Insight into Nebula. Ruudt Peters Interviewed by Marley White

Interview  /  BehindTheScenes   Ruudt Peters   Artists   Making
Published: 15.10.2020
Ruudt Peters Ruudt Peters
Marley White
Edited at:
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Photo of Ruudt Peters’s mood board in his studio during the making of Nebula..
Photo of Ruudt Peters’s mood board in his studio during the making of Nebula.

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Ruudt Peters is interviewed by Marley White for a deeper understanding of his upcoming exhibition Nebula. This interview shows a more intimate, behind the scenes point of view of the new works Ruudt Peters is presenting and that talks about light and silence, spaces and absences inspired by the Japanese aesthetic concept of Ma.
What sparked your making of Nebula and why does it feel important to be making this work now?
What sparked? I was making circles, searching for the fade away. Something that is both there and not there. The most important thing, in the beginning, was graveyards. They’re not the same in America as they are here because America has not existed for as long. Here the stones fade away with time and you can no longer make out the image. For a moment I was creating images about fading away but then the work became not only about the graveyards but also about space and air. It went from black to white, my focus on graveyards was put on hold. Slowly, I started an investigation of light.

I go back to my childhood when I was 10 years old, I had to bike 10 Km every morning and evening through rain and sun. The most exciting moments were when I biked through the fog. It is crazy, the very strong feeling of being in nothing, alone in nothing. Everything became silent, it was really zero. This feeling came back to me when I was walking for 4 hours in the mist in Japan. I was walking in “nowhere”, trees and water basins plopped up and disappeared. I had the feeling that I was walking in a dream. When you speak in the mist and the fog it absorbs all of your noise and sounds to completely nothing. That's what I really tried to capture and slowly something started.

Gravestones that have begun to fade away. Photo by Ruudt Peters.

Gravestones that have begun to fade away. Photo by Ruudt Peters.

Producing a new body of work amidst a global pandemic is a fantastic feat. Were you at all influenced by the current events unfolding or were your investigations in Nebula a separate and personal endeavor?
Three-fourths of the work was already done, but covid came up and made it a strange situation. Koen, my assistant, worked in the studio for 2 days while I would be at my summer studio. When I worked in the Amsterdam studio he would not be there. We never saw each other but would communicate over zoom or skype. It was very strange but we were still able to produce work together. Together but separately.

Some parts of working in quarantine were fantastic. I had time to walk in the fields with my dog, we were lucky it was a beautiful spring, but it was lonely. One thing about being an artist is that sometimes you must work alone to get a deeper understanding of what you want to create. The pandemic has nothing to do with the work, it was my own thinking before covid-19 began, it just changed the way we had to make it. Although Nebula was not a response to the pandemic, you can look at the work and think about covid.

How do the ideas behind the work, derived from your experiences in life and travel, transcend as jewelry and create something new within the viewer/wearer?
In 2016, I was in Japan for 3 months with my husband. We were doing an artist residency in a small beautiful Japanese house sitting in the rain, it was always raining. I was bumping my head all of the time on the low beams and we would sit there making blind drawings from 10 in the morning to 6 in the evening. It goes on and on and on. It becomes erotic, it becomes strange. It's silent and what we’ve never done together is make drawings. He is an architect, he is making drawings but very different drawings. It was for me an unbelievable thing that happened, we did this for 3 weeks and then we traveled to the temple for 3 weeks. Our time in that old Japanese house in the rain was crazy. Very very small, condensed, and beautiful.

Drawing done by Ruudt Peters during his artist residence in Beppu, Japan, 2016.

Drawing done by Ruudt Peters during his artist residence in Beppu, Japan, 2016.

Did you start thinking about fade away then or did that come later?
I was thinking about Ma, “Ma, space in-between”, a Japanese icon about what you can't see or hear. I wanted to create something related to this emptiness of space so I made jewelry that used mirrors to show the distance between you and me. When you look into the piece you see yourself in a deep dark pond, in the “space in-between”. I was very interested in reduction, the essence of life, and why I was doing things. It became more or less a meditation. I feel very much sometimes like a drama queen. I find that sometimes I work really in the drama queen way but the last few years it's silent, very, very, going into the essence.
Suctus is related to life and death. The form of the baby bath and the coffin were important as they created a funnel to suck in light that made the pieces glow underneath. Nebula starts at about 2 or 3 years after our time in Japan.

How does the work relate to the body of the wearer and how did you choose where/how it could be adorned?
First of all, I am a very bad jeweler. I am not concerned when it comes to fitting the body or having it rest on a garment nicely. My work is more of an alien to the body. Not made to fit, it's like a blop it comes out of the wearer. It is about thinking and life experience and it has more to do with people who are viewing the piece than the way it fits the wearer. Nebula is about reflection and light. You see, then you can’t see; it is there and then it is not. When it's sitting on the table you must move the piece around to see it. When worn as a brooch and the body moves, it is there and then not there. Through the body's movement, the pieces catch the light to subtly reveal what's inside.

In Suctus, you created pieces that funneled light through stone giving the work a glowing presence. Similarly, the Nebula series uses frosted glass to diffuse light, allowing the work to capture a feeling of “elusive proximity”. Have you always considered using light as a tool of an engagement or has it developed with these latest works?
In the past, I was never working with light. It was the meaning, without light you don't see. Using light in my work happened by coincidence. I was given a gift when I used amber stones in Suctus. The stones glowed in the light and I thought, wow this is crazy, really excellent and accidental. It happened by chance, I like that more, when things are not planned. The use of light in Nebula was also a coincidence. I was trying to make nothingness and something that fades away. When you see the beginning experiments, you see I made a lot of shit/mistakes; they were not good. It is very important that you can make bad things, the more bad things you make the better it is. Only from the failures can you learn.

What do the different characteristics of light mean to you?
I did not think about the characteristics of light so much. I thought about the light in Suctus, the sucking of light into the Suctus to get a certain kind of glow. In Nebula, the light is more all around, the piece catches the light and becomes a reflection. There it was glowing and now the light is condensed. Like ice, it's a state of water. It looks like water or mist or fog. It's an optimistic state of light, the state of nothingness.

The installations of your work are always meticulously considered. Your work is viewed in spaces much different than, say, those of a ‘normal’ jewelry exhibition. Will the installation be minimal, in congruence with conveying a feeling of silence and nothingness, or have you planned a more elaborate display?
I am trying out in the studio to find out what that will be. I can be a drama queen and put a smoke machine in the gallery and everyone can go “cough cough”. I always want that, but it is a stupid idea. The installation will be minimal, using materials that evoke the feeling of being in fog and surrounded by nothing. It's a fingertip of the meaning of the work. I can’t give the audience too much information. There needs to be space to feel and think about the work, otherwise, the mystery is lost.

Photo taken by Ruudt Peters of a carved Budah during his 4 hours walk through the mist in Beppu, Japan, 2016.

Photo taken by Ruudt Peters of a carved Budah during his 4 hours walk through the mist in Beppu, Japan, 2016.

About the author

Marley White is an artist and contemporary jeweler from Richmond, VA. This May, she was selected as a 2020 Windgate Fellow. This fellowship supports her internships with Ruudt Peters, Ted Noten, and Gijs Bakker in Amsterdam, NL. During the first wave of the pandemic, August 2020, she interviewed Ruudt Peters over zoom about his upcoming work, Nebula.