'Artbio: Ruth Sacks' by Sue Williamson
Ruth Sacks is the eye of the camera that sweeps over her immediate environment, picking up details and making small modifications and interventions to bring about a slight change in the consciousness of those who register the alteration as it blips across their radar.
Such an intervention might have an absurd side to it. Says actress Tatu, 'Most people know the number of a good dentist. Ruth knows the number of a good taxidermist.' Sacks' overly stuffed pigeons became the Pamela Andersons of the avian world, a pouting surprise to those who spotted them in odd spots around Cape Town.
In onesizefitsall, the tops of plastic sandals were separated from their soles, and superglued to the ground in public places in different cities, humble monuments to daily human traffic - or perhaps an invitation to slip one's feet into a pair, and anchor oneself to that particular piece of earth.
Often playful and witty, sometimes acerbic, Sacks' projects have, on occasion, also demonstrated a gentleness of spirit and a concern for her fellow human beings. Her piece for the Brett Kebble Awards 2004, was an array of small silver cup trophies, one for each participant. Each was engraved with a message, such as I LIKED YOURS BEST or DON'T TAKE IT PERSONALLY. After the awards show, these were sent out to participating artists. The name of the piece was Consolation Trophies.
On Heritage Day in September this year, Sacks invited passers by to High Tea at the Plaza - the plaza in question being a public space near the city centre. A large cake with a map of the world was the centerpiece, and members of the audience could nominate which country they would like to have as their piece of cake.
High Tea harked back in form if not in spirit to one of Sacks' earlier pieces from a previous body of work. For You can't have your cake and eat it too (2003), the artist coated found objects in scented wax and resin, rendering them inedible as she transformed them into exquisite small decorative objects. It should be noted that language and wordplay are important elements in Sacks' output.
'Essentially I just try to make people look a little harder at their surroundings ... I like to insert idiosyncrasies or unusual things in day to day life. That's a statement you hear a lot in contemporary art but when you come from a specific experience of living in Cape Town, you bring a particular perspective into the genre - making interventions, using found objects, not having a medium.
'All my recent works have been ephemeral, but after this body of work I'll go off and make something completely different. The themes always remain the same. 'It's the context that's important.'
Sacks was recently announced as the ABSA Atelier winner for 2006 - one of the art calendar's most desirable awards for young artists, carrying with it an air ticket to Paris, accommodation at the Cité des Artes for six months, and enough money to live and work during that time.
The prize was awarded for Sacks' documentation of one of her most ambitious and memorable projects - a skywrite which took place on Human Rights Day in 2005. In letters that were two kilometers long, a pilot wrote DOnT PAniC across the sky above Cape Town, a message that could be read all the way out to the northern suburbs.
Sacks had not instructed the pilot on the matter of typeface, and when the letters came out in a mixture of upper and lower case, the message seemed to take on the character of a holdup note as much as one of those placebo reassurances issued by governments in movies in which the world is under attack by aliens.
The DOnT blew away quite quickly but PAniC hung in the air quite a long time, allowing Sacks and her martini-sipping guests to enjoy its artistry at length, while the general sky-gazing populace wondered a tad anxiously what it all meant.
At the opening of her solo show 'When the Inside Stays Inside' at the João Ferreira Gallery in Cape Town last year, Sacks installed an arcade game entitled Dance Dance Revolution for visitors in which one had to stand on a platform of the Japanese made machinery and follow rapid dance steps shown on a screen to score - a nod to the global language of dance culture. Of the show in general, which also marshalled documentation of several Sacks' projects into a gallery setting, ArtThrob reviewer Linda Stupart said '(it) prods tentatively at the boundaries of the personal, public, political and the mundane.'
AND BEFORE THAT
For a show entitled 'Negotiate' at the Johannesburg Art Gallery in 2004, Sacks set out a bucket and cleaning materials, with a printed notice inviting gallery goers to 'Please assist with cleaning using the materials and equipment provided. We are relying on your support. Thank you'.
'In the next month I'm doing a monument out of concrete - just off the Grand Parade ... a monument to (Cape Town activist) Cissie Gool commissioned by the Sunday Times 100 Years of Stories project. It will be a series of 24 different sized bollards, and incised into each one will be an action taken by Cissie Gool, like getting a payrise for dentists. Little changes. The bollards will be like stepping stones for kids to walk on, or seats. Cissie Gool was extremely practical.'
Along with artists Kendell Geers, Robin Rhode, and Gauteng performer Johan Thom, Sacks has been invited to participate in the 1st Biennale of Architecture and Landscape of the Canary Islands which opens on November 27 under the curatorship of Antonio Zaya. The event will take place at Tenerife, and Sacks has been allocated Los Lavaderos, the Old Washouse, as a venue. Her brief was to make a site specific work in the space.
Unable to find out much about the history of the building, Sacks decided that the site specificity was the whole group of islands, and planned a piece that will take on the politics of the whole area. Zaya's curatorial essay talks of the enormous amounts of immigrants from Africa that pour into the area en route to Europe and are deported back again after being kept in inhumane conditions.
Sacks decided to focus on their plight and increase the discomfort level of residents in the area by attaching very powerful naval issue search lights with an automatic pan on to Los Lavaderos so that the immediate area will be under surveillance at nighttime and visible from far away.
And then... April in Paris. Learning how to tango. Embarking on a classically doomed love affair.
Williamson, S. 2006. 'Ruth Sacks, Artbio': Artthrob.co.za [online]