A Letter from London: Thomas Ruff - ma.r.s.


A Letter from London




In a soon to be published interview, I asked the question: ‘Is the role of the photographer changing from the maker of images to the person who makes sense of them?’ The question was asked in relation to the ever expanding photographic archive humanity has been contributing too since the mid 19th century. Ruff is one of those artists who, I think, finds this snowballing archive of humanity more affecting than that of his ‘own’ photographs. (more)

I may be entirely wrong in my assumption, and Ruff may disagree vehemently. However, in Ruff’s new work ma.r.s. at the Gagosian Gallery, it is possible to sense in his dwarfing images of the surface of Mars an element of awe and necessity. The viewer marvels at the colossal images of the surface of Mars, they see how far humanity has traveled, and in the same moment of awe understand that Ruff absolutely had to create these images.

How to comprehend an archive that is already built and yet continually under construction? An archive that appears as an ever-shifting gas like mass that is determined not by its content, but by its audience? Ruff begins with something that acts upon the instincts and senses, a deeply human motivation that will be hard for the passage of time to alter - Ruff presents an unknown amongst humanity. In vivid pinpoint precision, in a size to reflect the vastness of space, Ruff instils in the viewer a feeling of inconsequence that accompanies them around the entire exhibition. Ruff places the viewer at the mercy of thought beyond our world. He offers us tinted pictures of a world that appears filmic, images that seem so foreign they could be either from NASA or a still from Tarkovsky’s Solaris. It doesn’t matter either way; Ruff’s images continuously refer the viewer back to the fragility of their own being and the immanent terrestrial.

A central cavernous room plays host to the majority of Ruff’s ma.r.s. images. Suddenly the modernist gallery space appears as something constructed by NASA; indeed their ambitions aren’t too different either. Ruff’s images reside easily, clinically, in this hangar like room; so much so that it’s hard to imagine the walls with anything other than Ruff’s images from space hanging from them. A combination of monochrome, and colour images punctuate the walls each offering a little piece of Mars. In a separate room, donning green and red glasses offers 3D portions of Mars, adding to the unshakable science fiction ambience of this work.

A thought or feeling, a sensory experience (Francis Bacon is said to have attempted to make paintings that act upon the nervous system) is something that evidently can be siphoned from this vast photographic archive. Ruff appropriates from this ever-altering archive, and appeals to our weakness for thinking beyond ourselves and into the expanded universe of the unknown. This is Ruff’s brilliance in ma.r.s. - the ability to stir in the viewer that which is rarely awakened; that which jolts us out of our daily lives and into a momentary objective viewpoint of our position in space.

~Christopher Thomas (cmlthomas88@yahoo.co.uk)