Parallel universes have long existed in popular culture as one of the most recognizable premises of speculative fiction. The concept may also suggest rhetorical figures or turns of phrase, where convenience of expression takes hold of straightforward possibility. Ruth Root’s ten new paintings, which opened the Carnegie Museum’s eighty- first iteration of their Forum exhibitions devoted to contemporary art, address prospects for the medium in ways which stimulate the eye and the mind in subtly provocative ways.
In theoretical terms, a ‘many-worlds’ hypothesis is generally considered as a source of real but abstract potential, maybe as preçis, as analogy, symbol, or system, or more pointedly as a means of introducing a ‘what if’ set of counterfactual propositions which challenge prevailing convention. It’s exactly in this last manner that Ruth’s paintings have come to be and should be seen.
The best of these works are excellent visualizations of superimposition and entanglement. The constructed ingenuity of their shallow planes enacts a variant of modal realism as proposed by David Kellogg Lewis, one which is ‘of a kind with this world of ours’. Ruth draws upon divided states of consciousness and sensitivity while offering impressions of the observable world and an affective response to it. In the artist’s hands this produces signs which might allude to fashion, cuisine, music, data, tools, patterns, architecture, family, cinema, gaming, news, design, sex, religion, prose, sports, gender, drugs, animals, history, politics, the weather, a plethora of other images of any type, or what have you; throughout, Ruth patiently expresses her experience of the visible, its countless analogues, and their myriad connotations in uniquely iconographic arrays of aggregated terms. That her works in turn ceaselessly implicate ‘painting’ in the most open sense imaginable is a wonder.
This frank engagement with the imaginary distinguishes Ruth’s paintings from the work made by most of her peers. It would appear she has deftly avoided the double traps of the series and the sequence to instead deploy that of the counterpart, where entities may simultaneously exist in differing states and/or divergent places. A hanging of nearly yet not quite identical paintings on the inside and the outside walls of the gallery at the Carnegie, in nearly similar yet contingent spots, suggests this paradox. The vexing sensation registered there as a viewer wasn’t so much one evoked by variation, but of position, of being both observed and observer, in one of many feasible spatio-temporal orders. What exactly this implies is debatable, but what it might do, or actually does, is remarkable: It restores one of the goals of abstraction to an encounter with the pictorial surface, and rewards acts of sustained apprehension at the most refined levels.