Photo: Talia Chetrit. Courtesy of the artist and Nicelle Beauchene Gallery.

Stiler’s sculptural forms reference and reconstruct classical iconography from artist-constructed “rubble.” The ancient-seeming silhouettes are, at first glance, authoritative in their connection to this canon of history. However, closer inspection of their mash-up elements—which conflate imagery and objects that span centuries and societies—reveal the works to be peculiar interpretations of historical reality. Stiler’s distorted quotation
of the familiar and banal classical nude exposes the absence of a single, eternal “truth.”

Kristan Kennedy:
In discussing your past work—and specifically the work for this exhibition—we have talked quite a bit about the relationship of the sculptures to the room. Sight lines, color, and placement; no surface has been overlooked. In some instances it seems like you are controlling the environment and in others it seems like you are reacting/responding to it. Is there an ideal space for your work to exist? Or will you always construct their environment in some way?

Ruby Sky Stiler: I’m preoccupied with where and when an object should end, and with its placement in the room. I think I have a tic for creating rules that assist in my decision making, and help me defer some of this responsibility. Often a site defines a direction, and I’ll consider it overtly, but I’m also happy to plop the work down and see how the site affects an existing piece (or the reverse). With this installation [at Washington High School with PICA] I’ve been really looking forward to seeing how the formal aspects of the academic environment create context for the more conventional artworks in the room, but I also feel compelled to create a distinct mood in the “gallery.” The “ideal” space for the work to exist—which is not to say the best space—would be in my mind. Once it emerges into the physical world, it becomes a messier, collaborative object with a body and
social implications that I can never fully control.

KK: Let’s talk about the word ‘nude.’ I read in a past interview of yours that you spent a great deal of your childhood free of clothes. The word has an innocence about it, in contrast to naked, which implies one is exposed. Of course in classical sculpture, the nude was used to represent the “ideal” in form and state of being. For Inherited & Borrowed Types, you have produced three figures, who all stand in various states of undress. Are they referencing the ideal? Does their stance, gaze, or their nudity bear any psychic weight?

RSS: Yeah, my sister and I were naked kids: either totally nude or wearing backwards, one-piece bathing suits at all times, WWF-style. That’s such a good observation; I love your distinction between the implications of “nude” and “naked.” The shifting line between kitsch and originality is an element that really interests me in the recent work I’ve made. On the one hand, elements of these works copy from recognized ideals of art history and, in this sense, [the works] are tacky imitations. On the other hand, I strive for the sculpture’s presence to feel elegant, convincing, and originally expressive. So, I’m hoping that they are simultaneously “nude” and “naked.”

KK: I was struck by a statement you made in your studio on one of our visits together; you talked about the sculptures looking like “male Modernist monoliths” from the back, though from front they often have a hybrid gender, or rather, regardless of their gender, they feel feminine. Can you talk about this duality: the front and back of the sculpture, the male and female sides of the sculpture?

RSS: Simply described, the basic project is of jamming together disparate parts to make a whole figure. I think of this as a hopeful, loving gesture: finding solutions and repairs that would bring the figure to life out of crumbling, incomplete appendages. I haven’t deliberately set up a dichotomy, though the abstract “Modernist monolith” view does present a distinct approach to rendering form, which sometimes creates the feeling that these works are dated both to ancient art history as well as to the sculpture of 50 years ago. My incorporation of shifting perspectives, varied art historical references, gender combinations, and scale shifts encourage a sense of striving to make something work, without having all of the most appropriate resources at one’s disposal.

KK: What does it mean to be human?

RSS: Hmm. Striving to make something work, without having all of the most appropriate resources at one’s disposal?

Stiler is represented by Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, New York.

This conversation was excerpted from a collection of interviews published on the occasion of Human Being, a series of exhibitions, installations, and happenings curated by Kristan Kennedy, for PICA’s 2010 Time-Based Art Festival. You can download a PDF of the full ON SIGHT catalogue here, or pick up a hard copy at the Washington High School galleries (through October 17), or at the PICA Resource Room.