Get to Know: Alan Ruiz

Interviewed by: Ash Duhrkoop

We asked Alan Ruiz a few questions about "Precincts," his installation at the West 10th Window, society and the act of looking, the art-architecture complex, and the legacy of Institutional Critique. Read on for more...

Art-in-Buildings: Could you tell us about your practice in general, and what interested you in the West 10th Window?

Alan Ruiz: Both the context and scale of the W10 Window presented interesting and exciting challenges for me.  On the one hand, the function of the space as a display window was clearly an important element from the very beginning, and one that I wanted to consider in exploring the way a viewer might encounter the window – especially given its height and front-facing relationship to the sidewalk.  So I was initially interested in how a passerby might engage the work, depending on which direction they were walking from. However, as the window is situated between both the 6th Police Precinct and a luxury-shopping district, it also became a more complicated question of who is passing by, and so the intersection of surveillance and consumption felt like a fertile site from which to build a project.  These questions resolve themselves in a gesture of positioning the viewer's gaze towards the Police Precinct, rather than into the window, as a way of reframing the relationship between perspectival vision and subjectivity.

Art-in-Buildings: Precincts, and your work in general, deals with a "physicalized act of looking" and surveillance. To what extent do you think we have moved beyond Guy Debord's "society of the spectacle" and have entered instead what Gilles Deleuze called the "society of control"?

Alan Ruiz: I think it's interesting to think about Delueze's idea of a "society of control" as a departure from Foucault's model of a "disciplinary society" that located control in physical enclosures like the prison, factory or school. Deleuze's notion that control has become so internalized beyond these focal points, seems almost prophetic of the conditions under which we now all live under present-day 24/7 capitalism.  For example, that the borders between life and work, or the factory and home, have been dissolved, generating the demand for non-stop productivity, and of course, anxiety.  I've been interested in considering how this kind of logic also produces a hyperdevelopment of space.

However, though Foucault's notion of power is maybe somewhat overdetermined and totalizing, I still do think it is relevant if we think of how the state protects and punishes some bodies over others, a condition that is very real in the West Village both historically and presently in the particularly harsh policing of trans and queers of color. Though Precincts doesn't represent this explicitly, I am interested in intervening in the way control is often reflected through the built environment and how these spatialized conditions actually serve to reproduce, or at least make clear, social hierarchies.

Alan Ruiz, Precincts, Installation view through the side window

Art-in-Buildings: Do you agree with Hal Foster's idea of the "art-architecture complex," and the premise set forth in his book by that name, that the fusion of art and architecture is a defining feature of contemporary culture? Besides site specificity, what is the relationship between art and architecture for you?

Alan Ruiz: There are a number of ways to answer this question.  I suppose while art and architecture certainly have different functions, I'm less interested in considering the relationship between them as independent fields and their varying degrees of overlap than I am in the relationship between art and architecture as they relate to culture and urban development. In this respect, maybe art and architecture behave quite similarly. I think Foster's book and argument is important and certainly relevant in terms of the proliferation of internationally branded museums and an increasingly globalized art market. For instance, David Harvey has noted that prestigious architectural embellishment "draw[s] more and more homogenizing multinational commodification in its wake", a now well-known condition more commonly referred to as the "Bilbao Effect."  Here, the building (in this case, a museum) takes on the value of an artwork, sign, and brand that radiates cultural capital for the surrounding area, and carries with it significant economic benefits.  Every global city wants an art museum designed by a celebrity architect as a part of its skyline.

Chelsea is another example of an area that has been redeveloped, in many ways, by the speculative relationship between art and architecture as luxury products.  DS+R's High Line, Piano's new building for the Whitney, and the residential Zaha Hadid, and Rem Koolhaas buildings that will join that area are all highly suggestive of this "art-architecture complex" to use Foster's term.

Art-in-Buildings: What does "institutional critique" mean to you? How do you engage with the legacy of canonized Institutional Critique artists like Andrea Fraser and Marcel Broodthaers, if at all? Has Institutional Critique become something different for young artists today?

Alan Ruiz: Institutional critique, as I feel I've inherited it from artists like Andrea Fraser and Michael Asher, is a process, or set of procedures in which the material conditions that produce or legitimate art are foregrounded and interrogated.  These legitimating conditions in many cases also serve as materials for the production of a work. For me this kind of approach to practice is always relational, recognizing the ways in which one participates in a larger set of social relationships, which is super important to me as an artist.  It's an inherently different type of authorship than autonomous art practices, and, in my mind, institutional critique is, at its core, a site-specific approach regardless of whether the site is physical or functional. At the same time, I'm also interested in how modes of formalism, apart from their usual a-political associations, might similarly be deployed within this way of working towards a means of critique.

For instance, maybe the antidote for the normative ways in which we've been conditioned to view art could be found in these same terms.  And what if this generated a radical approach to form-making?  For example, I've written about the artist Charlotte Poseneske and the way she developed a system for both making and deploying formal sculpture that rejected symbolic value by selling her works at the exact cost of their fabrication.  Yet while these works rejected the fetishization of the artwork, they were also largely disseminated through a (capitalist) market system—illuminating the (now well-known) sociopolitical relationships between industrial and artistic production.  In Poseneske's case, her forms are carriers of critique that intervene within their means of distribution, a position Walter Benjamin also articulated in "The Author As Producer."

While it feels wrong to describe institutional critique as a genre, and I don't think that it is, I do think recuperating it as a process can be incredibly important and useful for artists as a way of preserving their personal autonomy from certain hegemonic, market-determined forces.

For further reading on the subjects discussed above, see Hal Foster, The Art-Archtiecture Complex (Verso, 2013); David Harvey, Rebel Cities (Verso, 2012), with special focus on chapter four, "The Art of Rent"; and Gilles Deleuze, "Postscript on the Societies of Control" (October 59, Winter 1992, pp 3-7); and Andrea Fraser, Institutional Critique and After (JRP Ringier, 2006).

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