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Published monthly by Artists of Utah, a non-profit organization   

David Ruhlman, photo by Robert Swift-Rodriguez

Artist Profile: Salt Lake City
The Ram Watches Over the Apocalypse and Other Stories
The Personal Mythic Vernacular of David Ruhlman

In the center of David Ruhlman’s UMOCA exhibition, standing like an altar, there is an ancient card table. The black material of the table is rubbed off around the edges, with the old plywood substructure showing through at the corners and in patches across the surface. Painted across all this is a large ram’s head. Curling horns, tender little mouth, thick nappy wool, black eyes staring at you. The piece is called “The Ram.” The same ram is repeated in several of the other pieces in the show. “The ram, entity, in my mind was this, I wouldn’t say deity, but this thing that was in charge of the event,” David Ruhlman tells me as we stand amongst his paintings. By “event” he means apocalypse, and the paintings in the show, A History of the Hidden World, feature several apocalypses, as well as the beginning of the world, some creative mis-starts in the early world, and an ode to Edvard Munch, among other things.

Filled with Ruhlman’s work, UMOCA’S Locals Only gallery takes on an almost strange sacred feeling; as if it is filled with holy iconography from a slightly different—weirder—culture in a slightly different time. The canon of figures, creatures, and objects Ruhlman uses repeat, reverse, and then show up again in other paintings, creating the feeling of a distinct mythic world. In addition to the ram’s heads, there are women in orange dresses, viscera, birds, children, upside-down birds, women in blue dresses, pea-pods, finless fish, the crucified Jesus with a stag’s head, two-headed turtles, conjoined twins, a chair, upside-down crucified Jesus with a child’s body for a head, conjoined rabbits, three-legged foxes. Birds. And the reverse of all that.

The paintings are mainly gouache on panel, though the panel is often covered in other material: sometimes old book pages, brown bag, or newspaper that is then given multiple washes of paint. The painted images are laid out more like diagrams than landscapes or portraits, with a flatness that is a satisfying contrast against the materiality of the background texture. The diagrams have a cryptic, somewhat familiar but also opaque sort of feeling, as if you should be able to read them, but just can’t quite. As if they were a visual form of writing— or as if they were formally structured poems written in a new form of hieroglyphs. Or hieroglyphic word puzzles. And while it’s not at all necessary to understand the stories behind the works to enjoy them, it turns out that it’s great fun to have their creator explain them to you.

Culture Conversations: Dance
The Wedding
NOW's premiere performance, at the Masonic Temple

Choreographer Charlotte Boye-Christensen’s greatest fear about her new work The Wedding is that she doesn’t know enough about the subject matter. In Denmark, where she’s from, “only about eight percent of the population marry . . . so it’s not something I’m terribly familiar with,” she says. She can count the number of matrimonial ceremonies she’s been to on one hand — including her own recent union with architect Nathan Webster. The two are founders of a new interdisciplinary project called NOW, which will have its inaugural performance at the end of this month at the Masonic Temple in Salt Lake City. Webster and Boye-Christensen, who recently gave up her position as artistic director of Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, call the group “an ambitious, fiercely contemporary” collaborative, and ambitious their plans are, if somewhat nebulous.

Exhibition Review: Salt Lake City
From the Unexpected to the Everday
2013 DesignArts Utah at the Rio Gallery

The backpack is ubiquitous in twenty-first century America: it is, in fact, one of the few accessories that comfortably crosses both gender and generational lines. They vary in color and ornament, just enough for you to know your own, but they are close to interchangeable. Yet this one, which doubles as a computer bag, is visually unique, made from a sturdy-looking, metallic material creased in isosceles triangles. I was immediately reminded of Rem Koolhaas’s Seattle Public Library, its remarkably similar, free-standing geometric skin wrapped around staggered floors open into space. It’s the most exciting building I’ve ever been in, and I could see how a personal bag could work, and work well, in much the same way. Even though I haven’t carried a backpack for years, I immediately wanted this one. Clearly, the design worked on two levels: it made a better mousetrap, and it made me want to beat a path to its store.

Like art and craft, art and design are easily confused. One person considers art a subset of design, while a second considers design just one component of an artwork. A third sees no fixed relation between them: the same object can be art or design depending on how it’s used. According to Rio Gallery Director Laura Durham, the challenge in staging an exhibit like 2013 DesignArts Utah lies in convincing firms and individuals who consider themselves designers to apply for entry to a gallery, rather than a more traditional trade show or industry award. The self-segregation that results is unfortunate for both designers and the public. Designers miss the chance to encounter consumers directly, and to learn their responses earlier and more candidly. As for the public, a show like this offers an avenue to a level of sophistication most consumers can only pretend to possess. Design presented as an end in itself, isolated from both practical or aesthetic concerns, can be encountered without obfuscation and appreciated directly through the judgment of the senses. Indeed, the palpable mood of liberated delight on display among the Rio’s guests during the opening is rarely seen in a more arduous and deliberately challenging artistic environment.

Backpack design by Aaron Puglisi and Daniel Shirley for Tessel Supply
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