Aiming for transcendence

Erik Ruin creates 'Another World' at Machines With Magnets
By GREG COOK  |  February 5, 2014

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ARTIST AT WORK Ruin in his Providence studio. [Photo by Greg Cook]

“My own print work I always describe as existing in some kind of oscillation between my apocalyptic anxieties and my utopian yearnings,” Erik Ruin said in a 2012 interview.

You can feel the pull of these two directions in the Providence artist’s new exhibit, “Another World,” with its glowing images of “Heaven” and “Hell,” “Bounty” and “Desolation” at Machines With Magnets (400 Main St, Pawtucket, through February 21; a closing party with live music is scheduled for that day at 7 pm). He’s painted the walls with clouds that seem to drip poison rain. Then he projects images on both the front and back of two screens hanging across the middle of the room.

“Desolation” — ruins of homes, tree stumps, barren expanses, under heavy clouds — faces off with “Bounty,” a lion laying down with the lamb in an orchard, flocks of migrating birds, a horse and deer grazing a field, rolling mountains. “Heaven” — singing angels, classical architecture, a radiant sun — confronts “Hell,” with wailing souls, people tormented in balls of fire, spirits rushing out of the fanged mouths of a three-headed demon. It’s the epic battle of good versus evil.

Ruin (a variation on his real name, of course) is thinking of medieval visionary literature and art (Dante, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Hans Memling’s 15th-century painting of a fiery Last Judgement), Edward Hicks’s 19th-century painting of The Peaceable Kingdom, science fiction (“It’s a way to step outside the world, but also to examine the world”), and homes demolished in contemporary Palestine.

He’s been mulling “our fixed ideas of extremes and what those lead us toward, how much these sort of extreme end points lead us in our daily lives.” He’s wondering whether there can be some merging, some midpoint in between.

Ruin grew up around Detroit, where he lived in an anarchist collective, worked with Food Not Bombs, and participated in various political activisms. Then he says he hitchhiked around, landed in Minneapolis from 2005 to ’06, spent five years in Philadelphia, and moved to Providence about three years ago.

He has been involved in performances, printmaking, and activism against war, for peace in Palestine, for urban farms and “prison abolition,” warning of the threats of global warming. He has participated in Just Seeds, a cooperative of activist printmakers across North America, since it began in 2007. His art has the bold graphic style often associated with activist broadsides.

In part, it’s because of his subjects and symbolism — the downtrodden, wailing, smoking factories, floods. Hanging in his studio in one of those vast former industrial buildings west of Route 95 is a banner with an image of people tearing down imprisoning walls next to the slogan “Liberation.” Another poster he’s made reads: “In the dark times will there also be singing? Yes, there will be singing about the dark times.”

His art also resembles broadsides because his favored medium is papercuts, which also serve as master images for his screenprints and images for his shadow puppet performances. They resemble the stark designs of woodcut political prints.

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