How Brie Ruais uses her own body to shape her clay sculptures and the sounds of the desert that motivate her
For every work of art that Brie Ruais in fact, she starts from the weight of her body in the clay, giving a new meaning to the term “life-size” sculpture.
The Brooklyn-based artist pushes, pulls, and scrapes clay against the floor or wall, using her body as the primary tool in her unusually physical art-making method. Ruais then painted the abstract sculptures, accentuating the intimate gestural marks left on the surface of the clay to underline the link between our bodies and the earth. (She often works in the Nevada desert.)
“My work is like the terrain of the body translated into geology,” Ruais told Artnet News in an email.
On the occasion of his first personal institutional exhibition, at the Moody Center for the Arts at Rice University in Houston, Ruais spoke to Artnet News about his studio habits, how contact with nature fuels his creativity, and why a balance between city life and the great outdoors is essential to his unique practice.
What are the most essential items in your studio and why?
In my Brooklyn studio, these would have to be my ovens. Having them in my space allows the work to flow seamlessly from where it’s made (the floor) to the oven and then out into the world. When I’m off the grid on my land in the desert, all I need is clay and a camera drone to document the earthworks I’m doing there.
What is the studio task on your schedule tomorrow that you are looking forward to the most?
I’m starting some preliminary sketches for a new project. Next month, I’ll be working in New Mexico with ceramicist Ralph Scala, harvesting clay at a mine in the Galisteo area. So I am thinking about how to engage with this site, this land and this history.
What can people expect at your first museum exhibit, now on display at Rice University’s Moody Center for the Arts?
A vast installation of ceramic flooring, half of which extends over the campus grounds, punctuating the lawn with pits (which keep filling with rainwater!) And mounds of earth. The second gallery features monumental ceramic wall sculptures that create rhythmic movement through space, inspired by a performance I made at the beach with clay (which is also present, in the form of three-channel video projection).
What viewers can expect to feel is more interesting to me – I hope the exhibition gives the viewer the opportunity to feel a connection to the land.
What atmosphere do you prefer when you work?
In town, I like to hear the noises of the mechanical workshops next door; I kind of thrive on the energy of the buzzing city. I also need to spend some time alone in the desert of the Great Basin of Nevada, where the energy is more tied to the rhythms of the natural world: the sun passing overhead, the habits and movements of animals. I like to be in tune with the social and elementary impulses of these different worlds. Living them both with such relief allows me to have a deeper understanding of their interdependence.
Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence?
I make my 130-pound clay pieces in a single burst, in less than 15 minutes, so I need the energy provided by the music to move that much clay. Lately I’ve been looking at Robyn and Perfume Genius.
When I work in the desert, I prefer total silence: the birds and the coyote make a great soundtrack.
What trait do you admire most in a work of art?
Generosity. I am most touched by the art which reveals that the artist is fearless and uncompromising in his dedication to his practice. This kind of work opens up vulnerability and all the other emotions that make us human and allow us to connect with each other.
What trait do you despise the most?
I am not interested in a work that gives the impression that the inquiry or the inquiry of the artists has stopped, settled or has become too comfortable.
What snack could your studio not function without?
Sneers. It’s the perfect protein-sugar boost around 4 p.m.
Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?
@landartcollective: Lots of emerging artists who work with natural materials and think about land use issues. @ raven half moon: I like the posts of his current large-scale ceramics. @calearthinstitute: Inspiring for me to think of sculpture as architecture and vice versa.
When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to get out of it?
Put away or destroy the thing that got me stuck.
What is the last exhibition that you saw (virtual or not) that marked you?
The Lucy Raven spectacle To Dia: Chelsea. It is a video work that follows the journey of gravel and rock from the mine to the cement plant to its final product. It is shot from the point of view of the material itself, as if the stone tells its own story.
If you had to create a moodboard, what would be on it right now?
A photo of the moon rising over the city, a photo of the sun setting in the desert and a poem by Ocean Vuong.
“Brie Ruais: Movement at the edge of the fieldIs on view at the Moody Center for the Arts, Rice University, 6100 Main Street, MS-480, Houston, Texas, from June 5 to August 28, 2021.
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