The work of gay artist Francesc Ruiz explores urban subcultures to create social commentaries. For Philagrafika 2010, Ruiz created an installation resembling a Philadelphia newsstand, containing more than a dozen magazine covers addressing different attitudes and aspects of the city. The work is all the more impressive when you consider that Ruiz spends most of his time in Berlin and Barcelona, Spain.
From his home in Spain, Ruiz discussed how he became acquainted with Philadelphia in order to create his installation.
PGN: Have you ever been to Philadelphia? FR: I spent 12 days in Philly last October. It was my first time and it was coinciding with the World Series. I was kind of shocked because everybody was wearing Phillies caps with the embroidered white “P.” That reminded me of the excitation that we had last year with our soccer team in Barcelona. Sports can unify people in a very special way ...
PGN: How much research did you put into creating the magazine covers for the Philagrafika exhibition? FR: My research comes from different areas, and I do it following a determined temporal sequence. First of all, before I visit a city, I work with my prejudices and preconceived ideas about the place I’m going to visit. My main references about Philly were the Jonathan Demme film [“Philadelphia”] and the works of [Marcel] Duchamp at the Museum of Art. Then, once in Philly, I tried to develop a subjective fieldwork seeing and experiencing the city directly, talking with several people, asking them to tell me what they like and dislike about the city, visiting the different neighborhoods. Also, I went out at night and I tried to start conversations with strangers in the bars. With all this information, I came back to Barcelona and I finished my research using the Internet.
PGN: How did you zero in on the issues specific to Philadelphia? FR: I like to work with the context where my works are exhibited. I think through this way: I can [make] contact with the viewers in a deeper way, and make them think in a very particular way about the reality that surrounds them. It’s interesting to talk about global feelings but I always want to focus my work on our closest reality; I think that’s the way my work can transcend, and make people think about themselves and about the others.
PGN: How long does it take to put together an installation like this? Given the amount of detail involved, it looks like it requires a lot of physical and mental preparation. FR: It’s a work made in collaboration with other people. The construction of the newsstand physically was built by the efficient staff of Temple Gallery after a design of a typical Philadelphia newsstand. I did the magazines in collaboration with the designer Ferran Elotro (www.ferranelotro.net), adapting and developing the logos and the graphic structure of the American magazines and journals. All this parallel process included also the conceptualization of the work, the drawings, the texts, the print of the magazine and the final installation. It took around two months of work.
PGN: Do your works have a definite message or are they open to broad interpretation? FR: In this newsstand, there are some ideas that float all over the magazines and journals; these ideas mix a very particular vision of the city, focused on its past and its present, and maybe its future. But everything is explained from my own subjective point of view. I use references to social issues, but in a sexy way; I think comic books are a very useful tool to explain things in a sexy way. Some of the ideas talk about social conflicts and try to relate them with politics developed in the city. I mix references to graffiti culture, the Mural Arts Program, sexually transmitted diseases and some feelings I experienced during my visit related with class and race issues.
PGN: Is there a specific emotional tone to your work? FR: Every time I do a work, I try to provoke in me a self-induced semi-state of trance that allows me to write about a city and its inhabitants: I become kind of an actor interpreting all the information I’ve assimilated and trying to express the inner feeling of the city. In this case, I perceived a lot of anxiety in the work, and the characters in the cover of the magazines show anger and paranoid behaviors. PGN: Do any of the covers deal with LGBT issues? FR: Yeah, I was very interested in showing some of the experiences I had in the Philadelphian gay scene. Some of the covers have titles such as Woody’s, The Bike Stop, T.O.C. or Voyeur, and there are continuous references in the headlines to some narratives that can point to a gay audience.
PGN: What is it about newsstands that provided a medium for your artwork? FR: Newsstands are information structures; I think that they were kind of a structure very similar to the World Wide Web before its creation. They were the easy way to access all kinds of information. I think it’s also similar to a city from an architectural point of view, a city where the citizens are all these people that appear in the front covers.
PGN: Are newsstands universal or do they vary from culture to culture? FR: You can find newsstands everywhere, even if they are of different shapes. It exists — a tradition — the newsstand as a space that is connected to the street life’ that is what makes the newsstand so special. PGN: Does this exhibition in any way comment on the decline of print media? FR: I think print media has still a lot to do. I think that’s the main message of an event such as Philagrafika 2010. The idea of printing has been expanded after the digital revolution, and has been necessary to rethink their boundaries. The exhibition shows us some of these boundaries and makes us think about the future.
PGN: Do you think newsstands could become obsolete over time? FR: Maybe it could be necessary to start to think of creating a Museum of the Newsstand, in which everybody can see how there used to be a newsstand in 1932 or 1968 and see not only the newsstand structure but also the whole content; all the magazines and journals of, for example, the 7th of September of 1981. Don’t you think it could be a great tool to understand how the world was in a determined period?