When arriving at the gallery, one climbs the stairs and then, without a warning, they enter the room to find that for a moment their entire body has tensed up, an uncomfortable sensation is climbing up the spine and they do not know entirely how to react to the dead animal skins hung about the room, stretched so that their skins can be examined by greedy eyes, faces still intact, tails still falling to the floor. It is not until one looks slightly closer that they realize what it is that is in front of them is not the dead skins of so many murdered animal souls, but instead the intricate artistry of Ruth Marshal.
Marshal uses her knitting techniques in order to craft incredibly realistic renditions of animal pelts and skins in order to generate awareness of the poaching industry as well as animal treatment. It is her goal to introduce the concept to the public that alternatives to materials derived from animals are readily available and can easily be utilized. And when her work is presented in front of you, there is no denying the realistic expressions that have the possibility of being created.
Throughout the room large knitted cats hang upon the wall, tags hanging off of them depicting how they are judged in reality, not for what their lives were, but rather the value of their beauty after death and how it can assist in growth in wealth.
One will truly be taken aback as they stare at the snow leopard, the silver fur so carefully knit, each marking unique but falling into the rhythmic yet nonuniform spots as well. And the jaguar, while being half in size, remains just as lifelike with it’s golden fur and ebony spots. Even the underbelly, pieces of skin, and other minor details all remain present in order to maintain a realistic sensation.
Within a case sits many knitted striped pieces, long in beautiful colors of red, yellows, whites, oranges, and blacks. Yet, once again, she achieves her intent and one originally perceives these knitted creations to be snake skins, stolen from the bodies of poached snakes. She states “When people first see my work there is a jarring initial reaction” in her artist statement. And one may assume they would be less surprised since they had read this, or that it were to be slightly untrue, and yet, one shudders as they view the creations for the first time, for the death is apparent, the violence made evident, and it is very successfully demonstrated that alternative materials are readily available to the public, it just takes a shift in consciousness.
Ruth Marshal’s show Closely Knit is on display at the Arsenal Gallery. For hours and information visit http://www.nycgovparks.org/events/2014/05/12/exhibition-by-ruth-marshallclosely-knit-a-textile-analysis-of-animals
By Alyx Sellars