Kathy Ruttenberg’s latest show of ceramic figures at Stux Gallery is largely inspired by recent trips the artist took to the North and South Poles. As in her previous work, we see that the individual human being is no longer sacred. Tree branches sprout from people’s heads and the human head, itself, seat of our treasured intellect and personality, becomes the desired meal of a hungry penguin.
There’s symbolism in the work of Ruttenberg, but it hearkens back to the type of pre-industrial, pre-urban symbolism often equated to the pagan religions (i.e. the Celts). Her figures have become re-embedded in a subservient and hapless manner in nature, as nature is seen to be deeply embedded, often literally, in many figures.
Has Ruttenberg gone completely Schopenhauer now that she lives upstate and can commune more easily with all creatures great and small, while watching nature’s cycles more keenly? No, she seems to be saying, however, that our notion of inner or spiritual development is too limited because it is too urban. Our spiritual narratives often neglect the earth and nature and more meaningfully integrated relations between ourselves and the whole of life.
Often our concept of inner development is too tied to our relations to people and not tied deeply enough to what nature is or can be. We are concerned with development within a society, but we should be concerned about our ethical and humane development within a comprehensive environmental system. Ruttenberg invites us to examine how limited and how urban our beliefs are, and challenges us to recognize that our perspective has to embrace all of nature along with human society. ‘Love your neighbor’ should not just mean your human neighbor.
Fired Ice: Works from the Ends of the Earth
September 17 – October 25, 2014
24 West 57th Street 6th Floor
Article by Daniel Gauss
Photography provided by the gallery and the artist