Cuddly toys used out of the context of children holding them has always appeared creepy to me. That is probably why I enter the large room at the back of The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA half-intrigued and half-repulsed by Sterling Ruby’s installation Soft Work. Gigantic replicas of toys hang from the ceiling. Barely recognisable, the amorphous forms take up the entire space, leaving barely any room for the viewers to step their way around the installation. The closeness with the cuddly toys is therefore enforced, and if you share the sentiment of what I described previously, repulsed by the proximity to fluffy fabric, then you might also feel claustrophobic and catch yourself speeding up in order to put an end faster to end this nightmare.
Some of the toys are draped with the American flag while others sport vivid colours. Teardrops, mouths, bodies, a peace sign, no matter their appearance the shapes seem to be attracted to the ground, where they collapse in disarray one against the other. They seem to be at the mercy of their fate, distraught and powerless.
Why is there confusion in this organised chaos? Perhaps because of the implication of the political message suggested by the American flag and the presence of the bizarre cuddly shapes on display in a playground, reminiscent of a battlefield. Rudy is known for the variety of means he uses to amplify his voice with reference to issues such as violence, society, and politics. This piece is part of the travelling exhibition which appeared in four distinct permutations between 2012 and 2013, and although it reflects a snapshot of a defined moment, it seems easily transposable to any given time, even now. The use of softness seemingly indicates Rudy’s perspective on America as a political country inextricably intertwined with its society.
A cuddly toy never ages, its fuzzy fur might wear out, but it can still follow someone forever. The more antiquated, the more history it will be filled with, but also, the more it will repel.
Soft Work: Sterling Ruby at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, Los Angeles (2 April – 12 June 2017)