RUTH HARDINGER The Basement Rocks
Long Island University, Brooklyn
April 1 – May 15, 2015
It is incredibly refreshing to be confronted by a show breathing out of the human dwelling. So many artists, myself included, see their artwork as a place relating to the art-world, or more widely, to our culture. Most of us use paint on canvas relating to the work of other artists painting on canvas, or use various mediums relating to math, music, science, food, sewing, architecture, and so on—we all are like a snake eating its own tail. Not many of us would envision an exhibition honoring something that is not man-made or generated by man’s thought, let alone the most ancient planetary stones.
With The Basement Rocks, Ruth Hardinger takes everything back to the beginning of art, the beginning of “us,” when artists made stone figurines and were not afraid to reach for the absolute. These artists made works out of stone—because stone came before them and remained long after they represented themselves in it—due to their longing for something bigger then they were, for their own absolute essence. Even though Hardinger’s sculptures are not anthropomorphic, there is a tenderness and a “lightness” about them that makes them feel familiar, as if they were calling for your touch: I can recognize humanity in them.
Stone is difficult to carve and transport, therefore, concrete has been, for thousands of years, the way humans have created and shaped their building blocks wherever needed. Because casting concrete is the closest you can get to forming a stone, Hardinger uses her cement sculptures as “Envoys” to reach for the Rocks, to communicate with them.
This longing for tangible connection is perhaps why the artist’s choice to cast concrete in cardboard is so surprising. How can concrete be held in a material so fragile and ephemeral? Concrete is meant to endure long past the human life span, the cardboard, much less. Concrete is heavy and as hard as stone; cardboard is light and fragile. Yet in Hardinger’s work, the cardboard holds the concrete in a gentle effortless fashion.
In an apparent desire to honor nature, the cardboard represents what our humanity should be doing: gently holding the concrete as an “Envoy,” as a tribute to the Rocks. Her goal is the same as it was for our own people long ago longing for the rock that was there before us and will be there long after we are gone. Hardinger opposes the role of man as dominator using, shaping, exploiting nature: taking us with her as she reaches for the rocks, as if for a mother.
This wonderfully lit, glass-enclosed show is open for viewing at Long Island University in the Humanities Gallery, 1 University Plaza, in Brooklyn. It will be on view to the public until May 15th.
ELENA BERRIOLO is a New York based artist. Her previous contributions to the Brooklyn Rail include: "Why didn't Lucio Fontana use my sewing machine?" (August 2012).