Ruby Que

September 3 – 17, 2023

Livestream of Holding, 09/10/2023

Spoons, or, the Shape of a Gesture:
a Response to Holding by Ruby Que

by Emrys Brandt

The weekend Holding by artist Ruby Que opened, there was another heat wave in Chicago. As many people did, I flocked to the beach. Montrose, specifically – one of the windiest in the city. As the sun set, my friend and I began to fold the beach sheet. This quickly became difficult, as the wind caught and contorted the sheet into an unexpected sail. Delighted, we held tight to the edges of the sheet as we walked back to the car. And, the sheet became a container, holding the breeze and setting sun, the wind tightening it into a parabolic form. And, I was reminded of Que’s spoons (curves appear in many places). 

Spoons come in many sizes, and in Que’s exhibition, many materials as well. What makes a spoon a spoon, though, is their head – the shape of a bowl – a vessel, meant to hold something. An empty space. When arranged in a drawer, the spoons hold each other. Sometimes, they hold soup. Often, the bowl of a spoon holds nothing at all.

Holding by Que contains 13 spoons. Some are wooden, wounded, the bowl the only smooth part of them. Some are metal, imprecise handles, the bowl a small point on the end of a long stem. Some of Que’s spoons have the shape of forks on the end, transforming them into pairs. 

When Que set up for the opening, I watched them place offerings –  often blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and orange slices – into the bowl of each spoon. Every piece was hand selected, arranged, laid on top of seed. They poured nectar into some, and I watched it spill onto the wood railing. Every spoon in Holding contained an offering to the birds, squirrels, and other wildlife that dare to venture onto the outer reaches of Bird Show host Erin Toale’s front porch. The exception were two cast metal spoons hung with a worry stone of the artist’s own palm print, whose bowled surfaces live punctured and incomplete. These spoons, hung between the house and garden, acted as viewfinders – the gentle movement causing one pinhole to continually change perspective. I peered through them and found sometimes a tree, sometimes a bird, and sometimes just light.

I wanted to write this text about absence – about how a spoon contains nothing, are vessels waiting for something to be placed inside. But, the more I thought about spoons, I found it hard to focus on the absence they accommodate. The shape of a spoon – the bowl curving downward into an enclave – directs us to thinking about what is contained. Throughout the opening day of Holding, Que worked on carving the latest spoon. While they did, the light-colored wood chips rested inside of the bowl, never falling onto the stool on which the spoon was clamped, nor the deck below. This is one of Que’s favorite parts about carving spoons – the bowl holds the waste as they carve. This part of carving is self contained. 

Que’s exhibition asks: what is held within the bowl of the spoon? What can we place there?

Can we place our hopes, our anxieties? A prayer for the birds and the squirrels that live in the yard of an unassuming house in Dunning? An offering of coexistence, perhaps.

And what is contained in Que’s spoons? A gift. Fruit and seeds. Nectar. Sweetness. A gesture of kindness, in hopes that it echoes into the echosphere.

A few weeks before Que’s opening, my grandmother died. I found out while at Bird Show, and as I heard the news through my phone, I watched a monarch land on one of the hibiscus flowers near Erin Toale’s back steps. I do not want to minimize the pain of that absence in my life. But, as I watched the monarch rest and drink from the flower, I was struck by the gentle kindness of the gesture; the flower’s paper petals opening, as a gift, for the light touch of the monarch.

And, in the moment, it was hard not to read into the scene; the kindness that my grandmother enacted in her life being acted out, even after death, between two gentle garden spirits. 

That’s what art can be (on its best days perhaps): a gesture of sweetness. An offering. Or maybe, as Que has done, simply “a space for holding.”