Ruth van Beek - The Nursery

The Ravestijn Gallery is proud to announce The Nursery, a solo show by Ruth van Beek. The exhibition will comprise of new collages and manuals that have their beginnings in van Beek’s growing archive of dolls and their making.

In 2018, van Beek published How To Do The Flowers, an absurdist manual of strange instructions and unfinished collages in which the building of a body was a persistent thought. Since then, the physicality and animation of lifeless matter has played an increasingly important role in her work. Using How To Do The Flowers as a guide, The Nursery continues this fascination with the transformation of forms into bodies and the possibilities of photographs as both representations and objects.

For most of us, dolls are emblems of the inexplicable affection we have for objects. They, along with other childhood toys, are amongst the first objects we feel emotion for. Yet for all the memories attached to caring for and playing with dolls, they cannot escape their existence as objects. We can always see their construction – see their joins and touch their plastic skin. But that doesn’t stop us from feeling; seeing them as fertile ground for our imagination. This dichotomy, between object and emotion, between the lifeless essence of a doll and its ability to kindle emotion is the root of van Beek’s intrigue.

Exercising her distinctive approach, van Beek has then physically intruded into the found images from her archive. Painted pieces of card poke, manipulate and conceal. Toes and fingers peek around corners, colours collide, abstract forms emerge and overflow, fragments are obscured whilst others are made clear, and each collage becomes a new object, stuck somewhere between reality and fantasy. Her interventions, however, are unplanned. They are a fluid conversation between her and the original photographs. Just like talking to dolls is commonplace, so too is van Beek’s dialogue with her collages. And just like dolls are invitations to care for something, so too are van Beek’s collages for her. These new collages are van Beek’s dolls of the present – tenderly played with as her imagination runs wild. 

Whereas the images that lie beneathwill always be static, van Beek has animated them through collage; allowing them to breathe gently and drawing them nearer to the feeling of wonder we have for the toys of our childhood. In their abstracted form, paper folds become the creases of skin, shapes become clothes and the flat photographs become the living. Abstraction may conceal the figurative subject but van Beek knows it reveals much more. Here, van Beek is provoking us to think, feel, sense and experience, testing how far she has to go for our imaginations to be ignited. What we are left with is a mounting belief in the new characters that arise from her collages and a lingering curiosity as to what is behind the shapes and colours.

It would be reasonable to think that the title of the exhibition alludes to a childlike home for van Beek’s enigmatic creations. Yet the origin lies elsewhere. Van Beek stumbled across an archive brimming with ephemera from fruit and vegetable growers and was taken by the exuberance of the material. Lovingly produced and exaggerated to the point of metamorphosis, this newly found archive began to melt into the archive of dolls. Peaches and blushed cheeks are not so different. It’s telling that an archive of fruit and vegetables was the start of this exhibition’s name. Two seemingly unrelated subjects brought together by free association. For van Beek, imagination is everything.