Brie Ruais: Recording with Clay

By Marley Massey Parsons

Brie Ruais [b. 1982, Southern California] lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She received her MFA from Columbia University’s School of the Arts in 2011. Ruais’ movement-based practice is legible through the scrapes, gouges, and gestures embedded in the surfaces and forms of the ceramic works. Each sculpture is made with the equivalent of her body weight in clay, resulting in human-scale works that forge an intimacy with the viewer’s body. Through her immersive engagement with clay, Ruais’s work generates a physical and sensorial experience that creates a new dialogue between the body and the earth.

What is your favorite choice of materials, why do you use them, and how did you come about them?

I have always shared an affinity with materiality and processes. For example, as a kid, I made flower drawings on paper by squishing up flower petals and using them like crayons. My practice allows me to explore a material like clay, for instance, and be curious about its tendencies, abilities, and embedded meaning. I started working with clay through the advice of my graduate professor, Jon Kessler, and that’s when I realized a material could open up meaning, curiosity, both challenging and speaking to my ideas in many different ways. Clay has the wonderful ability to record and capture time and human existence. We rely on ceramic artifacts to tell the stories of ancient peoples. That led me to think about human and non-human expression, and about a relationship to a material that allows emotion and presence to come through.

Movement at the Edge of the Land, installation of exhibition, 2021. Photo by Nash BakerCourtesy of The Moody Center for the Arts and albertz benda gallery. 

In regards to the nature of your work, how would you explain your connection to the environment?

We have sculpted this planet so much that we think it belongs to us, but really, we belong to it. I foreground the inherent relationship between the body and the earth in my work. When I spend time in the desert, I begin to see the way that the marks, mines, roads, and infrastructure reveal the movement of people, the way we both depend on and take from the earth. These marks of movement reveal human desire. This record of movement – both the human and geologic traces of the passage of time – is fundamental to my work.

What are your favorite books? Have any of these inspired any of your work?

To name a few – Marine Lover of Friedrich Nietzsche by Luce Irigaray, poetry by Mary Oliver and Ocean Vuong, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, Savage Dreams by Rebecca Solnit, Where I Was From by Joan Didion. They have all inspired my work. I think that for a lot of artists, all experiences, including intellectual, filter through us into our work.

Black & Blue Expanding, 130lbs, 84 x 80.5 x 2.5 inchespigmented and glazed stoneware, hardware, 2021. Courtesy of albertz benda gallery.

Could you elaborate on your experience planning and executing your exhibition “Movement at the Edge of the Land” at the Moody Center for the Arts?

This was my first time really collaborating with a curator. Frauke V. Josenhans was wonderful to work with, and in an early studio visit I showed her some performance videos I was excited about and new work that was specifically inspired by my corporeal relationship to two geographies of investigation: namely, the shoreline of the island of NYC, and the very remote Great Basin desert in Nevada. Using two gallery spaces, one that had a wall of windows and sliding glass doors that opened onto the university lawn, and the other which was an enclosed white box space, I was able to evoke the feeling of these two environments by creating site specific installations. With Frauke’s support, it was rewarding to work on such a large scale and exhibit several facets of my practice for the first time, which included sculpture, video, floor installation, and photography.

What can we expect at your next solo show Some Things I Know About Being In A Body at albertz benda gallery?

I will be showing work that evolved from a performance that developed in a New Mexican clay quarry. I brought these performative gestures into my studio in Brooklyn to make a series of wall works that are evocative of wounds and gashes – much like the quarry itself which is an open pit in the earth. I will also be presenting an aerial video piece that is about the dialogue between the elemental earth and the human body. In my work, the puncture, the wound, and the scar are all records of transformation that hopefully opens onto beauty, clarity, and a sense of embodiment.

Seeing You, 12 x 18 inches, archival pigment print, 2021. Courtesy of albertz benda gallery.

(Top image: Movement at the Edge of the Land, installation of exhibition, 2021. Photo by Nash Baker. Courtesy of The Moody Center for the Arts and albertz benda gallery.)

This interview is part of a content collaboration between Art Spiel and Artists & Climate Change. It was originally published on Art Spiel on December 2, 2019 as part of an ongoing interview series with contemporary artists.

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Marley Massey Parsons (b.1998, Berlin, MD) is a multidisciplinary artist whose work advocates for acknowledging and unearthing the relationship between human and nonhuman worlds. Marley received a BFA in Painting and Printmaking from Salisbury University in 2019 and will earn an MFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 2022. Her body of work ranges from landscape responses, recordings, and observations of humans interconnectivity with the environment using photography, painting, drawing, foraged materials from the earth, writing, and video. Marley’s work has been exhibited across Maryland and in Pennsylvania. In the Summer 2021, she was an artist-in-residence at Mass MoCA. She is currently a Visiting Artist Coordinator and Student Life Assistant at PAFA.

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Artists and Climate Change is a blog that tracks artistic responses from all disciplines to the problem of climate change. It is both a study about what is being done, and a resource for anyone interested in the subject. Art has the power to reframe the conversation about our environmental crisis so it is inclusive, constructive, and conducive to action. Art can, and should, shape our values and behavior so we are better equipped to face the formidable challenge in front of us.

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