Ruby T’s TENSES, currently at the Roger’s Park space The Back Room, utilizes playful animated imagery as a means to exuberantly scrutinize the micro and macro applications of the power and politics ascribed to bodies, in particular, the artist’s own. Featuring works on paper and sculpture, TENSES also functions as the launch of Ruby T’s zine EXISTENTIAL CRUSH. The work appears alongside several collages by Thomas Kong, the proprietor of The Back Room, the art space within his bodega Kim’s Corner Food. Though Kim’s is an active bodega, both it and The Back Room are dedicated installation spaces and archives of Kong’s collages. Kong creates his pieces from the repurposed packaging of products sold in his store and files them within the installation space in large drying racks. Ruby’s explicit inclusion of Kong’s pieces in TENSES and choice of space provides insight into her inquiry of body and selfhood; these are sites of semiotic slippage and switching (i.e., Kong’s product packaging is not just packaging), and hierarchies of value are in constant flux.
Ruby T comes from a background of political advocacy and grassroots organization, her undergraduate degree concentration in Arts-Based Community Development and Activism from NYU. Her academic background is coupled with an artistic practice concerned with queer thought, ceremony, bodily exchange and the volatility of social frameworks. One can not help but notice the lively application of such politics through wordplay that unsettles power configurations by exposing zones of rhetorical seepage.
The title of Ruby’s zine EXISTENTIAL CRUSH attunes the reader to this equivocacy. Is ‘crush’ a referent to swooning emotions, unavoidable pain, or both? The zine’s neon aesthetic frames Ruby’s gestural sketches with brightly colored structures and emphatic graffitied exclamations. The cover is a caricature of a brick wall encircled by a paper simulacrum of orange caution tape that repeats the words “CRUSHCRUSHCRUSH” in a puffy handwritten script mimicking the effect of paint. The words that dominate the pages allude to fluidity and change. The interplay between text and image on each layout displays this uncertainty. The word “tenses” descends the page while growing in surety and size, font lines straightening and intensifying the juxtaposition of the term as a reference to modes, periods of existence and grammatical wordplay. Working in tandem with the verbal play is a cavalcade of figures, growing, wiggling and spilling out from a puddle of undefined liquid. The corner of the scene reads “At once! Wobbly Existences!” This fascination with precarious lifeforms signals Ruby’s exploration of the malleability of identity, the constant reevaluation of wants, desires, and personhood under seemingly immovable power structures (symbolized in the exhibition by bricks, walls, etc.).
The launch of EXISTENTIAL CRUSH accompanies a sizeable mural that echoes the zine’s repeated juxtaposition of fluidity against outwardly solid walls and building materials. A variety of different colored bricks composes the background against a series of monochromatic pitchers passing liquid back and forth. The liquid balloons out from each pitcher, uncontained and viscous, as it restructures itself within each container’s internal curves. Next to Ruby’s mural is their playful sculpture of a hair clip held aloft by purple stanchions. The hair clip is a whimsical blend of object and ritual; an innocuous item elevated through its repeated use and sentimental value (i.e., a hair clip is not only a hair clip).
Ruby T’s choice of space speaks to a practice that playfully attacks the limitations placed on the individual oppressed by larger capitalist power structures that proliferate racism, discrimination, queerphobia, and disenfranchisement. T catalogs the idiosyncratic processes of identity formation, change and perseverance within these toxic domains. While the effectiveness of this advocacy depends upon the degree of her experimentation with comics and surreal caricature, Ruby T’s work illustrates the desire to understand the never-ending complexities of personhood and quiet, albeit crucial, survival.