder of man’s inability to arrest life’s compulsive movement.

It is not entirely without humor that Le Ruez addresses the triumph of such self-assertion. In “Untitled (Moabit),” blinds fail to stunt three delicate flowers’ indomitable quest for light, even as they risk decapitation. Meanwhile, in a photograph from the Eiche series showing the lower part of a window, the artist calls attention to what is visible, not least by cropping the window itself. We know a tree exists behind the concrete and the frosted glass thanks to a small open pane—an island of openness in a wall of concealment.

Not surprisingly, the island theme pervades the exhibition. The artist hails from the island of Jersey, lives in the former political island of Berlin, and is exhibiting in the geographical island of Moabit. Moreover, the notion of islandness lies at the core of the themes of separateness and self-assertion that run through the work.

The pencil-mark drawings Fiction Populated by Clouds of Fact, for instance, are not unlike delicate islands. Without ever eyeing the paper, Le Ruez drew them while riding the U-Bahn through Berlin, translating jerky movements, unexpected noises, and visual observations into kinks and hooks. In contrast, a sense of docile acquiescence is conveyed by the more confident lines of “Kneeling at the Feet of Choices Made”—also an island onto itself. As, perhaps, is this exhibition.

—Tania Inowlocki