Ruth Hardinger is a passionate environmental activist, and her art-making materials, processes, and forms stem from this. Her studio — about 900 square feet with high ceilings — is filled with different series she has made or is still making. Some will be in a solo show at the David & Schweitzer Contemporary, Bushwick from February 17 –March 12, 2017. D&S will also exhibit Hardinger’s work at Volta, March 1-5, 2017. Heavy totem-like cement sculptures stand above medium-tall and smaller works; the walls, tables, and floor are covered with beautiful natural rocks and smaller cement and mixed media pieces. Stacks of graphite works on paper and graphite on flattened milk cartons lie in a large mound in one area. Monumental framed graphite works weighing over 200 pounds each hang high on studio walls, and a giant graphite rubbing titled 72 of 74 commands the back wall. I estimate that the studio holds more than 40 large and small sculptures and more than 200 two-dimensional works. Hardinger has another studio upstate as well. Playwright Edward Albee III (3.12.1928 – 9.16.2016) owned seven of her works.
Even before she talks about her sculpture, Hardinger shows me a map of gas leaks in New York city — a series of red veins with spiking areas indicate where natural gas is leaking and poisoning the city with methane, CO4, the potent greenhouse gas 105 times stronger than CO2, which lives for 8-12 years in the atmosphere while it converts to CO2. She is a passionate advocate for protecting the environment from industrial exploitation. She co-organized Art and Activism against the Drill, at Exit Art, 2010, and she and Rebecca Smith initiated a study of fugitive pipeline emissions in Manhattan through Damascus Citizens for Sustainability and then held an important exhibition and panel discussion about fugitive emissions of methane gas sponsored by the Cooper Union College Institute for Sustainable Design in 2013.¹
Her 2016 series “Layers Live and Rise,” her “Basement Rocks” (reviewed in Sculpture Magazine, December 2015), “Envelope/Envelop,” and other series are abstract works made with cement, rope, and other media. They somehow take us below earth’s surfaces to places most of us cannot see to invent the spirit of areas that geophysicists are newly researching. They suggest that fracking, leaking and exploding pipelines, air and water pollution, the ozone layer (causes asthma), global warming, and human-related disruptions of natural rock fissures and fault-lines contribute to shifting tectonic plates and other natural disasters.
Her art works are not actual narratives but pure abstractions. Her concrete sculptures cast mostly in cardboard boxes show each mold’s imprints, folds, and ribs along with tonal fluctuations of the gray cement that is a primary material. Her shapes begin as porous and fluid yet become solid in oddly human, abstract ways. One material she incorporates in her sculpture is stone wool, a material that reduces energy use in building construction by 80 – 90% if properly used. This material has an earthlike color. Some formations also refers to the earth’s earlier geologic periods such as Paleozoic.
Hardinger’s art is a rich amalgam of tales of beauty and caution. Similar to Arlene Shechet’s play with ceramics, Hardinger’s art both addresses and defies sculptural conventions. Her materials may turn from liquid to solid, figurative to abstract, unseen to visible, subconscious to conscious. Her subterranean art is earthy and other-worldly, familiar and unfamiliar. It’s uncharted and perhaps fraught with danger. Her primary, primitive materials evoke time, memory, loss, and, above all, notions of materiality itself. Her making processes literally involves transforming materials in ways that are physical and psychological.
When Hardinger spent a year in Oaxaca on an Institute for International Education grant sponsored by the Fulbright Foundation, she developed several exhibitions based on her creative interpretations of ancient ball games played by different Mesoamerican cultures, and she developed a series titled Bundle of Rights. She still actively explores ancient traditions and ideas and still works closely with particular Zapotec tapestry weavers to create collaborations that are timeless.
Her art evokes shifts in time and place, and reminds us that cultural disruptions occur daily and over millenia. Both in her studio and for her planned exhibitions, her work marks pathways that point to earth’s fragility, its seen and unseen natural beauty, and its human-made threats.
Hardinger’s numerous solo shows, writing, videos, and reviews are on her website www.ruthhardinger.com. Solo shows include: The Basement Rocks – LOUDER Amalie A. Wallace Gallery, Old Westbury, LI, Trace/Matter,(2 person) Five Myles, Brooklyn, and Long Island University Brooklyn. Hardinger earned a Bachelor of Arts in Classical Studies (Magna Cum Laude) at Hunter College, City University of New York and received the prestigious MacDowell Travelling Scholarship. Her atypical art background – she studied only painting for two years at the Art Students League – contributes to her unique approach to using industrial and elemental materials to make art.
¹ See www.ruthhardinger.com/ for specifics related to these and other projects. Hardinger is on the Board and Steering Committee for Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS) , based in Damascus PA and Narrowsberg, NY. This environmental group addresses scientific, political, and health issues against gas extraction, pollution, and climate change.
Also, this overview will be supplemented by a new critical/art historical essay on Hardinger for the D&S exhibition in February.