by Paul D'Agostino
Evolutionary States: Ruth Hardinger
Ever since following her learner’s instincts, anthropological curiosities, researcher’s mind, ecologist’s sensibilities, and artist’s hands and eyes along a creative path leading her to work in landscape art in the 1970s, Ruth Hardinger has passed the ensuing decades seeking out keener, more elementally informed, more environmentally conscious, and more responsibly, relevantly collaborative modes of crafting her consistently arresting sculptures, paintings, drawings, tapestries, site-specific installations and exterior interventions. She ranks among the pioneers of a certain earthy, earthily timeless aesthetic—a middleground of sorts between the quietude of paintings by Agnes Martin, for instance, and the hulking monumentality of sculptures by Richard Serra—that renders some of her works in abstraction no more abstract than a mountain, say, and that has inspired so many artists following in her wake. Working in an astounding breadth of media, yet never adding to her material docket without conceptual reason for doing so, Hardinger is also a boundlessly prolific artist, and an apparently tireless one at that.
Close inspection of Hardinger’s techniques and materials evidence that she employs the former to somehow compel the latter into states that might be described as evolutionary. She uses graphite in all manner of drawings and sometimes sculptures not merely for its technical utility, but also for its materially intriguing virtues as a kind of essence of carbon. She uses concrete in her generally minimalist sculptures—which are at times large scale and subtly anthropomorphic, and often wont to bow in deference to the ancients while referencing a kind of future antiquity—not merely because of its spartan look, grave heft and functional practicalities that nod to infrastructure as well, but also because its constituent elements make it materially kindred to the bones and shells of animals of the land, the sea and the air. She employs select fabrics for their undying anthropological pertinence and rugged tactilities; she uses certain finishes for the ways in which they impress deeper temporal stamps into the grains and veins of surfaces; she incorporates cardboards and other pulp-based materials for their fibrous strengths, familiarity and recyclability; and she maintains subdued palettes so as to prevent chromatic ornament from mounting experiential barriers between viewers and the hearty thingness of her creations. For certain bodies of work, Hardinger has even collaborated with traditional artisans in distant villages to imbue her artworks with the broadened knowledge of so many past generations, and to readily place her activities as a maker of fine art within a vaster chronology of object making in general.
Hardinger’s works are anachronistic, in a sense, and sympathetically rustic, yet always presented with considered pristineness and rigor. To regard them is to ponder the vastness of time, the relative eternity of certain materials, and the mysterious confluence of elements and circumstances that place us here, where we are, wherever we are. In light of the urgency of environmental issues in today’s sociopolitical discourses, now is an auspicious and important time for this inspiring, ecologically enlightened artist to receive the brighter spotlight she richly deserves.
This essay was composed for David & Schweitzer Contemporary as an accompaniment to the gallery’s solo presentation of works by Ruth Hardinger at Volta Art Fair during New York Armory Week, from 1 to 5 March 2017. The fair is held at Pier 90, and David & Schweitzer’s showcase is located at booth C23. More information about Volta Art Fair is here.
Paul D’Agostino, Ph.D. is an artist, writer, translator, curator and professor living in Bushwick, Brooklyn. More information about him is available here, and you can find him as @postuccio on Instagram and Twitter.