Ruth van Beek: The Oldest Thing
Ruth van Beek, Willem van Zoetendaal, Basje Boer (poems)
Van Zoetendaal Publishers, 2023
In Ruth van Beek’s new book The Oldest Thing it is ordinary objects that take on a body and life of their own. With a practice that is deeply interwoven into her everyday experience, Dutch artist an Beek (born 1977) looks inwards at how her vast archive works. In doing so, she explores the thin borders between studio and domestic life, the repetition of daily tasks and the orvigins of her interests in manuals and household books, tracing them all the way back to her mother’s influence.
In the artist’s hands, images of banal objects become “moving matter,” undergoing a process of deconstruction through which strange and ambiguous forms are uncovered and teased into focus. In the constellations of images on view, a visual rhyme of ovals emerges, paying tribute to the recurring tasks of the everyday while also revealing an enigmatic world that exists beyond it. The book features numerous collages, archival images, and paintings in a dazzling show of roughly 250 double spreads. Between these images you will find seven poems by van Beek’s long-time friend Basje Boer.
“My mother left me three binders with carefully copied recipes and pasted pictures. I never made any of these recipes. I kept them for other reasons. It is the care that moves me, the index, the regular handwriting, the discolored pages. What does a mother leave behind? How do you add value to the daily activities of a household? My mother died when I was fifteen. I never knew her as a woman. This has ensured that she has always remained a mother figure. The things I learned from her were old fashioned mother-daughter things; cooking, knitting, gardening. She went to a household school and was a patient craftswoman. This is probably where my fascination with manuals and books about needlework and the household started. I learned a lot from her, but not everything.
And in that incompleteness lies a valuable resource for me. Like a warm memory that you can look back on, but which is at the same time closed off and distorted by the elapsed time. That open end, the incompleteness, is in all my work.” (Ruth van Beek)