Glass beads, leather, satin, ping pong balls, felt, velvet and cowry – these are only some of the materials used by Cinzia Ruggeri, the Italian artist and designer, whose work since the 1970s has crossed as many boundaries as possible. Her objects often shift between fashion, industrial design, sculpture, installation and architecture. As a fashion designer in the 1980s, her clothes infamously took on architectural qualities, perhaps best exemplified in Homage à Levi Strauss (1983) (not featured in the exhibition), a dress with the silhouette of a ziggurat, which also was originally accompanied by a Brian Eno light installation. In the 1990s, she shifted more explicitly to art and design. Ruggeri’s work constantly delights and surprises in the ways unlikely things playfully morph into something else – a dress becomes a building and a lamp becomes a necklace. It is often said that she is interested in how we occupy space, yet this seems to be of secondary emphasis. If there were an overarching method to Ruggeri’s work, it would be juxtaposition. Through a collagist sensibility, her works create playful metamorphoses of shape and function, a formal strategy that places her in a surrealist tradition, with affinities to Lewis Carroll.
The exhibition at Campoli Presti is on the ground floor of the gallery as well as the first floor in an adjacent building. On the ground, the works have the air of being gathered in a cave, an inversion of the Platonic ideal; here they transgress whatever ideal function they might have. On the first floor, the exhibition continues with the same sense of play of form, function and decor, with pink lights. In concert with objects and assemblages, more quotidian things such as gloves transform into sculpture, or vice versa. Wordplay also finds its way into titles: Stivali Italia (Italy Boots, 1986), is a pair of leather boots in the shape of Italy. Guanto Borsa Schiaffo (Slap-Glove Bag, 1983), is a handbag with a glove sewn onto its exterior, so that the user could fit it onto a hand in order to, as the title suggests, slap someone. Cane Pipi (Pipi Dog, 1994), is not a sculpture, a plush animal, or a footrest, but something in between. (I suspect, also, that the shape of Cane Pipi is in homage to Keith Haring, who had a similar dog appear throughout his oeuvre.)
In one sense, particularly dealing with her work as a fashion designer in the 1980s, Ruggeri’s work is a central reference point for a variety of artists who have explored the borders of garments, fashion and art – from Bernadette Corporation to Seth Price, or more recently Nep Sidhu. But one thing that differentiates Ruggeri, especially from the former two, is that her works feels far less concerned with fashion as a signifier of late capitalism. Instead, it transforms the way we experience aesthetic categories; it shocks us into new realities. Through her employment of juxtaposition, the contrasts between material and métiers invite us to reconsider how we use and see the world.
Among the most striking objects in the exhibition is the elegantly simple Specchio "Schatzi" (Darling Mirror, 1995), an oval mirror with slender plastic hands reaching out from the sides of its frame. Whether intentional or not, its shape has a formal similarity to masks of the Yup’ik, an Alaskan indigenous group whose traditional shaman masks influenced the surrealists. With Ruggeri’s Specchio "Schatzi", instead of a mask that you might wear, we look at our own faces in its reflection, as those plastic hands pull us into the looking glass.
Cinzia Ruggeri, 'déconnexion' was on view at Campoli Presti, Paris, from 7 February until 16 March 2019.
Main image: Cinzia Ruggeri, Stivali Italia (Italy Boots), 1986, leather boots with clutch bags, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist and Campoli Presti, London/Paris
Aaron Peck is the author of The Bewilderments of Bernard Willis (2008) and Jeff Wall: North & West (2016). His writing has appeared in The New York Review of Books, Artforum and The White Review, among others.
First published in Issue 203