KELLY GORDON MARGOLIS / FROM ON HIGH (EN)
FROM ON HIGH
Throughout history, poetic, philosophical, and religious texts have included
exhortations for mankind to look skyward, often as a means or metaphor for
spiritual uplift. De Ruijter demonstrates that equal grace is achievable via views
downward, from the sky. He has mastered a vantage point that in olden days would
have been considered the exclusive purview of gods and angels - looking down upon
Earth and earthlings.
In this age, such a perspective has been made familiar through air travel and
through satellite eyes, astronaut captures, drone technologies, and this inventive
artist. Ingeniously he defuses the empowered, divine perspective. His square and
sometimes rectangular blankets, force questions about specific content to give way
to delectation in his chosen form. He achieves images that defy spatial hierarchies.
They have no inherent up or down, there is no portrait or landscape position. They give
us the opportunity to rotate and mirror an image in steps of 90 degrees.
(Interview with the artist, 2014)
TO ICARUS UNDONE
Our innate fascination with flying is inspired by Nature and dreams, and admonished
by mythologies and science fictions that illuminate its hazards. De Ruijter has
never worried whether or not we have any business soaring aloft. For his early
photography, and continuing to the present, he has adopted the view-from-above as
if it is second nature. In his work there is a liberating exuberance. Although derived
from a stabilized if hovering actual position, his interventions ultimately supersede
I must have seen these circular pivot fields before, as photographs in books, but in 2003
I saw them with my own eyes over Farmington, New Mexico. I was drawn to them by
their minimal yet hard-edged abstraction: the brown desert landscape and floating in it
these bright green color-patches. ( Ibid)
His departure point -- halted while sailing through the air -- is as old as the hills but
also as fresh as tomorrow. However, these works are not so much about what we
are looking at as about how. To gather the information he seeks, he uses apparatus
or technologies that fly sunward, but then he tweaks conventional cosmology –
that is, our relationship to what is above – so that our position and relative scale
within it become ambiguous and irrelevant.
From the ground, standing between these circles, you barely notice their circular shape.
They are just too big. The surprise comes when you see them from space. (Ibid)
De Ruijter affects another dimension, which to my knowledge is expressed by no
other artist: a distinctive, exhilarating chill -- not from documenting polar sites
but because of the many ways the so-called sum of his images exceeds their
component, respective parts (the Google Earth source, subjected to his edits
and manipulations). Studying this series recalls a sensation Joni Mitchell lyrics
describe as ‘unfettered and alive’ ( Free Man in Paris, Court and Spark, 1974).
TO ACCESSIBLE POETRY
Looking at De Ruijter’s photographic series and his short film CROPS, there are
two, initial temptations. The first is the instinct to place this body of work within
the historical legacy of inventive Dutch landscape and the second is to invoke the
ethos of American transcendental writers such as Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman,
who regarded beholding the thrall of Nature as a requisite condition for navigating
To adopt only these as entry points for considering this work is to miss the most
memorable qualities of his oeuvre. The grandeur of De Ruijter’s work lies in how he
makes vastness intimate on various levels. He lassos the infinite accessibility his
source imagery has on the web. He also embraces the expanse depicted in sky-high
vistas and aestheticizes the mechanical, anonymous Google Earth snapshots.
The artist messes with God (well, Nature), Google (alt God?) and Agri Business
(Almighty source of sustenance) humbly, seamlessly absorbing and re-purposing
their mega realms into his own. De Ruijter de-mystifies or, one could argue, remystifies,
stills from CROPS into another kind of pure wonder that is compelling,
regardless of this adaptation from their origin. Which raises the question: would we
perceive these images differently if he had not provided the hint of the title?
To my mind, the title CROPS mostly announces his artistic playing field. Despite
that, the artist has become increasingly expert on the specifics of agricultural
ecology and the technologies that comprise his subject matter, through research
and residencies in the American Midwest. Could it be that the CROPS series is
more about his found-object means to abstraction than an investigation focused on
expressing a specific subject or content?
The similarity between my work and that of abstract geometrical painters lies above all in
the fact that we do not dish up a story or a deeper meaning,” (Interview with the artist, 2012).
Alas, historically some abstractionists considered their endeavors to be expressions
of theosophy, religion, philosophy, politics, and psychological states. De Ruijter’s
work is not about exalted aims. His focus also seems to eschew the spiritual
aspirations evoked by the aforementioned American literary lions, being more akin
to a down-to-earth Midwestern voice (from Norman Maclean’s autobiography and
homage to fly fishing, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, University of
Chicago Press, 1976):
All there is to thinking is seeing something noticeable, which makes you see something you
weren’t noticing, which makes you see something that isn’t even visible.
TO BEYOND VISIBLE
CROPS penetrates new territories. Whether in the form of individual photographs,
indexed grids across rectangular photomurals or within his four-minute-long
animated cine-poem, the images for CROPS expand upon the artist’s past oeuvre in
several ways. Here his sensibility is especially primal.
Each image is more reductive than those of his earlier photos. The tonalities,
while natural, feel more enriched, denser, plummy-er, wetter, pushed toward richly
indescribable yet subtle painterly colorations, sometimes earthy but also beyond the
spectra revealed in his previous photographic series and singular images.
Earlier photographs seemed of the moment, imaginable as part of an unfolding now.
CROPS images feel ahistorical, with nods ranging from cave-wall fire shadows to
early cinema to subconscious or even preconscious murky ethers.
While the artist insists there is no other story, the arm of the crop irrigation system
broadcasts a clock context. It functions explicitly as such, especially in the
film iteration of CROPS. It moves like an accelerated second hand, superimposed
over the crop circles which, in turn, are superimposed over one another, constantly
replacing one another in stop-frame syncopation.
In CROPS the movie, this energy of change and time moves in tandem with Michel
Banabila’s mixed-object-sound-effect-driven commissioned score. The sumptuously
enhanced stills, their timeless circle-in-the-square golden geometry and their
agglomeration from individual moments into a continuous momentum, speak to
both outer space and inner space.
With his CROPS series, De Ruijter piques our intellectual and aesthetic grasp of
new uses for the new realms enabled by cyber systems. The aforementioned chill is
not that of the cold, impersonal aspect of the mega web nor the cool anonymity of
gamer worlds, so much as it is a cleansing and engaged awakening.
New York, July 2015, Kelly Gordon Margolis (Curator Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Washington DC)