“Language does not attach itself comfortably to Karin Ruggaber’s work,” wrote Sally O’Reilly in Freize (issue 102, October 2006). Ruggaber’s current display at the Greengrassi gallery in Kennington is, for the most part,  testimony to this statement. The show, comprised of nine pieces produced by the German artist, is a reasonably elegant display of monotonality and devoid of any visual punctuation, as is quite typical of the Greengrassi gallery. This means no placards, no titles, and no ‘do not step beyond this point’ signs.

This curatorial decision serves to enhance the subtleties in tonality of Ruggaber’s work. Yet it also frustrates, for the meaning of this particular group of works is purely formal. Ostensibly, there is no representational element within any of the pieces, with the exception of one black wicker basket which is laid on the ground. For this reason, it may have been beneficial to have an introductory text at the start of the show, which, without disturbing the aesthetic of the room, would have provided the viewers with an element of context.

The works themselves can most crudely be described as sculptured paintings. Each is composed within an invisible, rectangular border, filled with a number of organic-like shaped parts. These parts, which are all made up of a mixture of concrete and pigment, are muted in their colour scheme. The murky tones favoured by the artist invite speculation into the actual physical reaction between the materials used in the production of the artworks. Furthermore, it forces the viewer to question how much of the creation process relies on science as opposed to the artist’s own control.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of these compositions is the way in which negative space is articulated. In place of hard lines are grey shadows, created between the closely-positioned parts. Large expanses of white space are formulated not through another pigmented cement component, but by the omission of any at all. This formal technique seems to expand as one moves along the room. The white space, or abandonment of parts, progressively grows: in this respect, it is possible for the viewer to build a narrative within his or her own interpretation. With this in mind, the idea of absence of informational cards within the exhibition begins to make sense.

The idea of the viewer’s individual liberty for the creation of meaning is evoked strongly through the notions of rhythm and tactility. Whether arbitrary or contrived, the lines created within the affixed concrete segments do evoke a sense of natural movement. In a few of the pieces - the more densely filled ones - the separate parts move as one would imagine the motions of warping salt pans, or melting brick walls. In the looser compositions, the movement is more like the collision of clouds made from lead, or pebbles showing through a wave of ocean washing over a shoreline.

The four pieces positioned on the ground within the gallery space are more sculptural in their nature, and their tactile character is more pronounced than their hanging counterparts. Their effect, however, has less impact. The wicker basket piece, which is actually entitled Relief #113 (Number Series), is easily assumed to be an anchor within the entire arrangement. It is the only object which conveys predetermined meaning, the only one to which language ‘can attach itself easily’. For this reason, it singles itself out amongst the other works in this exhibition.

Ruggaber’s works do not claim to possess meaning. They do not position themselves as messengers – so much so that the general feeling of this exhibition is one of ambiguity. It is perhaps not suitable for gallery-goers who have a preference for being directed. For those who do not, a visit will surely be a visually-enticing investment.

Karin Ruggaber, at GreengrassiAnn Dingli reviews Karin Ruggaber's exhibition at the Greengrassi Gallery.3