In 2008, Sterling Ruby designed his own work shirt and pants, a uniform of sorts, which he would wear over the course of each body of work that he created. At the conclusion of each project, Ruby’s leftover materials are saved and incorporated into a new series of clothing pieces, ultimately reproducing the chemical treatments and techniques of each project as its own series of clothing pieces. These works are currently on view for the first time at Sprüth Magers in London, part of his exhibition Work Wear.
The idea of an exhibition like this isn’t too far off from the rest of Ruby’s practice, considering his long-standing penchant for incorporating past scraps, saved materials and miniature fragments of diverse materials and fabrics into newer works. The linkage between his various fabrics and their lingering moments under his possession are frequently marked with the same material flux: splashes of bleach, faded washes and streaks of dye in the colors of the American flag. It’s almost as if Ruby’s own process has been marked with an iconography of its own, not merely in the work’s final presentation, but also in its actual marking on the materials before they become compositional elements in the work’s final arrangement.
Here, these formal techniques ultimately extend outwards from his sculptures and paintings, and affix themselves to the artist’s body, making his process of exchange with respective shards of material part of an increasingly broad gesamtkunstwerk, where Ruby’s continued accumulation of materials spills over into aspects of his own physical relationship with the world.
Sterling Ruby, Work Wear: Garment and Textile Archive 2008 – 2016 (Installation View), via Sprüth Magers
Yet at the same time, the work’s presentation also underscores a distinct relationship to modes of fashion, namely, those of commodity production. The pants, shirts and jackets presented here are matched meticulously, as if part of a designer’s fall offering, and are paired carefully with bags and a single apron. Rather than merely examine his practice’s relationship to the modes of life away from the canvas, Ruby seems interested in the liminal space where the clothing leaves his body, and moves onwards, abstracted from their original use value, and retuned to function as an art object of its own.
The show is equally interesting in its cross-over with Ruby’s collaborations with designer Raf Simons. Sharing similar techniques with the works that he would co-produce with the designer in both 2009 and 2014, the works here are an interesting middle ground between the two phases, as if seeing into a physical sketchbook of sorts, where Ruby’s experimentations move from one format to another, with his own body as a medium of translation.
The exhibition is on view through April 9th.
— D. Creahan
Sterling Ruby: “Work Wear: Garment and Textile Archive 2008 – 2016” [Sprüth Magers]