Through the lens of their cameras, Hongzhe Liang and Brit Ruggirello reveal the vibrancy of ordinary objects. Hongzhe Liang, who goes by Benji, and Ruggirello were standouts from the University of Washington Photomedia BFA Show that came down this past weekend at the Jacob Lawrence Gallery. Fitting with the conceptual and technical rigor of the Photomedia program, both artists’ work uses photography as a point of departure for exploring virtual and physical realms and the overlooked potency of everyday things.
In “Magic Practice with Figures,” Benji captures a precarious arrangement of objects against a black backdrop, combining the tradition of studio still lives with snapshot photography. Outside of the frame of the photograph, a bamboo rake holds up the print in a moment of poetic utility. In Benji’s own words, these objects include “a rope I borrowed from a friend, a jean jacket I barely wear, a flower borrowed from a friend, a twig, a fur hat gifted from cutie beauty and paper tape.” Benji, who was born in Yueyang, China, grew up with bedtime stories of ShenXian (gods and immortal living in in heaven) and YaoGaui (animal spirits having acquired magic), including the famous legend of Madame White Snake. As a child inspired by these stories, Benji recalls spending time alone in his room, trying to make the things around him come alive as Madame Snake did. A similar exercise takes place in “Magic Practice with Figures” where a range of things are intertwined and suspended from one another, as if activated by magic. They are figures, not objects as the title demonstrates; not inanimate but sentient beings gifted “with movement, language and character.”
This confluence of memory, identity and agency of objects is also reflected in Ruggirello’s photographic installation “Brit (Mood Board).” The final piece in an eight-part series, “Brit (Mood Board)” serves as a cabinet of curiosities for the internet-age, a carefully edited Tumblr feed rendered in three dimensions. Against a pastel gradient of pink and blue rests an assortment of objects including a potted plant, a PVC mat, bottles of synthetic sand and perhaps most significantly a framed photograph of the installation itself. Here image and object are presented side by side, inviting a comparison between a physical space and a virtual space.
“Brit (Mood Board)” acts as a self-portrait created by means of color, display and objects that reflect the personality, taste and identity of the artist. Ruggirello began the series by creating portraits of those who have inspired her: best friends, exes and loved ones. She chose a specific color and array of objects for each individual, arranging them to reflect their person. Like these previous portraits, “Brit (Mood Board)” is portraiture by indirect means. The synthetic sand and artificial flowers in the display reference the aim to replicate the beauty of an original that furthers reflects how “you try to replicate yourself through social channels on the web.” “Brit (Mood Board)” reveals a multiplicity of selves, constructed and communicated via objects, images and the Internet.
“Magic Practice with Figures” and “Brit (Mood Board)” materializes the complex web of relations between persons, figures, images and objects, along with the shifting degrees of difference between each. As they take their next steps in their burgeoning careers, Hongzhe Liang and Brit Ruggirello are artists to watch. I’m excited to see what they do next.