‘White Split Level Tower Mobile’, 2020
Ruth Charlotte Kneass
THE WOOD THAT washes up on our shores is mostly the remains of trees felled during floods or windstorms. Weathered by water and air, these smooth yet jagged fragments have been expurgated by nature over time. For San Francisco Bay Area-based artist Ruth Charlotte Kneass, working with driftwood offers her a chance to celebrate these elemental forces in even more distilled yet expressive forms. Her large-scaled mobiles, dubbed ‘Giants’, are exercises in unfettered exploration and deft composition. They build towards a metaphysical understanding of the material itself.
“I never grow tired of what nature gives me to work with,” she reflects. “I come from a long line of woodworkers, both boat builders and decorative carvers. The material is in my blood.”
As evident in the 164-centimetre-high ‘White Split Level Tower Mobile’, Kneass meticulously refines the driftwood she forages from the beaches of the Bolinas Lagoon and the nearby Pacific Ocean. Finishing these elements so as to respect their inherent shape, she cumulatively pieces together these cascading arrangements with the aim of achieving equilibrium. Finding the balance point of each component allows her to drill precise entry and exit points for the tethered rope or string. “I’m always interested in figuring out how can I make the most of the form’s gesture as it floats in space,” she explains.
The challenge comes in aligning the various components so that they don’t impede each other’s movement. ‘White Split Level Tower Mobile’ demonstrates two techniques Kneass has coined and developed over time to attain this fluidity. The “Dangerous Pass” ensures that the elements are positioned to narrowly pass one another when set into motion. “The Long Pass” requires a far more difficult vertical incision so that linear forms can rotate more freely on their own axes. This grid-like interplay accommodates the dynamic juxtaposition of stemmed and more amoebic or looped components.
“White Split Level Tower Mobile is different as there are few mobiles I hand paint,” the artist explains. “Its chalky white unifying skin draws attention to each form’s silhouette rather than varied woodgrains.”
The work is part of the Ruth Charlotte Kneass & Pierre Jeanneret In Dialogue exhibition at New York’s Patrick Parrish gallery. On view through mid-February, the show pairs her hanging sculptures with a suite of wooden furnishing developed by the Swiss modernist architect for the Indian regional capital city Chandigarh. “I see a connection between both bodies of work,” Kneass explains, “Somehow, the design of the Jeanneret furniture is more apparent, and mine is more hidden, but both have a shared identifiability. The exhibition strikes an all enhancing balance between the heavy, brutal furniture that anchors its energy while a similar weightiness can float and orbit from above.”
Ruth Charlotte Kneass & Pierre Jeanneret: In Dialogue is on show at Patrick Parrish, New York until 28th February, 2021.