Ruth Campau’s large-scale installations invite a bodily experience around them

Danish post-war and contemporary artist Ruth Campau creates site-specific installations in vertical brushstrokes by hands to let the audiences have a body experience around it.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Mar 28, 2022

A play with the conventional language of plastic art - turning the wall, floor, or glass window into a canvas and experimenting a variety of materials – defines the art practice of the Danish post-war and contemporary artist, Ruth Campau. The spectrum of the appearance of her work – ranging from being opaque, reflective to translucent, transparent – is achieved through materials painted in the vertical brushstrokes. The monochromatic colour, a leitmotif of her works, is realised through the plethora of layers she paints as a way to record her bodily presence. The organic representation of her works invites the viewers to have a bodily experience around it: a way to stimulate kinetic involvement with work to draw its holistic meaning.

Campau, a member of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, with her site-specific installations and collages makes an attempt to distort the trained visual perception of the viewers only to illustrate a new pattern of the built-environment and illuminate the unknown feature of the architectural space. Campau shares proclivity towards the making of the art installations that carry both the scale and size, as she affirms "an artwork should be like a piece of nature”. The singular attention of Campau on the large-scale installation leads an inquiry into what constituents the human surrounding, and if the art intervention opens an alternative field of vision for the viewers.  

In an interview with STIR, Campau dives deep into her art practice only to make the readers well acquainted with what drives her creative purpose as well as open a window to the artistic labour she assiduously undertakes.

The Well, 2006, Acrylic on acrylic panels | Ruth Campau | STIRworld
The Well, 2006, Acrylic on acrylic panels Image: Courtesy of Anders Sune Berg

Dilpreet Bhullar: Your work is a curious play between the colour on the wall and floor and light, would you like to elaborate on this?

Ruth Campau: I am working with painting in the expanded field, where the work’s interaction with the surrounding environment is essential. For this reason, my works often take form as large scale installation art or in situ decoration projects. I take my mark in the idea that with a concentrated brushstroke, I can convey human presence by translating and freezing it solid onto a surface and also that I know full well that by transforming a liquid substance into a solid substance, I can immortalise the body's movement via a brushstroke.

My jumping-off point is also the notion of 'an infinite painting’, where what I am showing is merely a segment of a larger painting and, as such, merely a kind of representative of a human presence. Accordingly, the complex of issues that are prevalent in the very genesis/execution takes on a great deal of importance and the body, motion and time become the decisive key factors in my work.

Klostertorv Boogie Woogie, 2020, Sculpture on square Klostertorv | Ruth Campau | STIRworld
Klostertorv Boogie Woogie, 2020, Sculpture on square Klostertorv Image: Courtesy of Martin Schubert

I am trying to bring my movements with the implement (usually, the brush or the broom) to perfection and perform them as identical, mechanical and repeated movements, but the hand and the body will always reveal. And also - the format is determined by my body's own reach. This is roughly three meters because I have to be able to drag a broom and its bristles down across the painting’s ground surface in one fell swoop.

I think that being sensitive to space, room or situation is the ultimate competence a visual artist has. Therefore, I usually start every job or artwork by spending a lot of time on site. Analysing and sensing the space. Taking photos and measurements to dig into the space. Then a lot of thinking and often a vague vision will appear.

Artist’s Portrait | Ruth Campau | STIRworld
Artist Ruth Campau Image: Courtesy of Kunstforeningen Gl Strand

Dilpreet: As an artist who shares a deep interest in working on the large-scale installation, could you let us peek into the process you are engaged with to create an artwork?  

Ruth: I like to work with my hands - my hands work intuitively much better with physical material such as paper, foils, colours than my brain does on a computer. Therefore, I usually make a model 1:20 or 1:25 of the space, where I have to integrate my art piece. Then I get a feeling of the space and the scaling - I can move around with forms and colours quickly as I please.

When I am ok with the sketch, I start making colour tests in the studio and bring it to the site to check it out and compare. A blue on the sketch has to translate into a blue that fits the space and the specific light in the space. I am very aware of how much intensity a colour can take in a big room and how much intensity a smaller room can bear. Colour inside and outside is also very different. It is a long process for me to adjust the colours to the space and the light in the space. I make a lot of colour tests.

Twinkler, 2008, Acrylic on acrylic boards | Ruth Campau | STIRworld
Twinkler, 2008, Acrylic on acrylic boards Image: Courtesy of Anders Sune Berg

My concept is often to use the paint on top of a transparent plate (glass, acrylic or mylar). That way I get a really atmospheric colour where the immaterial colour kind of unfolds in the whole room. I like that. I think it makes the colour crisp and intense. 

But when I work with lighting, the colours appear completely different. Often I am surprised. And again, testing on site is very important. I often collaborate with a light designer to get the right LED and the right programming for the day and night settings. It is so important. For the psychiatric hospital in Boras, Sweden, we tested for 24 hours to get the right programming. In this commission I used silkscreen on glass, colour spray and colour foil inlaid.

Floor (Kings House), 2021, Acrylic, acrylic plate | Ruth Campau | STIRworld
Floor (Kings House), 2021, Acrylic, acrylic plate Image: Courtesy of Martin Fabricius Buchwald

Dilpreet: Do you think with digital technology you have the liberty to choose between varieties of colour combinations; how do you make colour combinations with your artworks of this large scale?

Ruth: Concerning how I choose the colours in my artworks - it completely depends on the site, the architecture, the surrounding, the users/people that live or work there. And of course, the energy that is necessary to bring about for this specific place. Is it a private space or a public space? Do you want to ease quietly or to enlighten for pleasure? Or do you want to provoke?

For example the colours I selected for Klostertorv Boogie Woogie is all different and very bright because Klostertorv is a very lively square in the middle of the city of Aarhus. Here a lot of busses pass every minute, so people, children and grown-ups have to wait for the next bus. Also, a lot of cafés and discos are located in the area - so high energy unfolds at the square at night. The developer wanted to have an immersive installation that functions both day and night, but also an installation that would make the square more safe, secure and cultural.

Close up shot of Handvowen Stories from the Colorfields Makes The Blanket Warm | Ruth Campau | STIRworld
Close up shot of Handvowen Stories from the Colorfields Makes The Blanket Warm Image: Courtesy of Dorte Krogh

So I choose a variety of colours to express the liveliness here, but I chose the form/shape according to the impressive monastery church that is adjacent to the square. The shape of the sculptures is miming the combed roofs of the church behind (like a stairway) and by placing one sculpture on both sides of the street, the two sculptures kind of form a gate together. I think the light installation gives peaceful and also playful energy to the square both in the day and night. There is a lot to see and it is different from all angels. And the colour blend completely from where you see it - are you underneath or are you from a long distance.

Behind the Curtain, 2015, Acrylic on mylar, mirror mylar, polyester mesh, wooden frame   | Ruth Campau | STIRworld
Behind the Curtain, 2015, Acrylic on mylar, mirror mylar, polyester mesh, wooden frame Image: Courtesy of David Stjernholm

Dilpreet: What should be the final takeaway for the viewers after watching your works?

Ruth: In fact, I like to do big scale work because it appeals to the viewer on a bodily and perceptual sensation. You cannot see the whole thing at once, you have to move around the artwork, maybe on it or under it or maybe you can go inside it. It changes from every angle.

Klostertorv Boogie Woogie, 2020, Painted steel, glas with foils inlaid, spraycolor, LED lights | Ruth Campau | STIRworld
Klostertorv Boogie Woogie, 2020, Painted steel, glass with foils inlaid, spraycolor, LED lights Image: Courtesy of Martin Schubert

I like my artwork to be consumed by the sensitivity of the body and not by your eyes. In that respect, I think artwork should be like a piece of nature. Something bigger, something infinite. Like my brushstrokes are made by the concentration of my body and to the flow of my breath, I see every painting as a small piece of human presence, as a small piece of time and a small piece of infinity.

It is my hope, as mentioned above, that the bodily relation to the painting can be transmitted further to the viewer as a body-object-space experience where he/she obtains a sense of being inside the painting and thus a part of something greater.

Handvowen Stories from the Colorfields Makes The Blanket Warm, 2015-2020, Acrylic on acrylic plate, wood, mirror dibond | Ruth Campau | STIRworld
Handvowen Stories from the Colorfields Makes The Blanket Warm, 2015-2020, Acrylic on acrylic plate, wood, mirror dibond Image: Courtesy of Dorte Krogh
20 mins watch Ruth Campau talks about her work | Ruth Campau | STIRworld
Ruth Campau talks about her work Video: Courtesy of Frederikke Friderichsen

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