Since the late 1970s, Thomas Ruff has been exploring the structures and contiguities of the photographic medium, analyzing the visual significance and power of expression as well as the meaning of contemporary visual phaenomena. In this show a selection from the series press++ (2015), ma.r.s (2011), zycles (2008), cassini (2008), stars (1989–1992), is contextualized within a purely virtual exhibition space, offering a new look on Ruff’s concern with the various kinds of image production and most of all on his boyhood and ongoing interest on the universe and celestial bodies, stretching throughout his oeuvre. Indeed, Ruff admits that as a boy, he bought a telescope to look at the stars before acquiring a camera.
Inspired by drawings found in 19th-century antiquarian books on electromagnetism, the artist used a computer program to visualize and process complex formula of linear algebra to construct zycles’ three-dimensional tangles of lines. The structures represent intrinsically logical curves, such that you can no longer discern their origin in mathematics. Instead, they bring to mind planetary orbits, the lines of magnetic fields, curved strips or loops, line drawings in abstract art, or musical oscillations. In addition, the abstract, wildly colored and vaguely geometric forms of the cassini series were taken from an archive of satellite images of Saturn and its moons, provided by the NASA online. In September 2017, the Cassini probe got in the worldwide news, deliberately disposed of via a controlled fall into Saturn’s atmosphere, ending its nearly two-decade-long mission space probe Furthermore, dedicating himself to work with original copies of the 1212 negatives of the «European Southern Observatory» (ESO) archive lead to the monumental stars series.
With his recent series press++, featuring photographs of archival media clippings from American newspapers and magazines from the 50’s and the60’s, Thomas Ruff underlines his strong interest for space exploration, as being one of the recurrent themes of the series. The early zeitungsfotos series from the 1990s is linked to press++, as Thomas Ruff used the newspaper photographs issued from his personal archive for this purpose, amongst which astronomy and space exploration was already one of the chosen thematics.
Thomas Ruff has regularly used scientific photographs as source material for his work and came across the NASA pictures while doing research into the image-generating potential of photography. He was utterly fascinated with the extremely realistic, naturalistic and yet strange photographs of a universe that exists outside the range of conventional human experience. In working with this material Ruff transformed the images taken straight down at a perpendicular from the orbiter into a slanted view. The resulting pseudo- perspective and the added color to the black-and-white shots emphasize the extraordinary feel of the landscapes but without changing their character. The ma.r.s series once again demonstrates the Ruff’s ability in exploiting state of- the-art technology in striking combinations of matter-of- fact documentation and formal elegance. His approach is a collaboration between a scientific spirit and imagination that spans a few centuries.