Ruann Coleman
Balancing Act

11.09.14 – 16.10.14
Stellenbosch

SMAC Gallery is pleased to present Balancing Act, a solo exhibition by Ruann Coleman. Coleman’s sculptural practice can be pared-down to issues of weight, matter and size, measured against the artist’s body, but also, and more decisively, the reaction and response of his “combines” and “finds” to the gravitational force and conditions of his studio space, followed by that of the gallery or museum. Placed in juxtaposition, held in place by reciprocal pressure and balance, or suspended against the wall by way of pink or blue gaffa tape, Coleman’s sculptures are essentially defined by the floor as ‘real space’, a gravitational field and phenomenological arena occupied and negotiated between the work of art, its spectators and the absent artist, as opposed to the wall as an ‘illusory space’ or the space of representation and metaphor.

Viewed as subtle fields of tension and balance, his sculptures combine, juxtapose and amalgamate organic and inorganic found materials such as wood, metal, tape or glass, establishing a rapport with an array of post-minimal practices. Mostly free-standing, un-monumental, process-related and at times, in formation or flux, Ruann Coleman’s works confront “rich” or noble materials vis-a-vis “poor” or lesser materials, queering and ultimately undermining the relative stasis and stability of the semiotic chain to which they have been traditionally attached. Coleman bends conventional masculine-feminine associations, for instance, metal as a masculinized, perennial, hard, unyielding material of industrialization and progress versus wood as its gendered, feminine counterpart, known for its softer, pliable properties, and the chosen material of traditional non-western expression. Wood in fact takes centre stage by way of the manifold three-legged shoots, which are at times “real” and others, magnificent trompe l’oeil, perfect imitations of real-life twigs executed in bronze. These sexualized, non-geometric, unimposing, self-supporting works are used to taunt and reject the habitual reading of his work as minimalist and to dispel heterosexual normativity. At times, his sculptures are so fine and borderline that they seem to play on Charles Baudelaire’s disparaging definition of sculpture as something you fall over when stepping back to look at a painting. Encountered on walks through Stellenbosch, a city of tall trees and twisted and turned vines, many of these jagged mesmeric twigs and branches are still partially covered by the season’s moss. This indexical residue speaks of the slow processes of nature and has possibly been preserved by the artist as a natural unit of measure of seasons and time lapse.

These explorations are contrasted by works such as Spray Paint where Coleman explores the unobvious metric systems provided to us by industrial objects such as the amount of paint contained in a regular spray can. The act of measuring in this instance is executed by placing the can between the grips of a large G-clamp so as to mechanically empty its contents on a site of the artist’s choice. This act results in the determination of the size and pattern of the spill, an industrial ejaculation of sorts, and time taken for the can to empty under a specific amount of pressure as applied by the clamp. In the case of the potentially slapstick piece titled Dumbbells, the artist phallicizes a 7 kg dumbbell, placing the now fetishized object in an upright position. He then proceeds with another iteration of a balancing act, placing a second dumbbell atop of the first.

Nancy Dantas

Balancing Act can be viewed until 16 October at SMAC Stellenbosch.