Exercise 2.2

Notes on artists cited in this section of the course notes can be found here:

For this exercise we are asked to consider an artist who uses archive material in their practice. The exhibition ‘Archive Fever’ and the UK organisation ‘Grain’ are cited as references to use for inspiration. from these sources there were many artists that I could have researched further, however, I chose to investigate the work of Thomas Ruff as he is an artist I have been interested in for some time and I wanted to take the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of his practice. My notes can be found here.

I am attracted to Ruff’s work because it is fundamentally concerned with the nature of photography – his images contain multiple meanings and there is an inherent ambiguity that appeals to me. Although his projects are seemingly disparate, he has managed to somehow build a coherent body of work that returns and reinforces his central concerns and interests. Despite the conceptual underpinning and serious ideas at play in Ruff’s work, I do not find it academic, cold and overly serious. The work often stems from a simple idea and experimentation and for me, the sense of inquiry and Ruff’s curiosity are some of the aspects of his practice that are most appealing. In a couple of short videos I found (see here and here), Ruff comes across as someone who is driven to use his practice to explore ideas and ask questions about the world. When we look at the work of an artist, particularly someone with an extensive catalogue like Ruff, it is easy to be daunted by what they have made and arrive at the notion that ideas and strategies come easily to them. It is reassuring to learn that this is far from reality and that even someone like Ruff starts a series with little idea about where it will go or if it will be successful.

Working towards assignment 2, I was most taken by Ruff’s use of appropriated imagery, particularly from the internet. The series’ ‘Nudes’ and ‘jpeg’ push the limits of the digital image provocatively and force the viewer to question photographic representation. The most powerful and consistent theme present in all of Ruff’s work is the notion that how we read an image is fundamentally changed by the context and format it is presented. Ruff’s signature presentational style is to print his work at enormous sizes – the very fact that he does this with images that were never intended to take a physical form, let alone be shown in an art gallery, forces the viewer to question the validity of what they are seeing. Images of pornography that are the antithesis of what we would normally consider worthy of serious contemplation have a strong aesthetic reminiscent of impressionism. The titling of the series ‘Nudes’ is a simple, yet provocative, challenge to the presentation of the body throughout art history. The low resolution images that are the basis for ‘jpeg’ are pushed to near abstraction due to their enlargement well above the size they were intended to be shown – the pixels take on the appearance of a mosaic. Ruff’s most successful strategy through all of his work is the removal of context that forces the viewer to contemplate what they are seeing – the seemingly banal can become sinister, the academic aesthetically beautiful, and the ephemeral elevated to the status of art.


Enwezor, O. (2007) Archive fever: photography between history and the monument. Available at: http://artsites.ucsc.edu/sdaniel/public_record/OkwuiEnzewor_ArchiveFever_PhotographyBetweenHistoryAndTheMonument.pdf (accessed 29th September 2019)

Sekula, A. (1986) The body and the archive. In: pps. 342-389 Bolton, R. (ed) (1992) The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography. Cambridge, MT: MIT Press.

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