all or nothing

The North Wall Gallery (Oxford) 2007

Solo exhibition of Selected Works 2002 - 2006

Exhibition Catalogue Review

All or nothing is an exhibition of six separate sculptures and installations by Ruth Broadbent at the North Wall Gallery, a major new arts centre at St.Edward’s School in Oxford. The space provides the ideal environment in which to absorb the many levels of meaning and enjoy the extraordinary intimacy of these thoughtful works.

Memory, history and the permanence of identity are examined and questioned throughout this exhibition. In 11 Tracks, perspex cubes are arranged on a long plinth, each cube filled with samples from the different track surfaces of a walk around the Oxfordshire countryside. Each separate cube has its own identity: the identity of the track, and the people, animals and machinery that have transformed it over the centuries. As we walk around it we are reminded of our part in the transformation of places, and how we determine the function of paths and tracks.

The identity of an untitled piece, a wrapped cloth bundle mounted on a plinth, appears to be concealed, even though it has been given sculptural form. Photographs on the adjacent wall show the contents of the bundle: twelve pieces, ten carved in wood, two string-wrapped. Is this a game? Where are the rules? Can it be played, and if so why has it been concealed? There is both the possibility and absence of play and rules, suggestions even of the power of games.

Elsewhere, 100 magazines have been shredded, pulped and reconstituted as bleached, grey columns standing in a grid formation. Visitors can discover which magazine is which column and wonder at what small speckles of colour might have been. Does size represent power? Are these individual pieces or an interdependent community? The work as a whole and the gridlike structure is open to endless interpretation and analysis.

In 60,000 cm3of imagination a crafted metalwork cube has been left outside to weather, the tarnished metal now a fiery orange glow. Two small holes, one on the top of the cube, the other on the front face provide an inlet and outlet to the inexhaustibility of imagination; as we project our imaginings, those of others already in the cube are dispersed, or possibly conjoined. Is the world of our imagination as selfish and self-preserving as our reality can be, or can we share our dreams and ideas?

My Everyday revisits the themes of memory and permanence. Favourite or essential objects, without which everyday existence would be less meaningful, are string-wrapped and boxed, out of the personal and into the public domain, explicit yet functionless, preserved, protected and perhaps, absurd. What makes us cherish, collect and keep objects, making museums of our attics and private spaces?

Identity Cubes is an installation of eight white cubes mounted on plinths. The sides of each cube can be opened to reveal aspects of people’s lives through beautifully crafted models. In fact, we are all cubes, with our public and private lives, our sides either open or closed, seemingly solid but very possibly vulnerable and fragile.

It is in the making of the works, in their precision, fine detail, playful and imaginative transformation, and in the superb sketchbooks cataloguing the evolution of her work, that Ruth Broadbent shows how abstract concepts like a sense of identity and traces of memory really can be questioned through sculpture.

Review by Ceri Jenkins, 2007