How old are you?
Ruby: I’m twenty three.
Where are you from?
Ruby: I’m from Nottingham from a middle class background. I went to an all girls secondary school and that’s where I feel a lot of my problems stemmed from. I only just got to the point in my life where I know who I am and to me that feels quite late. There are a lot of people who knew who they were or were very sure of themselves at 13 or 14 and I’ve never experienced that.
At the moment [in therapy] I’ve been working through all these gender issues since I broke up with my ex. I put a lot of myself into the relationship and it took a lot of my identity from being with them and I think since that stopped, I’ve had to do a lot of work to try and figure out why I am the way I am and why I’ve suffered so many mental health problems and self-esteem for so long. The all girls school was really posh and really hard work; I didn’t have much of a social life. It was probably a big stem of the tree of gender.
Your Instagram has a very strong visual identity. I tried to find some of your work on the Internet...
Ruby: Yeah I don’t have a lot on the Internet.
One thing I did find was work from your final degree show. Tell me about that and why did you decide to do it through soft sculpture and performance?
Ruby: It was so many years of work that came to a head and I think I finally had enough confidence to sort of take on a big project and make things how I actually wanted to make things which was really freeing. The first two years I was so depressed; I had no idea where my head was at. In second year I was in this relationship and I just put everything into the relationship and didn’t really want to be my own person. I fell into a trap of being in love but also had no sense of self and just wanted to be that person to be everything and it’s been a really slow process to try and gather all these bits of my identity and as an artist and what I actually love.
I lost a lot of my interests and wasn’t really sure if I liked anything because I felt so bad all the time. So when it came to the degree show it was a combination of projects, a thread of thoughts. The motif of hands and the colour scheme are things that I’ve been working with for quite a long time because it resonates with me. It reminds me of naivety, of being a child and that’s the reason it’s always been present in my work. I’ve never been able to draw properly and I just kind of embraced it and I didn’t really want to learn how to draw. It was my way and I think it’s really easy to communicate with shape and colour and form rather than things that are detailed.
I’ve knew that a drawing wouldn’t be my final piece; I always wanted to make 3D; I’d been making and sculpting for quite a while. But I never knew that my work was sculpture or fine art or whatever - I’d always gone down the design path.
In first year I did this project that was about a life form that’d just come to Earth to whom we had to describe our basic needs as human beings. At the time I was very depressed and was on anti- depressants. I was trying to embrace this project because we had to make a costume and I thought that was really exciting. I did this big book of collages with all these pictures of things I myself needed and it was great because it was something I was working on in therapy a year later, establishing what you need as a human being emotionally and physically and just giving that to yourself as often as you can. Three of my five needs were hugs, clean teeth and shelter and I made this weird mad costume that danced in. So my final major project kind of stemmed from that project in first year.
The project was about investigating sensory processing and how sense and emotion can tie together. I did a lot of research into disorders because I realised I had dyspraxia and dyslexia and my partner at the time had Asperger’s. We always had a lot of discussions about our senses or what they were hypersensitive or hypo-sensitive to. Basically my ex was the inspiration for that project which is really nice because I did love them a lot and looking after them gave me a strong sense of self. Knowing how to care for them and getting joy out of caring for each other was a really big part of my life then.
I decided to focus on touch and soft sculpture was an obvious way of taking my drawings and turning them into 3D. I wanted them to be malleable and to played with and I wanted to make a kind of play/napping area that was also a stage/performance space. All my friends are very touchy feely so touch is a massive part of my life: how I need it, what I do with it and how sometimes I don’t need it at all and it’s the only thing that can make me feel better (like someone giving me a hug or holding my hand). So that project was basically an exploration of touch and feelings to do with touch. I gave people questionnaires asking them to respond visually to words like safety, comfort, touch, softness etc. and people either drew things had discussions with me. I made this padlock sculpture with a huge chain that was also meant to be a costume and to be danced with so it just became this thing that was around someone’s entire body. There was also a padded jacket that was like a safety jacket that had a fluorescent collar. It was a weird 70s shirt and it also looked like a straightjacket but also like a marshmallow. I blended all these mad things together and wanted people to approach it and touch it - I didn’t want it to be static.
What do you do now creatively? I know that you’re super involved in Arts Sisterhood and you love being proactive and being part of a community. Do you think that’s the way you exercise your creativity now that you don’t have enough time?
Ruby: It’s definitely had to come out in other ways than my personal work. I don’t really know what my personal work is anymore and because I’ve had to go through this huge period of grief and loss after I broke up with my partner I think I had to channel that in other ways.
Arts Sisterhood is amazing because I’ve made friends and always feel like I was doing something really productive and really meaningful. Volunteering is also an exploration of who I am in a community setting and in an organisation. I really like not being a leader but being one of those people up there that people can turn to. I’m really interested in just helping people but I’ve also had
to spend this year helping myself a lot and Arts Sisterhood has been a great way to heal myself through community work.
Besides that, I’ve also just been doing a lot of writing. I don’t really feel confident at the moment to be putting out work. I’ll put the occasional drawing on Instagram or I try to express myself through my clothes and take pictures of that but in terms of my practise and what my work was in my degree show, I’ve not really made anything myself like that because it feels quite overwhelming.
It is really strange leaving university. You’ve suddenly got all these responsibilities and it takes a lot of time and effort to actually start a project, let alone make work regularly.
Ruby: It’s become your job for a while but once you actually become employed, it’s really hard to carve out time. I have had some amazing advice from people about how you shouldn’t treat creativity or productivity as a constant. It ebbs and flows and I’ve had really good conversations with friends who were really reassuring and said that you need time to absorb and then take what you absorb and put it out again. It’s like a tide coming in and out. You can’t expect yourself to be on it all the time.
I’ve made the realisation that a lot of my energy goes into other people and constantly trying to deal with and help them with their problems, looking after them, cooking for them and that kind of thing. I think that’s why moving to Manchester would be nice so I can live on my own and have my own needs to cater to completely because I get so distracted by other people and by helping people. That isn’t to say that it’s a bad thing but I do sometimes want to be selfish and take on my own projects and make them happen. By making a big change, I’m actively giving myself something. It’s a simple concept but it’s difficult to actually get there.
Would you like to go back to soft sculpture?
Ruby: There are things I want to make and I keep making drawings that I want to see in real life. I just really want to have days that I spend just making. It’s really nice working with musicians and I’d really like to explore Manchester and make friends with musicians and make stuff for people’s album artwork because set design is a big thing in London and I can’t crack it here.
I haven’t tried but I’m also very scared to start trying. I don’t really know how it works here or the people who are doing things. It seems very high budget and I’m more of a DIY person. I’m a bit scrappy and I like problem solving, I like using what’s around me and not spending lots of money on things. I also don’t know how to do things super polished so I’m not gonna try. I like to do things with the best of of what I’ve got.
There’s a lot of pressure behind high-end production because you know the amount of money that goes into it to make it look perfect.
Ruby: I wouldn’t be the right person for that job. I know people who are perfectionists and would do that job to the maximum and maybe I am but with my own stuff. I’m a little rough around the edges and I like it. I like things to be scrappy and not very precious - ephemeral, changeable.
Like the set yesterday, it took about six hours to get this whole set up and then we shot it yesterday and we tore it down in about 20 minutes but I like that. You just use what you’ve got to make something beautiful and impermanent and then you just take it away. But on the other hand if I made soft sculpture now I’d probably want to keep them forever and keep hugging them.
Have you kept the one from your final show?
Ruby: I’ve got the huge hands and the chain is with my friend. I bought people drinks and food to say thank you so much for giving me your time and artistic intelligence and energy because it can be so easily taken from people and not anything give in return, which I get because no one has any
money. But it’s also very hard because people want to take themselves seriously and they should so...
I did a project after uni for my ex’s band and I was very adamant from the get go that they should pay me and I wanted to ask for £200 but I was treated like that was a bit ridiculous. Maybe they didn’t have the money but there were also six of them so they could have all chipped in.
The idea that a person would insinuate that you’re being ridiculous for trying to tell them what you’re worth is ridiculous.
Ruby: It was a handmade sculpture and I met with them and tried to design what they wanted. I went to get materials for it and offered to help shoot it. I was offering so much and offering my intelligence because none of them could do it and if they really wanted me to do this in my style with my resources and materials and my time...
Your time is precious. You only have one life, you are only young once and you are only as creatively potent as you are now. Your time is fucking precious! You might not have money but money is something that has to be fluid and constantly circulating. You’re giving this artist £200 to make something completely unique!
Ruby: In the end I got £100 but £40 of that was materials. I got paid £60 for my craft and to me that’s not taking it seriously. I don’t know how many hours I spent on it. I’m trying to establish myself as a creative professional and I’m trying to take myself seriously. Establishing boundaries is such a difficult thing especially with friends.
I’m really making a thing to pick and choose now. I really just wanna take up more projects and use my website. I’m gonna make it beautiful! I actually want to be bored in Manchester so I can sit in my room and make more stuff.
What are your influences/inspirations? Is your practice wholly reactive or are there subjects you gravitate towards?
Ruby: I always go back to my sense of self and how I want my work to be seen and interacted with. I think getting to this point for the degree show and a big realisation in who I am as an artist and what I want my work to do. Even if I’m coming from a place of sadness or depression or self- loathing I’m always making my kind of work which is always colourful and expressive and I want people to find joy in it. Now it’s moved on to getting people to interact with it and take away something from it, hopefully comfort and happiness. I do react to situations - the degree show piece was very reactive to my relationship with this person who was very based around touch and it was about my feelings at the time, that person, love and care. Maybe my work now will move onto something less emotional but I want it to be very joyful in how it’s executed and funny. I like my work to have a bit of cheekiness, a bit of humour. It’s such an extension of myself! Now that I know who I am more, making work is easier and wanting to make work is easier.
It’s just an extension of who I am and what I put out into the world, whether it’s just making a cup of tea for someone or drawing someone a picture for a friend or making a huge scale artwork for an audience. Art is just becoming a way I interact with people and I think it’s really nice because I need people so much. I need human interaction. I need love and care and empathy and I need to show people that because it keeps me sustained. Again I think that’s why Arts Sisterhood was so amazing because I’m making but I’m also helping people and having nice chats and being part of an organised thing which always feel very legit [when you’re part of team].
Have you ever made work about you being non-binary? Is that something that ever comes to your mind?
Ruby: I’ve wanted to! I thought about it for my degree show but I freaked out because I had no idea how to approach it and I was going to be marked. I remember being really stoned once and writing
on my computer about how I wanted to design a collection of clothes from birth until now, the clothes I would have worn if I was a boy. The project would have been called “We would have called you Bill” because my family would’ve have called me that if I was a boy.
It was a really interesting concept to me but, like I said, I had no idea how to execute it. I didn’t know how to do it in a way that wasn’t already done or in a way that really reinforced the binary or gender stereotypes. But it’s definitely something that is in my work, for example my colour schemes and textures and how I feel about myself because like I said it’s an extension of who I am and it’s difficult to get away from who I am when making work and now I fully identify as non-binary. I haven’t made explicit work but whenever I’m drawing, I always draw the same person and I think it’s supposed to be me, it’s just like a shaved-headed dude. All my friends do as well, it’s very much them in their drawings. I find it really hard to connect with stuff that doesn’t come from a personal point of view. It’s just me, I’m just soppy. I need to express myself always and I think at the time, because I finished therapy midway through my final major project, I was driving everything I had into this work and it felt so liberating and really made sense. I really want to do that again, take on something. But now you have to place it into a context, what am I making this work for? Can’t I just make it and rent a gallery space and put it in?
That’s the thing about Manchester. There’s a really cool scene and I think that I might be able to make stuff happen.
There are great spaces here but it’s gotten to a point where it’s a bit cliquey. You have to be doing something of worth.
Ruby: Yeah, trying to prove your worth is so exhausting
It’s not what it should be about, especially in London. The diversity of creativity and individuals you meet is great but everyone knows everybody or knows who you are or wants to know who you are and what you’re worth. Why can’t we just collaborate and do something for the hell of it?
Ruby: I definitely want to take a more relaxed approach. My work is so tied into my identity and my self that when I’m not doing it I feel really bad about myself. When I’m not feeling productive creatively, I feel like a part of me is missing and I’m not who I am and I’m faking it and it’s very stressful.
It’s refreshing to meet people who fucking hate London and are just doing their own thing. I feel like London sucks you in and you have to be a certain way or on a certain level or achieving to be able to feel like you’re surviving as an artist. I am surviving because I’m here and I’m well and I’m doing things but I don’t feel validated as an artist here and it’s really difficult to self-validate when you just want to be involved in other people’s things because it can be hard to start something of your own or do your own work.
It’s very difficult not having a studio or workspace. I use my bedroom to relax and when I come home from work, I’d rather just chill or do yoga. I don’t have a desk but I do have my sewing machines in there and I’ve sort of been making stuff but it’s just not that great. I like to go to a studio to work and I want my home to just be at home. I want it to be an eating, cooking and relaxing space.
To make myself feel better I’m trying to not see myself as this artist who just does this one thing. I’ve got a creative soul and even if I’m just cooking and listening to music and dancing, that’s just me being creative and expressing myself. If I’m doing something practical, I try to do it creatively.
Would you like to become wholly sustainable on creative projects?
Ruby: I’d love to! If I worked for Arts Sisterhood and got paid, that would be amazing. But I obviously know that’s not really viable at the moment. I want to be doing something that’s
meaningful where there’s a purpose to me being there and I’m helping to create an environment of self care and development and personal growth for people to come into, whether that’s through making my own work for the public to consume or working for an organisation.
The worst thing about being a graduate is not knowing what my future looks like and not knowing how to get there! I don’t know how to set myself goals to achieve because I don’t know what the place is. Sometimes it feels like you’re wandering around in the dark and you go towards certain lights but they might be the wrong way to go. This whole thing is just a huge experiment especially when you don’t really see yourself fit into what is considered a normal society. You have to experiment with an alternative way of being and living and surviving. That’s why I’m moving to Manchester - it’s an experiment! I’m gonna see what it’s like for me, see how I am there. If it doesn’t make a difference then I will have learnt that it isn’t the place, I’m just not feeling very creative. But I do feel that when I have my own space and I’ll be paying less money, I’ll have to work less and I can create more and those are my goals for the foreseeable future.
Do you think you’ll ever come back?
Ruby: I hope so. I think at one point it will be necessary for me to return, which I will. And even if I don’t need to it’d be nice to come and visit. It’d be really nice if I got a job here, I’d have a base and there would be people I could stay with. I’m looking forward to living somewhere that isn’t so expensive and draining on my health and creativity and finance! London is like a black hole sometimes and it can be really hard to find a balance.
It’s really difficult to feel on a level with people because everyone’s in a different situation and different ways of utilising their resources. It’s easy to feel jealous about people and I hate feeling that emotion, it doesn’t ever help me at all. My therapist used to say that your jealousy or envy is just a part of you as a passionate person but I’ve never been able to utilise those emotions or turn them into something positive. They just always poke holes in me and make me feel like a bad person. Sometimes it can show you what you want but most of the time it doesn’t show me anything. I’m just jealous that that’s person got it going on and I don’t. They’re happy and I don’t feel happy. I end up feeling these emotions and they just wash over me. I have to remove myself from the situation or person I’m feeling jealous of.
I always knew that I wasn’t a commercial artist but even though I know that, seeing close friends being commercially successful is still quite odd and you feel like you’re doing it wrong and you’re not trying hard enough. You’ve got to remember thought that everyone’s got their own paths and mine isn’t leading into that direction at all. I’m not obsessed with Dazed or those kinds of publications either, even though they are milestones of success.
Having said that I know I’m going to have FOMO so I’m just gonna run into it at full fucking speed! Maybe the FOMO will drive me to make more work or maybe it will be so overwhelming and crushing that I’ll have to come back to London for six months so I don’t know, we’ll see! It feels like the right thing to be doing. I’ve reached a stable point in London and now it’s time to make a change.
See more of Ruby here.
Text and psuedo-collage by Amber Ehler