Pietro Ruffo: The Political Gymnasium @ Blain/Southern – REVIEW
Italian artist Pietro Ruffo, having recently been awarded the Premio Cairo Award and the New York Prize, draws on research he conducted whilst a fellow at Columbia University to give us a fully politico-philosophical assault on the senses.
His large-scale hand-drawn versions of old world American satirical prints, including such delights as ‘“The Nigger” In the Woodpile’ (2011) and the even more cryptic ‘“Taking the stump” or Stephen in Search of his Mother’ (2011), act as the base from which stenciled letters are cut out and super-imposed on pins in front of the background. This creates an interesting dialogue between his chosen text – ‘The Tale of the Slave’, from Rober Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974) – and the images, asking us to consider the undignified depictions of these politicians in the light of a text which likens democracy itself to a form of enslavement.
As the text and drawings cannot be read simultaneously, a persistent struggle arises between the two media. This is most obvious when the whole panel is covered completely in words, making it an effort to decipher either word or image, the latter otherwise taking immediate precedence. Although Ruffo has created something visually fresh and exciting, this unfortunately renders the sense mostly obscured, and the drawings end up being more at war with themselves than anything else. Similarly, although the finely detailed pencil drawings are attractive and engaging, the ‘implicit connection that Ruffo sees between the politics of the mid 19th century and those of today’ (exhibition notes) is never explained, and therefore remains equally obscure.
Thus although Ruffo’s works remain intriguing and arresting, the political fable in which he tries to involve us unfortunately remains all too distant. The questioning of the nature of freedom, which he describes as being at the heart of his pieces, fails to get off the ground and the Political Gymnasium never really works out. Words: Isabel Seligman © 2011 ArtLyst